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Attending the McLean County Regional Planning Commission meetings, one might think, would be a rather dull, uneventful and uninteresting waste of time.
   Quite the contrary. Given the fact that this body of unelected townspeople have at their charge the power and ability to plan, design, orchestrate and guide some of the most important decisions of our communities, some of the most useful and pertinent information can be learned.
In fact, many times, the information presented and shared at these monthly, public meetings tend to fill in many of the gaps left void by City Council meetings and other city planning board and commission meetings.
Such was the case at Wednesday’s MCRPC meeting. Today, the notable Agenda item was the presentation of the Main Street Transportation Improvement Feasibility Study by hired consultants, Gewalt, Hamilton Associates.This was the first time the presentation had been received by the local  regional Commission, at least formally. The uniqueness about that, however, was that the MCRPC had commissioned the feasibility study from its inception. This fact was presented at today’s meeting by Gewalt, though interestingly, was never made public at any of the other presentations until Bloomington Alderwoman, Judy Stearns, inquired about who initiated the study at a previous City Council meeting.
   As I mentioned, and as usual, today’s regional planning meeting produced more interesting facts than I had heard at previous meetings.
   As most of you may realize, a most interesting debate has evolved as a result of some of the components of the new Main Street Study, most notably, the introduction of bike paths/lanes on the Main Street Corridor.
   And, as I could have anticipated, there was some fundamental concerns and questions from even those of the regional panel regarding the implementation of dedicated bike lanes on one of the busiest traffic arteries of both cities.
   So, not to “beat a dead horse” and reiterate old issues, here is an itemized list of 7 additional factors that I found pertinent but not disclosed at previous meetings regarding the Main Street Study:
  1. IDOT (Illinois Department of Transportation) is not wholeheartedly and completely on board with the concept and ideology that dedicated bike lanes are feasible on the Main Street  Corridor;
  2. This resulted in suggestions from the Consultants that public perception must be influenced to accept that bike lanes are not only feasible, but necessary, in a progressive, modern community;
  3. That the objective, components, and outcome of the study was heavily influenced by TAG (Technical Adviser Group) members, otherwise known as “stakeholders” – or those who are influential in the decision making process,  which by the way, did not include nor consider input from elected City Council members and rarely includes the general public or private citizen;
  4. That some areas of the Main Street Corridor proved not feasible for bike lanes and an appropriate alternative was determined to be Constitution Trail – which was originally intended for such purpose.  This begs the question why this same Trail could not be utilized in this plan with its intended function realized? Another area was Kingsley Jr. High School drop-off area (which was overlooked in the original comprehensive? study). Too, it was determined the best alternative would be to redirect bike traffic to Constitution Trail;
  5. The elimination of entire traffic lanes and narrowing of others was influenced not only for the desire for dedicated bike lanes, but to better accommodate pedestrian movement in crosswalks. It was determined that the wider streets created a difficulty for pedestrians crossing streets and narrower lanes and less lanes would require less time to cross the street;
  6. Decisions to implement this plan and the determination of its feasibility were the result of “SYNCHRO”, a computer model (not the actual needs and best interests of Bloomington/Normal) used to determine if traffic flow would remain efficient, even though an entire lane had been eliminated and traffic lanes on one of the busiest thoroughfares in the community’s had been reduced to intentionally “slow down traffic”;
  7. That this, and any project that receives federal grant money must comply with the CSS (Context Sensitive Solutions) process – it essentially mandates compliance with federal design and planning agendas and guidelines. It’s like a form based code for transportation plans.
   All in all, not only did the plan become clearer, its concept and application became more absurd and more out-of-character for the immediate and long-term needs of this City.
   But, I was not the only one in the room of this mindset- others on the planning commission questioned the feasibility of the plan.  The issue of safety came up. The suggestion that the bike paths be placed on less-busy streets was mentioned. And, one Commissioner raising the most fundamental question I’ve heard thus far: “how’s this going to affect my commute?” In a nutshell, the answer from the Consultant was that it would take you longer to get where you’re going. But, then,  isn’t that the objective – to make driving your car less appealing and more inconvenient? Is that what the Consultants refer to as “influencing public perception”?
   And, all along the way innuendo from those involved continue to reveal the underlying anti-automobile tone and persist on forcing this limited, cultural recreational passion of bicycling on the community, whether it requires or needs it or not. The repeated references that bikes belong on busy streets, side by side with fast moving traffic (see earlier post).  Or, innuendo that those opposed to bike lanes are anti-bicycle, which is certainly not the case at all. No one has ever stated that bikes should not be allowed on streets or that bicyclists should not be allowed to ride their bikes anywhere they prefer. But, now, we’re beating that dead horse. Most of us know the logic.
The meeting drew to a close, ended with as much, or as little fanfare as do most of them, handshakes and pats on the back with the customary “good job” complimentary kudos, and out the door we all went.
   And, so, that was that.  I got into my SUV, watched to see none had taken advantage of the opportunity to ride their bicycle, and drove to my next destination down the Main Street Corridor in a wide, four-lane road, efficiently, and timely, as did the others – and along my way never witnessed any bicyclist experiencing any problems without dedicated bike paths.
Of the people, for the people,
and for the good of the community
You may want to consider coming to regular, public meetings such as this one. After all, its your right, its your city, its your government.
What better way to discover what’s going on?

In an upcoming post, we will examine the McLean County Regional Planning Commission, its history, its mission, its financials, its impact on our communities, and who they receive their directives from.


June 5, 2012

It’s beginning.
One by one, the “best man for the job” will step up and announce their candidacy for the Mayor of Bloomington.
With each announcement will come the same old, tired, cliche’ promises to fix what is broken, eliminate what is not needed, add what is, and make our City better than it was before.
We will hear how each one is the best man for the job. That each has better qualifications than their opponents. And, we will hear their plans to take our community where it needs to go and make our city what it needs to be.
What we won’t hear much about is what’s best for the citizen. About what’s really best for the community, as a whole, and as represented by the majority (remember that concept?). And we probably won’t hear much about preserving the rights and liberties and the freedom of the citizen.
Did I already mention politics as usual?
In fact, we will hear much of the same old, worn-out, politics-as-usual rhetoric that, in fact, has rarely had a positive impact on anything.
We will hear from them about why they are the best candidate for Mayor, but will citizens hear at all from the Mayor’s best candidate?
Speaking of politics as usual (again), the Pantagraph has reported that local Democrat and Illinois Wesleyan professor of political science,Tari Renner, has officially announced his candidacy for Bloomington Mayor  (again).  (link to story here)
This must seem like old hat to Renner. As the Pantagraph has repeatedly reported, he lost to current Mayor, Steve Stockton, in his last mayoral bid by 15 votes. Renner certainly has appreciable experience in local government and is active. Aside from his academic and classroom achievements in politics , he has served on the McLean County Board, ran for Congressional office (unsuccessfully), and currently serves on the McLean County Regional Planning Commission.  Renner’s current campaign rhetoric preliminarily sounds appealing on the surface and his ideas very timely. But given his status quo approach to government I’m left needing more.
That said, upon attending yesterday afternoon’s post-press conference, I was privy to several conversations by Renner supporters that seem relevant here – sort of the “talk of the town”, at least for now.
Summarily and first, simply stated, that Renner only lost by 15 votes does not, in and of itself, qualify him as a viable Mayor candidate.
Second, Renner’s quasi-political role at IWU and a County Board tenure does not necessarily translate into model Mayor criteria  just because “he knows the process”. *
Third, Renner’s continued praises for the current political administration, its processes and it’s results, without acknowledging its fundamental flaws are troubling – politics-as-usual and upside down government.
And finally, Renner’s participation on the MCRPC** is extremely concerning given that body’s current role, its scope, and its objective, not to mention the fact its broad power of unelected members who are influential in City affairs, public policy and planning, for which Renner votes.

Further enlightening is a Renner statement from his past Congressional effort. When asked why he decided to challenge then-opponent, Jerry Weller, Renner replied, “…[Weller] did not reflect the political diversity of the district…”.  I am forced to ask, what’s that mean? Was Weller elected to reflect the political diversity of citizens? Hardly. And if Renner was elected Mayor of Bloomington would his responsibility be to reflect political diversity or the majority best interest? Maybe that explains Renner’s failure to recognize the fundamental flaws of the current local government – is his own political science fundamentally flawed?
But enough about Renner – you get the idea. Maybe not the best candidate and certainly not the Mayor’s candidate.
But, we certainly don’t intend to single out Renner. He’s simply in today’s spotlight.  Whether the Pantagraph is not aware or whether they simply choose not to report it to readers, other potential candidates’ names have been discussed in the political circles,  We have heard talk of Ward 1 Alderman and NICOR’s government liaison, Bernie Anderson’s interest. The rumor-mill spits out Ward 5 Alderwoman Jennifer McDade is being courted by the EDC to run. Current Mayor Pro-Temp, Karen Schmidt may have expressed interest. And Ward 9 Alderman Jim Fruin had been the topic of conversations, as well.*** (See this weeks Poll on the right)
While the election of Tari Renner as Mayor, or any of the above-just named, might be a changing of the guard, we would be forced to ask what would the guard change? If the current politics as usual stance of everyone mentioned is any indication, irregardless of any per-election rhetoric, we can safely presume that none would satisfy the criteria as the mayor’s candidate.
Who is the Mayor’s candidate, you ask?  The Mayor’s candidate is that special person who ideally fulfills the role as the City’s figurehead – it’s representative voice, that stands head and shoulders above the politics of the political arena, yet one that citizens can count on for assurance in the political arena,  and one that will address our City’s  needs and best interests without influence of anything other that its citizens.
The Mayor’s candidate is that individual who represents Bloomington today, as well as the vision, the needs, and the interests of the community for tomorrow.
The Mayor’s candidate puts the people of Bloomington ahead of politics and agendas.
The Mayor’s candidate would know not only the processes, but the law – the rules – and use that knowledge to effectively bring to the community what’s best for its citizens.

The Mayor’s candidate is that individual who represents the office and the City legally, respectfully, effectively, and with the moral and ethical responsibility owed to the citizens of Bloomington. The Mayor’s candidate is that representative who interacts with the citizens from all corners of the community, who knows the City intimately, and who knows what’s best for Bloomington for the sake of Bloomington.
And, the model Mayor would not only be and effective leader, but serve as a team player, working alongside City Council and staff to encourage and ensure the most effective approach and best possible means to implement and achieve what’s best for Bloomington and its citizens.
And, while much of this may sound pretty fundamental, absent these foundational underpinnings, the Mayor becomes politics as usual and personal agendas. That Mayor follows the same ineffective approach, the same backward strategy, is affected by internal and external influences, agendas, and forces that direct our City down the wrong path for all the wrong reasons, and never consider, address or implement  basic, fundamental needs and interests.

In the end we end up with exactly what we currently are experiencing -upside down government. With it comes the troubling issues we are currently experiencing in our City. What candidate can turn that around? Is there a “best man for the job”?
Who is the Mayor’s candidate?  Those will be big boots to fit. Bigger boots to walk in. A little more than simply deciding who’s the best man for the job, or who’s the better candidate. In my mind, that’s like deciding who’s the lesser evil. For my Mayor, I need more.
For my Mayor, I need the Mayor’s candidate.

Of the people, for the people,
and for the good of the community.

* CITYWATCH overheard this conversation between the media and a current Bloomington City
Council when this was stated.
** MCRPC –  McLean County Regional Planning Commission
***  This information is based on public comment and not necessarily deemed factual or reliable.
CITYWATCH assumes no responsibility in the inaccuracy or accuracy of these public statements.

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