The Anchorage Park Foundation (APF) is on the warpath yet again. Last month they released a Google Forms petition that asked just about everyone (but elected officials) to spend money to create something already there (https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSfYlTdg36Z0ttJ2DAwemCgVp7IROOHni-2xBEh7GizRIHaH3Q/viewform), and I’d like to spend a few of your moments addressing why this is another bad idea.
Who and What
The petition is not addressed to elected officials, but to various MOA staff and to AMATS, which underscores probably the biggest problem we have with transportation infrastructure in Anchorage: planners are not accountable to the public. Specifically, the petition is addressed to
* Anchorage Metropolitan Area Transportation Solutions (AMATS) Policy Committee
* Anchorage Project Management and Engineering
* Anchorage Parks and Recreation
* Anchorage Traffic
* AMATS Staff
and, after some self-aggrandizement (more on that below) the petition makes the following request:
We urge you to allocate funding for a public process to determine a preferred alternative for a safer crossing at this important intersection and work together on a wayfinding plan to make this unique and lovable trail system a destination for all.
One small problem…
A Crossing Already Exists
Yes, a safe crossing has been in place there for decades. A block and a half south of where the creek flows under Lake Otis Blvd is a tunnel. Yes, a nice wide tunnel, much nicer than anything one would see down by Westchester Lagoon. And that raises a handful of very important questions! Questions nowhere visible in the petition!
It gets better, of course. It turns out that the tunnel lies on a line between where the trail comes from and where it goes to; in other words, the trail goes out of its way to a crossing that will never exist, as opposed to taking the route that would employ the existing tunnel.
But take heart!!! Though things would have been simpler to align all those years ago, it is still relatively easy to fix the problem. And yes, I intend to keep you, Reader, hostage as long as I can.
So why would someone design a trail that eschewed the only viable crossing? There are a number of possibilities, but most of them reflect the kind of critical view that most in government are allergic to, so let’s look at giving the question a more positive spin, and that suggests two possibilities.
The first is that at the time no one saw multi-use trails as transportation corridors (lame, yes, but not as negative as most explanations…). Arguably the Campbell Creek Trail would be just that: a narrow band of asphalt that would run the length of Campbell Creek. Of course, who would have expected that another trail following a major water course would be so popular that we would spend almost $1,000,000 redoing it (but not making it any wider over much of its course). Well, the truth is LOTS of PEOPLE understood that the design was inadequate, but who listens to the public???
The second argument, I suppose, is the “build it and they will come” magical thinking bit that we bought in the movie theaters. The trail followed the creek, and eventually the MOA would have to widen the bridge over the creek to included a bike trail (as money was no object…). Yes, there are such tunnels in some locations, but though the nearby corner has been rebuilt over, and over, and over, and over again, and though we opine mightily about “non-motorized plans” and supporting non-motorized users of our municipal infrastructure, “they came”, but without the buckets of cash needed to build a bridge, or another tunnel.
The truth is that we are never going to build a bridge over Lake Otis at the Creek, and with all the other demands on diminishing (already gone?) funding, who in their right mind would build ANOTHER tunnel under a six lane highway? Can you spell BOONDOGGLE? But what, you ask, is wrong with APF trying to hustle a little interest?
Undermining the Public Process
One of the biggest problems here is that once again APF is subverting a complex and comprehensive process whereby communities feed their capital improvement project requests through the municipal system. Indeed, what APF “does best” is bypass all that by getting a direct appropriation from the State, and thereby making a virtual mockery of the all the work that all the “little people” invest in trying to push their respective projects forward. But, you exclaim, APD is a private, non-profit, non-membership corporation, so how does it have such an outside effect on government? Well, the answer to that is the partnership scheme that was brought to bear for Parks in Anchorage, which makes partners more important than the public. Money talks.
Yes, I can provide multiple examples of how APF has tried to run roughshod over the public, but since I am trying to keep this short, and some Assembly members get positively red in the face when Ms. Nordlund’s name comes up, we can set that aside for now. But I am happy to appear at any Assembly or Administration work session to discuss such matters…
But back to Moose. People have been riding the loop around Anchorage for years. As part of their little self-promotional branding efforts, APF started calling the loop, The Moose, and started promoting an “initiative”, which in part also celebrated APF accomplishments, while issues that APF does not want to address “under the carpet” (e.g. “celebrating” Pine St., which has accomplished nothing, while ignoring Boniface and RJSP – safer routes needing extensive work but ignored for decades).
What can be done (to address the crossing issue)? Well, for starters, we can ignore APF’s rhetoric and misdirection. We can inexpensively address the current access to Folker from Campbell Creek trail, and create a sharrow to 52nd and the tunnel on the East side of Lake Otis. On the West side we simply need to create a sharrow down Waldron to Cache. And at the tunnel itself, we need only remove the stairs and existing ramp and replace with shallower ramps on both sides. All told the few trail tweaks and the ramps would run substantially less than $50K and does not need “study” so much as some nitty gritty design work: design work that should have been done decades ago and a bit of engineering.
Most importantly, with all the critical infrastructure needs we have, these fixes are NOT critical. Period. I rode the path described above last week and it is MUCH better than a good deal of the “Moose” not being complained of! Let me be blunt: NOT NOW. Identify the fixes, put them in a plan and pass it about for comment – and then put it on the CIP list somewhere near the bottom.
Yes we need wayfinding, but APF and P&R ignored public comment on wayfinding, and as a result the little bit that is in place is disappointing and substandard. The truth is, as I noted above, that while we provide everyone with lots of Opportunities to be heard, no one ever actually listens to anything said, nor does anyone ever make any changes as a result of any testimony on any project. Indeed, on a recent project where State funding was killed because APF made such a shambles of the grant (the public DID try to make suggestions, but APF and P&R simply ignored every suggestion made), an MOA Assembly member thereupon ran about claiming that I killed the project off. Really? Considering how much pull I have with you lot, you know how pathetic such an allegation is, but there you go.
No, I could not address everything there is to say about any of this here. But lucky you, if you want to hear more all you need to do is ask. No, the various persons/parties being petitioned won’t ask, because they don’t see that as in their brief. They don’t “solve”problems, they kick them down the high speed, incredibly dangerous (and unresponsive to NTSB or FWHA guidance) roads…