Sunday, February 21, 2010

Reflections on Teaching Our Children About September 11

The Town of Windermere's 9-11 Memorial. The idea for using steel from one of the fallen Twin Towers to commemorate those who lost their lives came from Boy Scout Jeff Cox.

The anguish of September 11, 2001 flooded back as the Town of Windermere yesterday dedicated Florida's first memorial--a chunk of steel from one of the Twin Towers.

I brought two of my children, Melissa, 5, and Max, 6, to start learning. My lesson: some people want to hurt the United States because it stands for freedom and democracy. But many protect us.  The photographs of a firefighter with a mustache, placed on the memorial by family members who loved him, transfixed my children. The concept of selfless sacrifice is a profound one. Bravery is easier to understand at their age.

As I told WKMG-TV Channel 6, we want our children to grow into citizens who love America and what it represents. WKMG's camera captured Melissa asking me questions.

"Daddy, were you even alive when this happened?"

"Yes, I was."

"Were you a baby?"

"No, I was not a baby.  I was all grown up."

"Did you get to see it?"

"Yes, I was watching it on TV."

While we bear witness for our children, we must teach beyond the difficult images they will one day encounter on the internet. Windermere placed the Memorial midway between the library and Town Hall--institutions representing learning and democracy.  The Memorial's simplicity and beautiful small town America setting make it ideal for the teaching to begin and to continue.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Church Street Stumble

Eliminating Half of Sidewalk At Odds with City Code

A crowd of pedestrians on the part of a sidewalk slated for elimination for a right-turn lane.  The orange cone marks the traffic signal pole's planned new location.

Mayor Dyer's administration normally is friendly and "gets it" when it comes to implementing walkable urbanism in the City of Orlando.  Perhaps that's why many find the City's plans to eliminate on-street parking and half of Church Street's sidewalk at Orange Avenue so maddening. 

This intersection, at downtown's heart, may have some of Central Florida's heaviest pedestrian traffic.  SunRail, the new Arena, and 55 West will combine to increase the number of pedestrians exponentially. 

Queues on Church Street rarely amount to more than several vehicles, and Church Street closes to vehicles in the evenings when Arena events will occur.  Traffic load can further disperse by making Pine Street two-way, as City Commissioner Daisy Lynum proposes

The City is attempting to solve a non-existent problem, and in so doing, will make the public realm more dangerous and less business-friendly.  Cafe Ritazza depends on the on-street parking for part of its customer base.

The City of Orlando's Code (§ 61.253) classifies Church Street at Orange Avenue as a "primary pedestrian street."  The Code defines "primary pedestrian street" as follows:
Primary Pedestrian Street. These streets, although they sometimes play an important vehicular traffic role, are the ones which have been designated to receive strong pedestrian emphasis, either because they carry heavy pedestrian flows or because they play an important visual role or because they link important activities or open spaces. Emphasis on the pedestrian requires wide sidewalks, frequently-spaced street trees, and other amenities to make walking a pleasant experience.
Eliminating half of the sidewalk is at odds with Orlando's Growth Management Plan's Downtown Element and ordinances, whose goals and policies are intended "to create Florida's Premiere Downtown by...enhancing the street-level pedestrian environment...."  This is no enhancement. 

One Orlando City Commissioner informed me he had no idea of the City's plans until he read about them in the Orlando Sentinel.  I would like to see the City reconsider, and, going foward, would ask Mayor Dyer to consider establishing a more thorough means of review for street-widening plans Downtown and in other areas intended for pedestrians.

As a "primary pedestrian street," pedestrian traffic should have priority at Church Street and Orange Avenue.

(UPDATE -- March 1, 2010 -- I received word that, in view of concerns expressed by land planners, transportation engineers, and members of the Orlando City Commission, the City has placed the sidewalk narrowing on hold pending a full evaluation.) 

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

SunRail and High Speed Rail Need to Connect

This map submitted to the United States Department of Transportation for high speed rail funding omits an intermodal connection to SunRail commuter trains.  The legislature approved SunRail after the submission.

Florida's application for High Speed Rail--submitted before the legislature approved SunRail--proposed two intermodal stations in the Orlando area for connections to other transporatation--one at Orlando International Airport and the other at the Orange County Convention Center.  The application, however, left open the possibility of an intermodal connection with SunRail.  Final plans should include it. 

United States Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood wrote on his blog about the various high speed rail grants:

We know that people already want to travel between these cities; we're here to begin making that downtown-to-downtown travel significantly easier, faster, and more productive.

Orlando Sentinel columnist Mike Thomas lampooned the notion of people driving to the Orlando International Airport and paying exorbidant parking fees to take the train to Tampa.  A connection between SunRail and High Speed Rail would eliminate the need for many to park at the airport. 

The possibility of Lynx bus service between SunRail and the Convention Center and Airport seems wasteful.  The point of rail systems is to eliminate sitting in traffic, not to needlessly create more traffic, especially when the systems will cross each other. 

The other proposal for Airport/SunRail/Convention Center transit--a light rail system running parallel to the High Speed Rail line--seems redundant and wasteful.

A connection between SunRail and High Speed Rail would enable downtown Orlando workers and many Central Florida residents to travel by rail to Disney, the Convention Center, the Airport, and downtown Tampa, bypassing our traffic-choked highways.  Likewise, residents from Tampa and Lakeland should have an ability to travel exclusively by rail to downtown Orlando, Winter Park, and beyond. 

The significant ridership and revenue that both systems can generate to each other overwhelms the criticism that adding a SunRail intermodal stop will slow High Speed Rail's travel time.  High Speed Rail trains won't travel anywhere near 160 mph between the Airport and Convention Center, with or without a SunRail stop.  Tourist taking High Speed Rail from the airport may endure an extra two or three minutes for a SunRail stop--a pittance compared to the time they will spend in line at Disney World.  The officials who will make the final decisions on intermodal connectivity should ensure that these two very expensive transportation investments provide maximum service and benefit to the people who live and work in Central Florida.