A Letter to the Rockford City Council: Support Chancery Landmark Status

The following letter was sent to the Rockford City Council in support of Landmark status for Piety Hill, which includes the former chancery, convent, and St. Peter’s School. - Jennifer

I am writing to respectfully ask for your vote to grant Historic Landmark Status for the Rockford Chancery Building and related buildings when the matter comes before the full Council for a final vote. 

There are many questions raised by this complex issue, many voices and opinions clamoring for your attention, but fortunately there is truly only one question that you must consider when determining your vote: Is the Chancery a historic building worthy of landmark status? 

Screen Shot 2018-12-19 at 5.04.12 PM.png
Screen Shot 2018-12-19 at 5.04.21 PM.png
Image via RRStar.

Image via RRStar.

As a Council member you are asked to make decisions about issues and topics on which you may have no professional knowledge or personal experience. As a member of the Zoning Board of Appeals and Liquor/Tobacco Advisory Board I have been faced with this scenario many times. Fortunately, ZBA/LTAB members are provided with tools to guide our decision making process and to help make the most objective decision possible. The tools are familiar to you because they are the same ones that guide your decision making:

  • The expertise of City Staff;    

  • The history of decisions by the board related to the matter at hand;    

  • The testimony of subject matter experts;

  • The testimony of neighbors/interested parties;  

  • The codes and ordinances of the City of Rockford;   

  • The laws of the City of Rockford, State of Illinois, etc.; and

  • The goals and strategic objectives of the City of Rockford as laid out in existing plans, i.e. the 2020 Comprehensive Plan

Once ZBA/LTAB has made a decision, it puts another tool in the hands of Council -- our vote to approve or deny an application theoretically becomes the first "layer" of consideration when it comes time for the Council to vote on a matter.

And so we return to the central question of the matter at hand: Is the Chancery a historic building worthy of landmark status? If you do not feel you have the professional knowledge or personal experience necessary to definitively answer that question, you are fortunate to have a layer of insight, a tool in your toolbox, to inform your decision: the unanimous recommendation of the Historic Preservation Commission, a commission whose members are approved by Council to make recommendations on matters of historic significance. Their unanimous recommendation is the most powerful tool at your disposal in this matter. Do not disregard it. 

Excerpt, Historic Preservation Commission meeting minutes, 28 February

Excerpt, Historic Preservation Commission meeting minutes, 28 February

Engaged citizens have carried this matter forward as far as possible with the tools at their disposal.  As a council member, you are equipped with a far more powerful array of tools. I have been utterly disheartened to hear council members reject the very powers for which they were elected to wield, powers to maintain and strengthen the physical and social fabric of our neighborhoods, powers to build wealth and vibrancy into our neighborhoods and districts, powers to slow, shift, and turn the trajectory of our older neighborhoods from decay and despair to rejuvenation and renewal. 

Your vote of agreement that the Chancery is a historic building worthy of landmark status is not a governmental overreach or a threat to religious liberty -- it is the recognition that you have been elected to act with all the tools at your disposal to maintain the vital structures of our city. Is it an overreach to hold property owners accountable for neighborhood standards? To put conditions on the approval of a liquor license? To require a permit for construction or deconstruction? These are normative actions of the government that employs you, actions that are not based on whims or opinions but codes, ordinances, and systems. You were elected to use the system for the good of your constituents, for the financial well-being of the City and all who call it home. Your vote of agreement that the Chancery is a historic building worthy of landmark status is not only fully appropriate, it is the only reasonable conclusion. 

Thank you for your thoughtful consideration of this matter. 

Pedestrian Collision Research: Next Steps.

This week I have attempted to demonstrate how unsafe arterial roads are for pedestrians in the City of Rockford.  Improving mobility outcomes will never come through slinging mud at municipal officials.  So I’ve met with Mayor McNamara to present my findings and discuss the administrative implications from the research.  My emphasis in this series has been on reducing vehicle speed, as I believe that is the most significant variable at play.  Speed increases risk, reduces recognition, and extends the stop distance of vehicles.  Reducing speed gives pedestrians a fighting chance in the event of a collision.  Additionally, I hope that the construction basic pedestrian infrastructure is one of the fruits of this research.  There are several portions of State, for example that have both sustained a higher proportion of pedestrian collisions while lacking sidewalks, bus platforms, etc.

Rockford-East-State-NoSidewalks.jpg
You can imagine how difficult this gets for people who walk in the winter.

You can imagine how difficult this gets for people who walk in the winter.

Rockford-Pedestrian-Collisions-Ward-Map.jpg

I’m also in the process of meeting with a select council members to discuss the findings.  In particular, I plan on meeting with Alderman Tuneberg, Logemann and Beach. Together, 53% of all collisions happen in these wards. 

My next steps are not fully materialized yet, but it involves focusing on a section of 11th street, gathering data on pedestrian and motorist behavior, and preparing a municipal plan for addressing this issue.  Although is my final project for graduate school, I hope that the recommendations will be considered by city officials. 

I’ve been presenting my findings to friends and residents as well.  We all have a stake in ensuring our transportation network really lives up to the aims we espouse in our municipal documents, namely safety. So here are a few things you can consider:

  • Have a roadway improvement in your neighborhood?  If you’re like Rockford and have a Complete Streets policy in the books, then that policy probably has some performance measures to ascertain success.  For example: Linear feet of sidewalk or bike lanes, or rate of children walking to school.  Ask your council member: How is our ward contributing towards that end?   
  • Long before the dump trucks arrive, you should really get familiar with your community’s Capital Improvement Plan.  Unlike super-amazing places like Seville, most active transportation improvements take a long time.  Look ahead, see what the city has planned for the next five years, and make sure your council member knows that you support safe roadways that slow vehicle speeds and improve pedestrian mobility. 
Sidewalk-closed.jpeg
This example is from the twin cities, courtesy of Bill Lindeke.

This example is from the twin cities, courtesy of Bill Lindeke.

  • Every time you see one of these signs–“Sidewalk Closed”–ask yourself, “What’s the Plan B?” If the sidewalk is closed for a construction project, the city is required to provide an alternative.  Here’s one example from the Twin Cities for context.  Given our incomplete sidewalk network, I think it’s important that we fight to keep what we have connected. 

A final thing to do: Be careful.  For those who walk in Rockford: I hope this research shows you the roads that are most unsafe to walk near.  For those who drive in Rockford: Be mindful that there are other people that cannot or choose not to use a motor vehicle for their mobility needs.   

6.png

I’ll close with this newspaper excerpt that I shared in the first post.  Pedestrian collisions have been around long before Motordom appeared.  Seeing the transition and effects of roads to stroads in excerpts like this, however, show me that we have a long road ahead.  I earnestly hope the next forty years are better for non-motorized users of our transportation network.

 

Safety for Whom?

How has safety been used to alter or maintain asymmetric relations of power?  This is not just a question of who gets to drive and with how much latitude as if the equation is simply car=freedom=equality.  As noted previously, automobility and the freedom it promises needs to be understood as obligation as well.  The system of automobility in the U.s. in many ways demands that one must drive a car.  The disciplining of mobility organized through traffic safety is thus a means of keeping the system running smoothly, even as if often works as a means of keeping systems of social inequality intact. 

-Jeremy Packer, ‘Mobility Without Mayhem’

Yesterday I shared the below map as a means to satisfy the hypothesis: Pedestrian collisions occur more frequently on principal arterial roads in the City of Rockford. 

Rockford-Pedestrian-Collisions-Principal-Arterial.jpg

From 2006-2015, 81% of all collisions–446 out of 551–occurred on principal arterial roads in the City of Rockford.  

Strong Towns readers are keenly aware of the following design features of principal arterial roads (read: “Stroads”).  Nonetheless, I think it is helpful to visualize the features that characterize our most unsafe roadways in Rockford. 

South Main Street, looking north from Morgan Street.  IDOT recently completed this roadway project which includes four 12' travel lanes.  12' lanes are wide, especially given that this stretch is in a compact, walkable area of our city and is less than one mile from city center.

South Main Street, looking north from Morgan Street.  IDOT recently completed this roadway project which includes four 12' travel lanes.  12' lanes are wide, especially given that this stretch is in a compact, walkable area of our city and is less than one mile from city center.

During the South Main reconstruction project, IDOT removed the on-street parking and demolished a tax-producing building so drivers could have ample parking.

During the South Main reconstruction project, IDOT removed the on-street parking and demolished a tax-producing building so drivers could have ample parking.

 Fixed hazardous objects such as utility poles and parked cars are removed from the right-of-way.  This gives drivers a false sense of security, and unduly places a higher risk on pedestrians. 

Image courtesy of Google.

Image courtesy of Google.

Pictured here is Jefferson Street looking west towards our downtown.  We’ve given drivers an oversupply of travel lanes–four lanes on the bridge–while the annual average daily traffic (AADT) ranges only 6,000-8,00 cars a day.  This communicates to the driver an environment that is frictionless…until friction sets in. 

5.jpg

These dots are vehicle crashes, not pedestrian crashes.  See the concentration of dots?  153 in ten years.  Here’s what happens when speeding vehicles meet a compact urban environment with minimal setbacks: 

6.jpg
7.jpg

Among the 3 E’s, I believe that engineering at the municipal level can play a significant role in reducing speed and improving pedestrian safety.   Tomorrow I will share the steps I’ve taken since the above research took place, and also give you some action items that may be helpful for your community.

Pedestrian Safety, Mapped: 2006-2015 Findings

Yesterday’s post began with the following questions: 

  • How ‘safe’ are pedestrians; 
  • What areas are less safe than others for pedestrians; and 
  • How can we work together to maximize safety and accessibility for non-motorized users of our transportation network?  

Using IDOT crash data for the City of Rockford, I put together the following:

1.jpg

From 2006-2015, 551 pedestrians were hit by the driver of a vehicle in the City of Rockford.

Rockford-Pedestrian-Fatalities.jpg

Of the 551 collisions, 23 were fatal.  (note: It is likely that these fatalities occurred at the scene. It is unlikely that IDOT has obtained data from area hospitals, so the number of fatalities may be higher). 

I explored the attribute tables afterwards.  I found that 56% of collisions happened in the daytime, not at nighttime (when people are often blamed for not wearing reflective, bright-colored clothing).  I also found that inclement weather–snow, rain, fog, wind combined–was present in only 18% of the collisions.   

Pedestrian-Collisions-C4.jpg

I then overlaid zoning districts onto the collisions. Pictured here is our C-4, mixed-use district, the most compact, walkable space we have in Rockford.   City Market, Friday Night Flix, Stroll on State…we have a lot of people out walking downtown.  Surely most of our collisions are happening in this district?  While not insignificant, only 15% of all pedestrian collisions occurred here. 

Pedestrian-Collisions-C1-2.jpg

Pictured here are a couple of our commercial districts.  This is where most folks are getting their groceries, cashing their checks, or dining out.  33% of all pedestrian collisions occurred here.  So what about these districts?  More particularly, what does the type of roadway bisecting these zones tell us about pedestrian collisions?

The city and our regional MPO have classified our roadways with seven designations ranging from ‘local streets’ to ‘interstate’.  The following slides show four of those roadways: Minor collectors, major collections, minor arterials, and other principal arterials.  Recall the hypothesis: 

Pedestrian collisions occur more frequently on principal arterial roads in the City of Rockford.

Less than 1% of all pedestrian collisions occurred on minor collectors.

Less than 1% of all pedestrian collisions occurred on minor collectors.

Just over 1% of all pedestrian collisions occurred on major collectors.

Just over 1% of all pedestrian collisions occurred on major collectors.

9% of all pedestrian collisions occurred on minor arterials.  Notably, Auburn and Broadway have a significant collection of collisions.

9% of all pedestrian collisions occurred on minor arterials.  Notably, Auburn and Broadway have a significant collection of collisions.

81% of all pedestrian collisions occurred on principal arterials.  We can accept the above hypothesis.

81% of all pedestrian collisions occurred on principal arterials.  We can accept the above hypothesis.

From 2006-2015, 81% of all collisions–446 out of 551–occurred on principal arterial roads in the City of Rockford.  Let me note the most dangerous roads in particular: 

  • State Street: 23% of all collisions (126 of 551) occur on State Street, which is owned by IDOT.  
  • 11th: 9% of all collisions (46 of 551) happen here. The highest concentration of collisions are on the portion of 11th that is also owned by IDOT. 
  • Charles: 8% of all collisions (39 of 551) happen here.
Rockford-AADT.jpg

As you can see, these streets do a great job at moving a large number of vehicles every day.  However, they do a poor job at moving pedestrians. 

Tomorrow I will look at some of the design characteristics typifying arterial roads that frustrate pedestrian mobility and compromise pedestrian safety. 

 

Research: Pedestrian Collisions in Rockford

If you were to close your eyes and place a finger on any transportation-related document your city is producing, there’s a good chance you’d land on one word: Safety.

“The City recognizes the need to develop a safe, efficient, accessible and integrated multimodal transportation network that balances the need and desire for access, mobility, economic development and aesthetics while providing for the health and well-being for people of all ages and abilities.”  -City of Rockford, Complete Streets Policy, Jan 2017

Excerpt of our Complete Streets policy.

Excerpt of our Complete Streets policy.

Excerpt of our LimeBike agreement. 

Excerpt of our LimeBike agreement. 

These excerpts are from recent resolutions and agreements that the Rockford City Council has adopted.  All the right words are here: “multimodal”, “all ages and abilities”, “safe routes to school”, even “maximize carbon-free mobility”.  All good.

Recently my interest has been in the alignment of this municipal value–safety–with the existing conditions of pedestrian mobility.  I began with the following questions:

  • How ‘safe’ are pedestrians; 
  • What areas are less safe than others for pedestrians; and 
  • How can we work together to maximize safety and accessibility for non-motorized users of our transportation network?  
Rockford-RRSTar-Pedestrian-2.jpg
January, 1974.

January, 1974.

Every so often I would hear of pedestrians getting hit by drivers on certain roads.  So I began to research our library’s newspaper archive.  Turns out we’ve had a problem with pedestrian collisions for some time.  The above example in particular is telling:  Once a “comfortable country road”, Alpine Road has now sustained two pedestrian collisions in the last month…January 1974.  Over forty years ago.

Alpine, looking north, just north of Alpine/State intersection.  Image courtesy of  Bob Anderson.

Alpine, looking north, just north of Alpine/State intersection.  Image courtesy of Bob Anderson.

Alpine today.  Image courtesy of Google.

Alpine today.  Image courtesy of Google.

Eventually it was time to pair qualitative research with quantitative research. I began with the following hypothesis: 

Pedestrian collisions occur more frequently on principal arterial roads in the City of Rockford.

So I obtained ten years of data from the Illinois Department of Transportation (2006-2015, to be exact).  Merged together, here was my initial finding: 

Rockford-Pedestrian-Collisions.jpg

From 2006-2015, 551 pedestrians were hit by the driver of a vehicle in the City of Rockford.

More to come tomorrow.