Thursday, March 6, 2014

MPC Director Stephen Jean Pitches Beautiful Idea at Last Meeting!

In attendance: Stephen Jean, Dara Sanders, Loren Demerath, Maurice Loridans, Cynthia Keith, Feico Kempff, Susan Perkins, Amanda Bertrand, Kathryn Brandl, Helen Whitaker, Catherine McGuinn Sailor

The group welcomed Stephen Jean, the director of the Metropolitan Planning Commission, and Dara Sanders, planner for the MPC and coordinator of Master Plan Implementation, as well as Stephen’s wife, Catherine McGuinn Sailor, and friend, Helen Whitaker.


Stephen talked about how he’s been aware of ABetterShreveport’s interest in making Shreveport more walkable and bikeable, and the MPC has been proactive, looking for ways to do that.  It’s part of the Master Plan, and that’s their guide for development and zoning.  For example, they’ve recently been in conversations with Wholefoods about their new building, looking for way to facilitate bike-pedestrian mobility in that area.  They’ve also been looking into a way of going under 70th, and have talked with SPAR Director Shelly Ragle and city engineer Robert Westerman about that.

Could this fill the "black hole" to let us finally walk to 70th & Youree?
(This "hovenring" is in Holland, wouldn't you know.)
In addition to the Master Plan’s priorities, Stephen and Katherine described how personal experience has led them to see the need first hand. On a recent bicycle trip, trying to go from Regional Urology to the Krogers on Youree and 70th, they found the going very difficult, having to negotiate a circuitous route.  It shows the need to find safer connections for those who want to walk and bike as transportation around the city.  Others noted people don’t just want to do that for their own health, or the planet’s health, but also because it’s fun.

Stephen said, though, that developers are often unhappy about implementing the features mandated in the Master Plan.  These developers are used to using a standard model where a group of homes are isolated with but one entry and exit point, making walking and biking difficult.  It was noted that we all need to continue to educate as to what people are demanding in cities these days, and how it will actually be more profitable for developers to build this way.  It was noted that it’s also safer, putting more people on the street and reducing their vulnerability.

Stephen noted that if you talk to people who are older, they’ll remember riding the trolley to a downtown that was a thriving place.  And it’s happening again.  Steven mentioned visiting his son in Austin recently and how lives in a transitional neighborhood, but the amenities are remarkable: right there is the bus stop, the bike lane, the “Yellow Bike” stop, a little pocket park.  But in terms of properties the neighborhood wouldn’t be much that much different from Queensboro or Caddo Heights.  


Bentonville, Arkansas, Stephen mentioned has done a lot.  It has a large corporate presence in the city, so they’ve got people coming in and demanding things, and the demand drives the policy.

As a way of facilitating that demand, Stephen said the MPC is going to reconvene the Citizens Advisory Group (CAG) and get the citizens to advocate for what would help the city.  For example, there’s a lot of people wanting to bike and ride, and doing things like restriping streets and installing paths is low hanging fruit. 

Stephen mentioned that the MPC’s mid-month meeting might be an opportunity to advocate and communicate what’s been done elsewhere and which now amount to “best practices” for city development.  It was agreed that ABS would like to present to MPC, as it has to the City Council.


Grace Peterson also wants to have connections to different community gardening hubs in a hundred mile radius, not to mention all those within the city.  

Cookie Coleman of the Red River Coalition of Community Gardens has identified deficiencies in food; a local distribution center would help get regionally grown foods out locally.  Having the local governing bodies adopt standards would help.  The Coalition wasn’t asking for financial support but for policy and regulation.  The Coalition helps work on food security.  (Stephen mentioned the Arklatex is the greens capital of the world, and, incidentally, he’s looking for a recipe for chicory; here it grows big.)


Loren mentioned that he’s found developers can talk a good game, but haven’t the training of an urban planner on what the best practices are for quality of life.  It’s more than just “a look” as the failure of Villagio has shown locally.

Stephen said developers may not agree with the Master Plan but it can’t be ignored.  He said they have a lot of support from their board, and that includes Lea DeMarteau, the current Chair.  MPC would now like to start going out more and engaging the community and that it needs help from the community.  

In addition to the renewed CAG, there’ll be an opportunity for community input through the Unified Development Code, and we want to make sure the new code is implementing the Master Plan. The Master Plan is not codified as it stands now; we have language in our current ordinances but they're not design standards or very specific.  A new UDC would also give predictability to developers and make it easier for them to develop here, as well as improving quality of life issues.  

For example, the code can require a grid; when new streets are constructed we can require interconnectivity and you can use the public right of way for multiple functions rather than avoiding it.  Not every street will have a bike lane, but they can be installed by putting streets on “diets” to make lanes thinner; e.g., going from 15 feet to 11.  That also slows down traffic and makes it safer.


Stephen then pitched an idea.  Walking to church one day, he was looking at wildflowers, and had a thought: how about we all throw wildflower seeds everywhere we want bike and walking paths to be.  Once bloomed, the flowers show planners on MPC where the community wants paths.  Arial photographs would show the flowers, and if the tree canopy hides them, we’d see them when we’re driving down the road. 

Wildflower seed showing a suggested bike path locale? 
Stephen has pitched it to some people in city hall and gotten nothing but positive feedback.  He said he wanted to ABetterShreveport on board first before moving forward, since we’re among the strongest advocates for multimodal transportation, and we have such a large following on facebook.  If ABS is interested, we need to sit down and talk about how to get it started.  Shreveport Green is a pivot point as well. 

The idea is that we could hand out a pamphlet laying out the rules that people follow.  Maybe we could even have color codes for what kind of trail or path is intended.  We’d want to be respectful of people’s property of course, so there’d be rules about staying on public right-of-ways, more likely.

Stephen’s talked to Bonnie Moore about the idea too. The notion would be that every neighborhood could do this; we’d want people to see that anyone should be able ride a bike to anywhere they want to.  Katherine noted that just doing errands are what she and Stephen have tried to do, and it’s hard.


Others testified as to the difficulties.  Kathryn noted that she moved here from Eugene and found she couldn’t walk around.  Dara lives near the shopping area but can’t get there on foot. 

Maurice noted that, as a transportation cyclist, he refers to the area around 70th and Youree as “the black hole.”  Nonetheless, the recommended bike routes map that he and Stephen Pederson have developed and that ABS is about to publish and distribute should help.

Loren said he loves biking for transportation and manages o.k. on the streets, but there’s always more danger being around cars than being on a bike path away from them.  Generally speaking, those especially sensitive to that, and who won’t go biking otherwise, are elderly, children, and women.  Being an emboldened with the power of a white, middle class male, may have something to do it.

Helen Whitaker said it would completely change this community and make our spaces more usable.  Kathryn noted that she’s from Minneapolis originally, and they have a beautiful parkway system all connected with paths and bike lanes; it’s much more of a bikable community there.  What’s remarkable, Kathryn said, is that we have far more days in the year when you’d want to be outside than they do in Minneapolis, even if July and August are kind of tough.

Stephen also noted that a a significant percent of business improves and crime goes down with a bike path installed.  Catherine attended the NLCOG workshop on bike-ped planning and they said Shreveport has the architecture to be a world class bicycling and pedestrian city.  Loren echoed how LSU's Dr. Bruce Sharky said the same after his visit to Shreveport—and he’s a world leader in designing greenways and bike paths!


Catherine noted that many of our kids leave Shreveport if they can, but we want them to come back and live near us.  But there’s no reason for them to do that if we don’t build a cool city to live in.  Plus, Catherine noted, I’m a taxpayer too, and when they haven’t given me a place to bike or walk, well… 

Stephen said, as the Interim Director, the MPC is very committed to implementing the Master Plan.  Stephen noted that he was surprised to be named Interim Director, and afterwards thought people might want to know who he is, so he gave a presentation as a citizen at the December 20th meeting of the City Council.  In it, he describes how two things he’s recently become passionate about are bicycling and eating right.  Having watched Forks Over Knives, he’s now a vegan and his wife is basically an urban farmer.  He’s for everything that’s in the Masterplan, not just the transportation stuff.

Since last Monday's meeting, the MPC unanimously passed the "Wildflower Trailblazing" program described above.  We'll meet with MPC Director Stephen Jean and Planner Dara Sanders again to discuss program details this Monday, March 10th, 6:00-7:00 p.m., at the Wright Math Building, Woodlawn Ave.  That's on Centenary's campus, just up from the Gold Dome.  All are welcome!

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