I know why the caged bird sings

Northwoods Flyer

Northwoods Flyer








…a bird that stalks down his narrow cage
can seldom see through his bars of rage…

I attended Huntsville City Councilman Will Culver’s town hall meeting, where Culver presented the City’s plan to improve pedestrian safety while crossing University Drive (40,000 vehicles per day).  Three people have been killed crossing the street, and eighteen injured, over the past ten years.  City Traffic Engineer Richard Kramer says that it is one of the most dangerous pedestrian crossings in Huntsville (West Clinton Avenue and Memorial Parkway downtown round out the top three).

Regular readers know that I like Culver – I think he has grown as a Councilman.  Culver conducted the meeting professionally, asking the audience to hold their comments for the Q&A after the presentation. Culver brought relevant City leaders to the meeting, plus Councilman Dr. Richard Showers and HHA Director Michael Lundy. About 80 or so people attended the meeting – Steve Doyle of The Huntsville Times, Eric Sollman of WAFF 48, and Chase Gallimore of WAAY 31 reported on the meeting. 

Culver’s plan was to close Yukon and Glacier Street at University, improve pedestrian crossings at Arctic and Meadow, and build a nice-looking landscaped fence along University to channel pedestrians to the improved crossings.  Culver worked with the City, State, and Huntsville Housing Authority for months developing this plan – and presented the plan at “3 or 4″ previous town halls.  Culver’s plan would cost ~$70k, much less than the two pedestrian bridges desired by residents (bridges cost ~$800k each).

Culver doesn’t want pedestrian bridges due to the City’s experience with the bridge by UAH – people loitering, sleeping, and defecating on the ramps.

Culver’s plan sounds like a reasonable technocrat-approved solution.  However, the solution gets volatile when you add people.  

Steve Doyle of The Huntsville Times wrote “Northwoods public housing residents reject fence along University Drive to deter jaywalkers”:

It was clear from the outset of Tuesday’s meeting that Culver’s plan was in trouble. One Northwoods resident said a fence gives the appearance that the city is “trying to imprison us.”

Another woman distributed a flyer with a picture of jail bars and the caption, “Do you know what the City of Huntsville has in store for your neighborhood?”

The Rev. Al Garrett with Interfaith Mission Service suggested Huntsville police conduct a safety campaign to educate children in Northwoods about the dangers of jaywalking on University Drive.

The city should also encourage construction of a convenience store on the Northwoods side of University, Garrett said, so residents won’t have to cross the busy road to shop at Chevron or Jet-Pep.

An exasperated Culver replied to the flyer “we are not here to lock folks up” and addressed (with HPD Chief Hudson, Fire Chief Sublett, and HEMSI Chief Webster) each of the claims made on the flyer:

- Do you want to be FENCED in?
- There will ONLY be ONE way in and ONE way out!
- Do you want to be bothered by heavy traffic AND noise?
- Do you want to be DENIED access to University Drive?
- How will POLICE, FIRE, or AMBULANCE get to you?

The audience politely listended to Culver’s presentation, and the Q&A was spirited but at one point out of control.  Imagine a heated Chaffee or Blossomwood meeting and turn up the volume, add some colloquial expressions and some arm-waving, and you get the idea.  People care about schools, roads, and crime.

Many residents want AAA school moved out to reduce traffic, objecting to “people busing in children from other neighborhoods” – Cavalry Hill school should be for “our kids”.

Residents also brought up the revised FEMA Flood maps, noting that several residents are disabled and without transportation.  This is a great point – does the HHA have a plan to evacuate disabled residents?  Does the City have a plan for all residents?

A representative of the Bicycle Advisory Committee cited a Federal Transportation Authority Pedestrian Safety Report (link to PDF), which recommends several “treatments” to improve pedestrian (and bicycle) safety.  She suggested a median similar to Governors Drive (between the Parkway and Triana), which would give pedestrians a safe zone while crossing seven lanes of traffic.

One resident asked HPD to watch for little kids crossing University and “take them home and arrest the parents”. Sgt Mark Roberts said that the HPD does pick up kids, but often there are no parents at home.

The lack of convenient shopping in the neighborhood was mentioned as contributing to the need to cross University Drive, as well as students walking to Butler High School.  Culver and Lundy said that they are looking at ways to bring in shopping.

Reverend Garrett made some good points, saying that it’s “important for the Police and the Council to exhaust all approaches”, suggesting a safety campaign and outreach to the two churches and AAA school.

The residents voted on Culver’s plan, and soundly rejected it (50 to 7).  Culver closed the meeting, saying: “You have spoken, I have heard, there is no fence”

…for the caged bird sings of freedom.
- Maya Angelou

5 thoughts on “I know why the caged bird sings

  1. is it funny to observe there are people who pay for the privilege of living behind fences and key-card controlled access to the neighborhood yet think its outrage for the same to occur in public housing?

    Otherwise sounds a good town meeting, the people spoke and the leaders listened.

      • Got that right, ever notice a sobriety check point is never setup near a Country Club or a high society function but are in force near the dive bars?

        Though, I get your point which renders down to a question of trust, some have too much trust in the State while others too little.

  2. Unfortunately the leaders don’t “listen” often enough:

    - Oversized Blossomwood school is under construction against neighborhood concerns
    - HHA bought Stone Manor against neighborhood concerns
    - Condos in Thornton against neighborhood concerns

    • Which is why you should study carefully the local variants of Roberts Rules, Alinsky (who had a good grasp of practical tactics) and if you don’t win, don’t whine and pick at your scars while the ballot box awaits. An alternative is stand on their feet until they listen which while satisfying does get you talked about in the hoosegow.