Friday Five: Improving City Council Meetings

Rethinking Phoenix City Council meetings is something that is important for civic and citizen engagement. Here are five different approaches to do that.

Friday Five: Phoenix City Council meetingsThere are some challenges to getting participation at Phoenix City Council meetings.   Meetings range from a few people in attendance to packed houses depending on the business at hand.  Since my academic training is in civic engagement and since I’ve attended my fair share of meetings of the City Council to advocate for a myriad of issues, here are some of my thoughts to encourage citizen engagement and to get more participation in municipal government and governance.

1. Simulcast the proceedings in the City Hall atrium. The space is underutilized during the day except for special events, like the various events taking place for National Arts & Humanities Month.  But because the City Council Chambers are a small venue, when contentious items are on the agenda, the 225 seats quickly fill and the Chambers become standing room only.  So people can observe the City Council doing the people’s work, why not make the atrium of City Hall a space for civic engagement and dialogue on important municipal issues and a spot to simulcast City Council meetings?  With a powerful projector, a large screen, and decent speakers, the Phoenix Channel 11 broadcast of City Council meetings can happen inside the atrium.  Some might say this would be noisy for visitors to City Hall or those who work inside but this “noise” is your government at work.

2. Have speakers’ cards available outside the Council Chambers security checkpoint. Some times, people want to have their support or opposition for an item on the Council’s agenda on the record but do not necessarily wish to speak.  In addition to writing their councilperson, one way to do that is to use the speaker’s card to indicate support or opposition, even if an individual doesn’t want to speak before the council.  But the only way to do that is to go through the security checkpoint, fill out a card, then leave.  Have some cards in a kiosk outside the entrance doors and a council staff person in charge of collecting them to be delivered to the council dais.  An easy option would be have them available at spaces within City Hall before and during the meetings, like the City Hall atrium (see point #1, above).

3. Rethink the security screening process to get inside the Council Chambers. I have wondered why there is TSA-style screening to enter the Phoenix City Council chambers but not the other buildings of the City of Phoenix, like City Hall.  I appreciate the desire to keep those in attendance at Council meetings as well as city staff and elected officials safe; however, one wonders why this started.  As commented in point number 2, above, speakers’ cards are only available post-security, which makes it challenging for people to put their views on the official record even if they do not wish to speak.

4. Hold City Council meetings at various sites around the City of Phoenix. While this might not always work for all meetings, when business for particular areas of the City can be held at one time, take the meetings on the road to that area.  So if items of general relevance to, say, inner west Phoenix and Maryvale are on the table, hold the meeting at the Adam Diaz Senior Center at 41 Ave and Thomas.  This would also introduce all of the council members to all constituencies in the entire city and to hear from everyone, not just their own home district.  In other words, let’s bring the people’s business to the people.

5. Move City Council meetings to the Orpheum TheatreThis one would require a lot of forethought and planning to do it right and to work out some logistical challenges but I think this is something that needs to be done.  The City Council Chambers, built in the early 1960s, seats 225 people.  While that might have worked for a city that was 1/3 the size of today, when there are contentious issues on the Council’s agenda, that space quickly becomes way too small.  The City Council has held meetings at the 1,364-seat Orpheum Theatre in the past and it should start to do that in the future.  The City Council Chambers building would still be used for smaller civic functions, like meetings of various City boards and commissions, lectures, and other civic events.

Introducing the Eddie Number

In which we introduce The Eddie Number, a measurement of economic activity in a downtown.

Eddie Number graphicI’m creating a new statistic here: the “Eddie Number.”

The Eddie Number is a measurement of economic sprawl based on where large corporations set up shop in a city or metropolitan area. This will be used in tomorrow’s edition of The Friday Five / The Friday Urban Dispatch and it seems appropriate to introduce it here first.

To find the Eddie Number, subtract the number of downtown-based corporate headquarters from the corporate headquarters in the rest of the metro area.  For standard calculations, I recommend using the Fortune 1000 list. (This is the default list to use. You can create your own modified Eddie Number using your own list of data but when sharing your calculation, you must make that list known.)

So based on that Fortune 1000 list, there are 13 companies based in the Phoenix metropolitan area.  Only 2 of the 13 are based in downtown Phoenix, the rest are based in either other cities or in suburban Phoenix office parks.  That said, downtown Phoenix’s Eddie Number is:

Eddie Number - Phoenix

An Eddie Number will always be negative (you can’t have more downtown-based corporate headquarters than companies based in an entire metropolitan region) and an Eddie Number closer to 0 is better because it means there is more economic activity happening in that city’s downtown.

Oh, and about the name: If you want a statistic named after yourself, then come up with your own statistic.

Blog News: New Facebook Page

Please join us on Facebook for the new “Thoughts from Edward Jensen” Facebook page.

A very quick update for Friday…

Facebook Page screen captureI’ve created a Facebook page for this blog. There isn’t a vanity URL for it (yet) but you can click on the link below or the image to like it. That will be the place to get updates from this blog and other things that might be worthy of discussion.

Please join us!

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Thoughts-from-Edward-Jensen/838279466212548

Friday Five: Transportation Improvements II

The Friday Five for August 29: More public transportation improvements for Phoenix.

friday five logoAs it turns out, one list of five items to improve Phoenix’s transit network isn’t enough! There are certainly a lot of areas for transportation improvements in this city. Building on last week’s installment of The Friday Five, here is another set of five improvements for public transportation in this city, with a refresher on the first five:

1. Get rid of the $2 bus tax; reintroduce transfers.

2. Designate high-capacity / high-frequency routes.

3. Retrofit existing light rail stations with cooled spaces; shade all bus stops.

4. Have bus system achieve schedule parity with light rail.

5. Introduce stored-value fare cards for all riders.

6. Connect transit to trailheads. I’ve written on this extensively in an essay comment from Monday so I will refer you to that for more detail.  In summary, if we want to alleviate parking problems at some of our most popular parks, trails, and mountain preserves, we must think about different ways to get people there.  I propose connecting our bus system to those trailheads.

7. Establish site guidelines for bus stop locations, especially during construction. Especially in central Phoenix, bus stop locations can be located quite a distance from the intersection they serve. For instance, the eastbound Thomas Road bus stop is 250 feet from its corner, which doesn’t include any street crossings needing to be made by passengers. During construction, as we are seeing on 19 Ave for light rail’s extension, bus stops can be 1/8 – 1/4 mile away from the intersection and can constantly change. When transfer times are in the 1-2 minute range instead of 5-6 minutes and especially in unshaded environments, bus connections are missed. Guidelines should be created and enforced (especially during construction) that bus stops should be no more than 100 feet from the intersection.

8. Improve bicycle infrastructure on buses, trains, and at major stations. Public transportation is a great way to get from point A to point B without having to pedal everywhere. Most times when I ride the train, the hanging bike racks are full.  Often times, too, bicycle racks on buses are full.  (Trains can hold four bicycles per car; a bus can hold two or three bicycles.)  Bicycles are not allowed on the bus so if a bicycle rack is full, a rider has to wait or cycle to their destination; on trains, when the bike racks are full, bicycles and their riders are blocking aisles and doors.  As METRO orders new rolling stock for its system and evaluates its current equipment, more bicycle racks are certainly an imperative!  Something that’s equally important is the addition of practice bicycle racks at major transit centers. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve seen try to load their own bicycles into the trains with bad results. I know that I’ve had problems loading my own bicycle into the hanging bike rack. “Practice makes perfect,” as the saying goes, and I am sure that some practice bicycle racks at major transit centers would provide some no-pressure/no-stress practice for both novice and experienced transit users alike.

9. Update schedules with real data. More often than not, there is a disconnect between what the schedule says and when the next bus or train arrives.  On a recent bus trip, the schedule was off by 10 minutes.  Trains are usually off by 1-2 minutes.  As Valley Metro updates their schedules for the future, perhaps they should add this experiential information and realize that while schedules are nice, they are often aspirational.

10. Make Valley Metro data, including real-time positions, truly open source. We’ve heard that Valley Metro is in the process of creating their own in-house app for bus and train schedules, route guidance, and general information about the system. While their limited release of GTFS data is welcome, why not make it open source for everyone? There are great mobile apps for getting transit directions, many often times better than Valley Metro’s own website. In addition, some of these apps contain GTFS-Realtime information, meaning directions are based on realtime bus and train positions, not predetermined schedules.

The (Almost) Friday Five: Transportation Improvements

The (Almost) Friday Five: Some thoughts on public transportation improvements in Phoenix in light of City Hall’s push to collect our feedback.

[editorial note: On some Fridays here on edwardjensen.net, we publish “The Friday Five” — a quick list of some things that catch our attention either about our community or anything in general.  Today, we are talking public transportation improvements. This week’s “Friday Five” is published on Thursday because there will be a Friday Essay.]

friday five logoThe City of Phoenix announced a new online initiative called talktransportation.org to collect Phoenix residents’ ideas about transportation improvements and the future of transportation in our fair city.  While my verdict is still out on these online forms of citizen engagement and the quality of information received, I applaud the City for doing this again.  Here are some thoughts I’ve shared to improve transportation in this city:

1. Get rid of the $2.00 bus fare tax and reintroduce transfers. At the moment, it costs $4.00 to purchase an all-day pass except if you’re on a bus, where it’s $6.00. While the reason given was that it is to encourage riders to purchase their passes and tickets at transit centers or third-party retailers, there is no practical reason to keep it. An all-day pass should be the same price no matter where it is purchased.  Conversely, the two-hour transfer should be reintroduced because our bus system is designed around Phoenix’s grid streets system.  To get from one point to another on bus or light rail, there is a great chance that you’ll need to take two (or more) bus lines or connect from bus to train.

2. Designate high-frequency routes and increase service and capacity. When METRO light rail opened after Christmas 2008, it ran one train every ten minutes between 7am and 7pm on weekdays.  Today, the headway is 12 minutes between trains on weekdays, with less frequent service outside of those times.  For buses, a quick glance at the schedule shows that the most frequent line is the Thomas Road line, Route 29, which achieves a 10-minute headway during weekday morning and afternoon commutes.  Using ridership data, Valley Metro should identify these routes with high ridership and create a high-frequency service promise for these core lines.

3. Retrofit existing light rail stations with cooled spaces and put shade at all bus stops. Train and major bus stops in many Midwestern cities have adapted quite well to the extreme cold that comes their way by installing heated areas on platforms and stations.  Having traveled to some of these places during the winter, it is very welcome for this native desert dweller whose idea of cold is anything beneath 50º F!  While I know that physics and electromechanical engineering state that it’s easier to heat than to cool, the number 1 hallmark of a great city is adapting to climate.  We’ve created two light rail platforms in downtown Phoenix that have cooled spaces.  Let’s make them all have cooled spaces.  In addition, let’s put shade at all bus stops.  Too many bus stops are just a sign with no shelter from the heat.  We live in a desert; it gets hot here.  Let’s adapt to our warm climate.

4. Have the bus system achieve schedule parity with light rail. Right now, the last city buses leave downtown Phoenix around 10:15pm on weekdays and 9:00pm on the weekends. Meanwhile, the last light rail trains leave at 11:30pm Sunday through Thursday and 2:30am late night on Friday and Saturdays. Bus service needs to be enhanced to match light rail or light rail service needs to be cut back to match bus services because the two methods complement each other.

5. Introduce stored-value transit fare cards for all riders. Washington’s WMATA has SmarTrip. New York City’s MTA has the Metrocard. Boston’s MBTA has the Charlie Card. In Minneapolis, they have the GoTo Card. All of these cards are reusable cards that have combinations of stored value and day / week / month unlimited-ride passes for bus, subway, or commuter rail. These cards can be purchased by anyone from a vending machine or a station agent. Phoenix doesn’t have that system and it’s long past time we have something like that. Our closest thing is the Platinum Pass but that’s only for companies through trip-reduction programs. Paper tickets for various passes are available. If we want to make public transportation a truly viable and equal option for urban dwellers as we want it to be, a stored-value card program available to the masses has to be introduced.

Housekeeping: edwardjensen.net RSS feeds

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Friday Urban Dispatches: April 4

For Friday April 4: Friday Urban Dispatches are a unique boots-on-the-ground perspective of what’s happening in our own backyard of downtown Phoenix.

The Friday Urban Dispatches are a unique boots-on-the-ground perspective of what’s happening in our own backyard of downtown Phoenix.

friDispatchHance…enHANCEd. Last week was the big master plan reveal for the next chapter in the life of downtown’s Hance Park.  The plan delineates the park into three areas: a neighborhood park on the west, a civic plaza in the middle, and a performance hub on the east.

BIDding for Roosevelt Row. The City of Phoenix is in the process of authorizing up to $80,000 to study whether an Enhanced Municipal Services District (EMSD), otherwise known as a Business Improvement District (BID), would work in the Roosevelt Row neighborhood.  The academic literature is mixed on its assessment of EMSDs but a couple trends and themes quickly emerge: 1. Property values in EMSDs do rise significantly.  For real estate investors, this is good; for independent shops, can they shoulder the added expense of their lease payment?  2. EMSDs are generally instituted in areas that have significant decline in property values or civic interest.  If there’s one neighborhood in central city Phoenix for which that is the exact opposite, it would be Roosevelt Row.

Budgeting for the worst. Since the last Friday Urban Dispatch, the City of Phoenix released their trial budget and their cuts-only solution to ameliorate a $38 million deficit from the books is not pretty.  It closes parks and parks-related programming, slashes operational support to arts and cultural organizations, and places minimal value on the civic fabric of our community.  While I do think some long-standing contracts, including employee compensation, need to be looked at, to fix this year’s budget through cuts only is not right.  Was the 2% food tax phased down too early?  Maybe.

A podcast of action. After Monday, The Downtown Phoenix Podcast will be 3/4 finished with its inaugural series production. What’s in store for it after the series 1 finale goes online on April 21?  Even I don’t know.  I have been pleased with its reception and I am sure it will be back for even greater things.

Thank you, Debra. Tonight is First Friday and I hope that you’ll be able to come by Obliq Art at the Arizona Center for a community tribute to the life and legacy of Debra Friedman, the former Dean of the ASU College of Public Programs who unexpectedly passed away in January. To those who had the great privilege to work alongside Dr. Friedman, it was so evident that the arts held a special place in both her heart and as a cornerstone for the partnerships that she facilitated.

Friday Urban Dispatches: March 14

The regular Friday Urban Dispatch from downtown Phoenix for March 14: a unique boots-on-the-ground perspective of what’s happening.

Every other Friday or so on this blog, I’m going to do a mini-series of urban dispatches—thoughts from the urban landscape in Phoenix.

friDispatchMeeting new voices. This has been a great week for meeting new voices that have an honest interest in making our downtown community better.  I realize that I’m coming at the downtown question from an academic / intellectual perspective (I mean…my undergraduate degree is Urban and Metropolitan Studies!) but I’m starting to find these new voices that are approaching the downtown question from the same angle.

Not just “no” but “no…but what are the alternatives?” One of my conversations this week was with Paul Lopez, a Phoenix native and someone who’s in-tune with the goings-on in City Hall on many levels.  We talked about the need for downtown to have a grocery store—somewhere on the scale between a neighborhood market and a suburban grocery store—and our conversation hit on an important decision-making philosophy: Rather than saying ‘no’ outright, let’s ask this question: “No…but what are our alternatives?”

City Hall is starting to get the urban condition. It’s not perfect but I am getting the sense that City Hall is starting to get the notion that the downtown / urban condition is different and has a different lexicon, vocabulary, and design imperatives than suburban Phoenix.  It’s not perfect yet but the right baby steps are being made.  More promising, however, is that City staff are wanting to listen to downtown interests to make sure that everyone is on the same page.

Whither McDowell Road.  While the previous point is a plus, there are still silos within City Hall that need to be broken down and addressed.  The City’s definition of “downtown Phoenix” goes to the south right-of-way of McDowell Road while their definition of “midtown Phoenix” begins at the north right-of-way of McDowell.   Left out of the discussion is McDowell Road itself, a core east-west street in central Phoenix.  Right now, it’s a nightmare to travel at any time of day.  At 3:00pm on weekdays during the school year, the mass pick-up of students from Arizona School for the Arts makes Manhattan traffic look like a small town.  (The City needs to work with the school to work on a traffic management plan…or the same school needs to encourage its students to take public transportation!)  I like the streetcar line proposed for McDowell Road but that’s a long-term aspiration.

A city in potentia.  Last Friday night, I was walking around downtown to see and hear the goings-on of the Viva Phoenix music festival.  In addition to the musicians performing on their outdoor stages, there was a definite energy downtown: there were people, there was noise, there were even random marching bands walking around.  I’m loathe to use phrases like “seminal moment” or “turning point” but I think March 7 will be looked on in years hence as a turning-point for downtown.

The Friday Dispatches: February 21

The Urban Friday Dispatches: SB1062, geographic precision, walking and biking, and pedestrian malls

friDispatchEvery other Friday or so on this blog, I’m going to do a mini-series of urban dispatches—thoughts from the urban landscape in Phoenix.

SB1062…sigh. SB1062 has been passed by both houses of the State Legislature and is on Governor Brewer’s desk to sign.  It’s a discrimination bill that targets our friends, neighbors, and colleagues in the LGBTQ communities…full stop.  To say that it’s a “religious freedom” bill is wrong and is an explanation that should be an affront to any person of faith.  Lots of statements opposing SB1062 have been sent along to the Governor’s Office — including Phoenix’s mayor Greg Stanton, the Steering Committee of Downtown Voices Coalition, the Greater Phoenix Economic Council, and others — and one must hope that the Governor has the decency to veto this unconstitutional legislation.  One wonders if Google’s announcement that it’s considering deploying its Google Fiber service or next year’s Super Bowl are in jeopardy. Otherwise, it’s off to the courts.

Where is downtown Phoenix.  The massive fire yesterday at a salvage plant near 23rd Avenue and McDowell Road is out and our first responders did a spectacular job responding to this dangerous situation.  In reporting the fire, lots of media outlets labeled the fire as being “in downtown Phoenix,” something we who live here know is geographically incorrect.  I sent out a “note to media” tweet that said that 23rd Avenue & McDowell is “NOT downtown Phoenix” but I don’t know how many outlets heeded that advice.

Walking and bicycling.  For the past four months, I’ve been a part of the City of Phoenix’s Ad Hoc Pedestrian and Bicycling Task Force, the group that is tasked with looking at the City’s plans for pedestrian and bicycling master plans.  A draft document of a pedestrian safety plan was given to Task Force members and I was generally pleased about its content.  The tone, however, of that document seemed to place the onus of responsibility for their actions more on the pedestrian instead of those around on bikes and in cars.  For pedestrian safety, though, there are two things that can be done that will enhance that in the downtown core: ban bicycling on sidewalks and ban mobile phone use while driving a car or bike.

Pedestrian malls.  Something that I’ve really gotten the feeling of in this town is that we really really don’t like the idea of pedestrian malls.  As the most progressive cities in the world start to think about their future without cars, it’s certainly something that we in Phoenix need to start thinking about.  “What!?” you ask.  “Phoenix without cars?  Surely you can’t be serious!”  (I am serious and stop calling me Shirley.)  Look at the data: We’re past the point of “peak car” — more people aren’t getting their driver’s licenses when they turn 16 or 18.  The first cities were formed in Mesopotamia ca. 5400 BCE.  The first modern cars were driven in 1886—more than 7,200 years after the first cities.  By my math, cars have been around for just about 2% of the time cities have been around.  We can certainly have cities, again, without cars.

Announcing the Launch of “The Downtown Phoenix Podcast”

The launch of “The Downtown Phoenix Podcast” was announced this morning by Edward Jensen of Edward Jensen urban productions.

“The Downtown Phoenix Podcast” To Launch March 3, Bringing Conversation-Driven, Action-Oriented Programming To Downtown Phoenix

PHOENIX, ARIZONA (12 February 2014) — The launch of “The Downtown Phoenix Podcast” was announced this morning by Edward Jensen of Edward Jensen urban productions.  “The Downtown Phoenix Podcast” will bring high-quality, conversation-driven, and action-oriented programming to the downtown Phoenix scene.

The “Podcast” is a project of Edward Jensen, hailed by many in this community as one of downtown Phoenix’s most critical thinkers.  New podcast episodes will be available for free download each Monday morning beginning March 3, 2014, at the Podcast’s website, downtownphoenixpodcast.com.  Subscriptions through iTunes® and other popular podcast programs will be available as well.

“Doing a downtown-centric podcast is something that I have wanted to do for awhile and I am very happy to get this project off of the ground,” said Jensen. “Ever since my four one-on-one conversations with Phoenix City Council candidates last year, the community has wanted a continuation of that conversation-driven format.  Keeping with the theme of this year that we have set, ‘A Year of Action for Downtown Phoenix,’ our initial series of episodes will encourage people to get involved in making our communities better places to be.”

The first program will feature a conversation with David Krietor, the CEO of the nascent Downtown Phoenix, Inc., the new group tasked with looking at downtown Phoenix livability and economic development.  Future programming will include conversations with new and diverse voices from around the community and in-person events will be held to get a pulse of the community for community engagement and neighborhood improvement initiatives.

about Edward Jensen urban productions: A new approach in thinking about urban issues and quality-of-life issues, Edward Jensen urban productions brings deliberative hands-on action to improving our communities.  The firm is also in charge of the “2014: A Year of Action for Downtown Phoenix” project, challenging our neighbors to get involved to make our neighborhoods and communities better.