Showing posts from May, 2014

When federalism works, or not

(Groundbreaking for the Highway 100 extension, from
For those who care about the future of Cedar Rapids, this has been either a pretty good week or a pretty bad week. The same day that city leaders and the Chamber of Commerce celebrated the beginning of the Highway 100 extension (above), word came that United Fire Group was exploring options for the American Building downtown. This is a victory for historic preservation--it's a lovely building, over 100 years old--but its rebirth will likely come at the cost of demolishing the building next door (119 1st Av SE) that formerly housed the Convention and Visitors Bureau (Ford "United"). That building is neither old nor lovely, but the coming parking lot will hardly rank as an improvement.

"Urban areas need expressways," said Iowa Department of Transportation director Paul Trombino on Tuesday (Smith). Highways! Parking lots!! What century is this, anyway?

This has got me thinking about the role of t…

What's happening to the bike lanes

Barely a year old, the bike lane markers in Cedar Rapids are fading, in some places to illegibility. This is particularly worrisome on streets like H Avenue NE, which not only bears a lot of on-off traffic from I-380, but is the designated connector between the Cedar Lake Trail and the CeMar trail.

The street is the same width it always has been, but was re-striped last year to accommodate bike lanes in each direction. The lanes now look like this:

How has this happened? Cedar Rapids mayor Ron Corbett told Coe's Political Science Club in April that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recently changed its regulation concerning road paint. The oil-based paint cities and states have always used is no longer permitted; water-based paint is safer for the environment. However, as the above pictures show, it's not notably durable.

Bike to Work Week diary

Monday, May 12. Under lowering skies, Cedar Rapids residents began their observation of National Bike to Work early this morning, meeting at Red's Public House (112 2nd St SE) to hear Mayor Ron Corbett's official proclamation.

We had a good crowd, considering the weather and the hour:

Red's had a special for those who got there in time. I'll have to remember this next year.

After Mayor Corbett read the proclamation...

...we went on a group ride up 3rd Avenue as far as 19th Street, then back on 4th Avenue. Here we are, occupying the rightmost of the three lanes on 3rd.

The ride was fine: the rain held off, and I trust we all got to work (or in the case of one girl who came with her parents, school).

We in Cedar Rapids obviously still have a lot to learn about mixing car, bicycle and pedestrian traffic. Riding down 19th Street, which is narrow but heavily-trafficked, was awkward. Even on 4th Avenue, which has two lanes heading downtown, one driver was clearly flummoxed w…

A preservation protest

The Hach Building, built in 1901 for a beer bottling operation, is almost certain to come down Monday, a sad event for the local historic preservation group, Save CR Heritage, which had fought to save it. Members of the group gathered in front of the building late this afternoon to protest (and will be back tomorrow afternoon at 5).
The Hach Building is located, for the moment anyway, at 1326 2nd St SE, in Cedar Rapids's New Bohemia neighborhood. It has been a number of things in its 100-year history, and is currently a vacant eyesore. This area got about 11 feet of water in the June 2008 flood, and has never been repaired. With each year of weather and no maintenance, the building has become more and more of a mess. The owner has resisted pleas to restore it, and according to group members turned down an above-market price offer to buy it. Speculation as to his motives ranged from vindictiveness to fear that a new owner would open a bar to compete with Little Bo's down the s…

Minimum wage: what if they're right?

The minimum wage bill failed to achieve the 60 votes needed to block a filibuster in the U.S. Senate last week. This was not a surprising result, and the discussion will continue in the political arena this election year with resolution unlikely.

There are arguments for and against an increase, either to the $10.10 an hour proposed by the Obama administration and congressional Democrats, or to a lower level as suggested by Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine). Advocates say the increase will help low-wage workers without having a negative impact on the economy, and this certainly is plausible. Those whose wages increase would surely spend most of the increase, which is exactly what the Larry Ellisons of the world are not doing with their mega-millions. That spending would stimulate those parts of the economy, possibly enough to create more job opportunities. Advocates can also note accurately that previous minimum wage increases have not had cataclysmic economic outcomes.
Opponents of the…

Post #100: What's a blog for?

I've been at this blog for over a year now, and this post means I've reached the milestone of 100 posts. It has been a great experience, and now I wish I'd thought of it sooner. It's given me an opportunity to reflect on things I've read, to respond to developments during an exciting time in the history of Cedar Rapids, and to sort out my own ideas while storing them for possible future use. In my first post I said my motivation was to keep track of and reflect on the reading I was doing on place during my sabbatical leave. Since then I've expanded to include issues of public policy relating not only to place, but to how people live in places. I'm pretty determined to keep the blog away from personalities, partisan advocacy and scandals. I relish the freedom to keep the focus on the issues that I think matter to people, and to respond to day-to-day events only when I find it useful.

The rewards of the blog have been great, full of unexpected (mostly good) …