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Web letter by Suzanne Slick: Mistrust, exaggeration rampant in city’s State Boulevard sales effort

Bob Kennedy’s piece on the State Boulevard relocation project (Oct. 14) left out some key information and exaggerated the city’s attempts at two-way public involvement, adding to the confusion about this invasive, oversized project.

The city claims that safety is the key reason for the project, but the geometry of the new road – wide and straight and five lanes – will actually have the opposite effect. This kind of road geometry encourages drivers to increase speed. It does not calm traffic.

In the last few weeks, city officials have been running around feverishly trying to sell this project to citizens, asserting that the new roadway will enhance the affected neighborhood. But picture, if you will, its true effect: an enormous swale rising up to an elevated five-lane superstructure connected to an oversized bridge that sits seven feet above the current bridge level. Homes allowed to remain in the area will sit in a basin below this giant earth and concrete structure. Does this bring to mind images of a beautiful park-like setting? Not much.

In addition, the project will require the destruction of 12 more homes in this historic district and the removal of at least a dozen families. The result would be devastating to the neighborhood, not enhancing. It certainly does not help to preserve the neighborhood’s historic integrity or the value of its properties.

The project’s destructive effect would reach into the entire near-north side of the city as it will propel more and faster traffic the length of State Boulevard. The replacement of the old character of the neighborhood with a homogenized arterial element also will have far-reaching effects by eliminating much of the unique face of our urban core. Once these old elements have been demolished, they are gone forever.

This intrusive project is being designed by traffic-movement experts, not planning experts – and the overriding priority to expedite faster and greater volumes of traffic is painfully obvious in this project’s flawed fit in this context-sensitive area.

Fort Wayne can and should do better at interdisciplinary road project planning as we lag more forward-thinking cities in considering all users of roads and their environs. Moving traffic is important, but giving traffic movers free rein to plow through a neighborhood without constraint or consideration for the wider effect of the project is not just backward, it’s wrong.

Kennedy also exaggerated the level of public involvement in the last few years of negotiating this project. Those who have been at this discussion table have heard nothing but emphatic, inflexible “Nos!” from the city when we have requested more preservation of the historic district, minimization of the intrusion of the project, road-calming measures (like those on Lake Avenue and Rudisill Boulevard), a scaled-down bridge, fewer traffic lanes and a more appropriate design for this old residential neighborhood.

Kennedy’s claim that sidewalks, landscaping and lighting were added as a result of discussions with residents is an exaggeration at best; they were always a part of the plan, and they are a necessary piece of any city roadway. Repeatedly during these meetings concerned citizens have been treated disrespectfully and in at least two cases shut off. They continue to be treated disrespectfully as city officials engage in damage control. Public meetings in which the public is ignored, dismissed or disrespected may not be counted as “public involvement.”

One has to ask, if the plan is so wonderful, why is it taking so much effort to sell? It has not been a pretty process. There is so much more that needs to be said about the many problems with this project.

This affected neighborhood’s charm is in its meandering, tree-lined streets and in its charming old homes. These are Fort Wayne strengths – idyllic old neighborhoods nestled in green spaces. A wide concrete straight-away up over our heads built to support an old traffic-centric transportation plan will forever alter this neighborhood. And a dismissive, arrogant stance by city officials when challenged on this plan only pours salt in the wound.

Let’s start this process over with a genuine attempt at two-way, open public involvement and make a plan that doesn’t sacrifice a treasured neighborhood to shave a couple of minutes off of a commute down State Boulevard.

SUZANNE SLICK

Fort Wayne

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