Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Planning with Good Neighbors

The year is off to an interesting start. The first city council meeting of the new year was held today, and there were actually a few surprises and interesting developments.

The first real surprise was that ASU didn't convince the city council to close a section of Rosemont drive so that there would be no street between the new residence halls they will be building and the rest of the campus. There were a number of reasons, such as campus homogeneity and student safety, that were presented ably by Dr. Hindman, ASU's president. There was also considerable citizen opposition. They had persuaded the planning commission to recommend disapproval of the procedure, had sent in 21 letters of opposition to the street closing (none showed up in favor of the project), and showed up at the council meeting in strength. They presented a compelling case against the project. They pointed out that ASU's own study said there were 1,000 cars a day currently using that section of Rosemont. They find it hard to believe that a large percentage of that traffic will not end up on Shamrock drive and Jade drive. The residents of Jade drive were especially concerned because Jade is a narrow, 2 lane street that "T's" into Ave. N with no turning lanes and only a stop sign to control traffic. They were also concerned with the possibility of on street parking exacerbating the situation. With the likelihood of major increases in traffic, and no apparent plan to mitigate or control the increased traffic, the council in the end disapproved closing the street by a 4 to 3 vote. It was not an easy decision, but in the end it was probably the proper one for today.

Angelo State University has been a good neighbor in San Angelo. Realistically, they are more than that. They are family that lives next door. Not only do they employ lots of people and account for a significant amount of the local economy they are part of the lives of many people here. They have trained many, if not most, of the business and government leaders in this town. At the council today, the majority of the members were either graduates of ASU or had family members that were. Everyone that spoke today, including the opposition, had many great things to say about ASU and its contributions. Many of the opposition were graduates of ASU. Others had watched the growth of the campus for over 40 years. They all really love the university. So what went wrong?

ASU is now in the early stages of implementing its "Centennial Master Plan". This is a necessary and comprehensive plan to help ensure ASU's health and growth. It is a plan to grow enrollment 62% by 2028. They have been working on it for quite a while, and the current master document is 240 pages with another 113 pages addressing student housing. There was a tremendous amount of blood, sweat, tears and coffee poured into this plan. It is big, but in some areas it stopped too soon.

For most of ASU's existence they haven't had to have much input from their closest neighbors. Most of the construction has been on their current property, with little direct impact on those close to them except for a steadily increasing amount of traffic. The off campus changes have been gradual enough for relatively painless adjustments, when there was any negative impact at all. This plan is different. The projects that it will entail will cause rapid and disruptive changes to the surrounding area.

ASU's traffic studies identified the significant level of traffic currently on Rosemont, but did not identify where the traffic would go if not one block over onto Jade. I seriously doubt that 1,000 cars per day will suddenly stop going where they are going today. There was also no planning done on how to best mitigate the increased traffic caused by the plan. Adding 4,000 students per year to the campus, along with the increased faculty and staff necessary for such expansion, will also put a severe strain on the traffic network around the campus.

In the long run I think that it probably is a good idea to close Rosemont. There are other street closures and changes in the plan as well that make sense for the long term growth of ASU and the city as a whole. More planning is needed. ASU and the cities public works department need to work closely on the whole traffic flow around and through ASU. It is already bad. It needs to be a comprehensive plan focused on the future. It needs to be integrated into the cities other master planning documents. It needs to identify what needs to be done to mitigate the problems caused by what will hopefully be major growth. ASU must go to its neighbors and before the City Council with a plan that says "this is what we want to do, this is how it will affect our neighbors, and this is what should be done to minimize our neighbors pain." It doesn't matter if it's traffic signals, speed bumps, no parking zones, one way streets, etc.. Have a plan to reduce your neighbors pain while you are growing and fixing your own problems. A plan that you neighbors have helped you develop. That is a major part of what being a good neighbor is all about.

1 comment:

  1. As a follow up, the City must bear some of the blame for this problem. The Mayor and Cities director of planning and development are members of ASU's master plan steering group.

    San Angelo has the San Angelo Metropolitan Planning Organization (SAMPO)which is responsible for local transportation planning. I can find no evidence in any of their plans that ASU's master plan or growth were taken into consideration. SAMPO should know that ASU wants to close Johnson Avenue down to 2 lanes, which is incapable of carrying the estimated 12,410 vehicles per day taking that route between Avenue N and Knickerbocker Road from now until 2030. Where is the planning?