Friday, May 20, 2016

West Side Grocery

I received an e-mailed question about what it would take to get  grocery store on the West Side. Here is the question, along with my response:

Thank you Dave for the heads up on what's going on in my neighborhood. I was wondering what is it going to take to get a grocery store on the west side of the freeway? Is council even considering this after all the requests for it?

Great questions. Here is what it would take:

Option 1: Provo City creates a Department of Grocery Stores and gets into the grocery store business, buying the property, building the store, and the running the operation. Some in the community might not think it is the proper role of the City to run a grocery store. 

Option 2: Provo City signals a desire to attract a grocery store, and publicizes an ever increasing package of incentives until a group takes us up on the offer. If grocery store operators felt that they could successfully run a store in Provo, west of the freeway, they would already be there. Depending on the perceived profitability gap, the incentive package might have to be large. Some in the community might not think that offering huge incentive packages is sound fiscal policy for the City. 

Option 3: Provo City engages with the citizens to plan for a healthy, sustainable, vibrant community west of the freeway, allowing for enough people to reside in the area to make the operation of a grocery store an attractive opportunity for grocery store operators. It takes more time, but it builds the foundation for the area to thrive in the long term. The difficult part of this is helping residents think about what kind of community they want to live in, and what choices to make now to make that a reality. Not everyone shares the same vision of what the area should be. Sometimes we don't consider the longer-term consequences of our choices. If we choose to zone the area for half- and quarter-acre lots, there is a real possibility that no grocery store will ever choose to locate in Provo, west of the freeway. 

If a grocery store could appear on the Westside with a snap of the Council's figures, we would have already snapped years and years ago. I don't believe there is a Councilor who wouldn't love to see a grocery store there. I am very interested in the planning that is underway right now for the area. I am hopeful that we will make wise decisions about the future which will provide a great quality of life for all residents of our great city. 


Saturday, May 7, 2016

BRT Questions, Answers, and Discussion

I'd like to wrap up this round of the BRT saga. Much of my time over the past month has been spent communicating with residents about the project. Though much of the communication has been with people who disagree with my vote, it has generally been a positive experience, cultivating understanding on both sides. There were a few exceptions, like a new friend who called me a coward, thief, and either corrupt or ignorant, but overall it has also been one of the more rewarding experiences of being on the Council.

I want to share some snippets of conversations I've been having by email. There is no real order to the excerpts, I just skimmed through my inbox and grabbed parts that I thought might be interesting. I'm not using names, as I have not asked permission. I've taken the liberty to fix some of my grammar and edit for length. My words are in blue.
  • I wonder why we aren't putting in a train. I understand the costs. Let's put in a more safer, stable and more permanent system.
    • I am all for a train. There is a night-and-day difference between riding a regular bus and a lightrail train. The point of BRT is to try to take all of the aspects that make lightrail so appealing, and repackage them into a form that is much less expensive. BRT should feel much more like lightrail than a regular bus...UTA has indicated that they will change this system over to lightrail when there is sufficient population and demand. They note that by putting in dedicated lanes now, the corridor is preserved for rails in the future. As much as I would love to have lightrail now, I think BRT is the right intermediate step.
  • I guess the real issue for me is the vision of Provo's future. Will it remain a cute, friendly college town with strong LDS values or will it turn into another SLC.  I really don't want to see it turn into another SLC.
    • It's a bit cliche, but the most constant thing in Provo's history is change. Provo now is different than it was at the 20 years ago, which was different than the way it was 20 years before that, and so on. It has always been the heart of the County, and less rural than its satellite communities. It has remained the center through steady growth and development. Even its LDS-ness has shifted over time. In the early decades, Provo was a distance away, both physically and culturally, from the center of Zion. Church leaders in Salt Lake often chastised us for lax observance, including the slow efforts to build the tabernacle. In many ways, the cultures of the two cities have swapped.I love the culture and the uniqueness of our city, I think it is part of what makes us great. Growth and progress have brought us to this point. I think we would destroy what we have if we tried to freeze our community in place. I feel that we instead need to carefully plan how we can maintain our great quality of life even while we grow.Growth will come. Success attracts people. And much of our growth will be from our own children. Even if we could freeze our population size, we would have to give up our role as the business, education, cultural, entertainment, commercial, and government center of the County in order to shield ourselves from the impact of the large County growth.If we are going to double the number of people traveling on our roads, we can't just double the width of our roads. Traffic and congestion is coming, unless we can provide commuters with convenient alternatives. Some of our residents may never ride on a BRT bus, but they will benefit from the service by having roads that are less congested.
  • Please help keep us free.  I am grateful you are so open, I really am.  Every new regulation, every new program, every new public benefit is one degree less freedom we all are left with.  The government who has the power to give us everything also has the power to take everything we have from us. As [redacted] said, 'freedom is the fuel which government consumes'.  (This quote was attributed to a locally-elected State official.)
    • One of the freedoms that I relish in America is the freedom of self-governance. The concept of a government of the people, by the people, and for the people, is truer in local government than any other level. There is always tension and a tug-of-war between different levels of government, but we, as a community, enjoy a fairly broad ability to chose what kind of community we want to be and what we want to become. We have the ability to chose if we want to run our own electric utility, we can chose how we want to set up our transportation infrastructure, we can chose, to some degree, how we want to run our school system. At its best, government is the vehicle by which we exercise this freedom.
  • I do have one question; who pays to remove BRT stops should BRT fail?  
    • The lease agreement that we are considering spells out UTA's responsibility to pay for the removal of any infrastructure they put in if it is no longer used.
  • UTA proposed, in one of their presentations, that folks would ride BRT to the Orem mall, go shopping, and return by bus.  Personally, I want them to shop in Provo…but who goes school shopping for a family of six or seven on the bus when they have a family car?
    • I don't think that school-shopping families of six are the intended customers for BRT. They are welcome, but are not who this line is being built for, in my opinion. The #1 intended customer is the commuter. Imagine someone who lives in Provo and works some place north of here. BRT may give them quick access to FrontRunner. Or imagine the reverse. Some one lives north of Provo and has a daily commute into our Downtown, or to BYU, or to the Novell campus. BRT may make it much more convenient for them to take FrontRunner, because it solves the problem of how to get to where they are going once they get off the train. Imagine the impact to our congestion and our air quality if a significant number of people leave their cars at home, or at a FrontRunner station far from Provo. Imagine the financial impact to some families who will be enabled to get by with just one car, because of the option to commute using transit. I believe the second intended customer is the university student. Many BYU and UVU students feel the need to bring a car with them to college. Recent and coming changes will convince more of them that a car is an expensive luxury that they can do without. The new BYU shuttle is helping some students leave their cars at their apartments, but they still need their cars when they are going places other than campus. BRT will make two malls and our wonderful Downtown easily accessible without driving. I'm sure that BRT will be used by some other people, and will help with game-day traffic, but it is not intended to be the be-all, end-all solution to everyone's transportation needs. Even people who will never ride it will benefit from BRT because of the reduction in congestion and the improvement in our air quality that it will bring.
  • I don't think the city should be involved in using public funds to create or enhance a public transit system. If we are to have public transit, it should be run like a business. The company could contract with the city to get permission to use roads, perhaps, or build bus stops, but the funding should come from the company, not from the city. If public transit is going to be so good and so profitable, why couldn't a private investor put down capital and get a business loan like everyone else?
    • I'm curious why you think transit should be privately run, but roads should be publicly run ("focus funds on fixing roads"). We could sell our roads to the highest bidder and have them pay for the repairs and upkeep and then charge drivers whatever the market demands for usage.
      • You also bring up an interesting point regarding the government's role in public transportation vs. public roads. I had to think about that one for a bit. I guess my short answer is that if I felt there was a feasible way to privatize road building and maintenance, I would be in favor of that as well. The reason I don't think it is feasible is primarily due to ownership of land. It would be nearly impossible for a private company to coordinate the purchase and use of so many rights of way. The actual construction and maintenance can obviously be contracted out to the lowest private builder, but the ownership and control of roads is one of the few things that I think is better handled by government. It is also important to note that EVERYONE uses the roads. Everyone pays taxes and everyone benefits. 
        Public transportation is markedly different. First, there are no substantive issues with land. Any minor use by a transit service (for signs and bus stops) is on land that has already been set aside by the government. Second, the demand for public transportation is very low. It is not something for which tax dollars seem appropriate, especially when it would not be hard for a private company to offer an efficient transportation service (e.g., taxis, shuttles, etc.).

        I believe that anything that can be done privately should be done privately. The more government can deregulate and get out of the way, the better. In all of these things, we need more people like you who are willing to present the issues and engage in discourse with your constituents. Thank you for your time.
        • Before serving on the Council, I spent a couple of years on the City's Transportation and Mobility Advisory Committee, and studied and thought a lot about transportation policy. You say that "EVERYONE uses the roads" to which I agree, but I would frame it as "everyone has transportation and mobility needs". The people, at least partly through their government, set up transportation systems. Back in settlement times, roads were mostly for pedestrians, but other modes of transportation were also welcome, including horses, carts, and wagons. For a time we had a "Provo Street Railroad" ( Right now our transportation system is designed mostly around private automobiles. Other cities rely of public transit to varying degrees. Every system has consequences, both good and bad. Because of our unique geography, our automobile usage has a greater impact on air quality than most places. Building up our transit infrastructure will broaden our transportation options and will diversify our system. Even people who will never ride transit will "use" and benefit from the system, just as someone who doesn't own a car, or even is home-bound, still uses and benefits from our current system. I'm not necessarily arguing for the BRT project here, just that there is a public need for transportation, and that it is wise for community leaders to thoughtfully plan for a transportation system that best meets the needs of the people.
  • I'm sure you know, but the UTA has already been much in the news in recent years for their baffling, corrupt, and unethical actions. This is my no means intended to be an attack on ALL of UTA; I'm quite certain that many of them are honest, caring people trying hard to solve real problems. However, as the old proverb warns us, "the fish rots from the head down;" I am very concerned about giving more of our tax money to an organization of which the Office of the Legislative Auditor General so recently warned us is estimated to be approaching a shortfall $1.2 billion against their projections from 2007. Rail maintenance continues to be dangerously underfunded, there are still significant, unanswered questions about the UTA's Farebox Policy, and so on.
    • Finally, I think the willingness of UTA to enter into this unprecedented project governance model where they cede their control, is yet another indication that the agency has been sufficiently chastened and is reforming in earnest. Agency culture does not change over night, but I am seeing encouraging signs. Of course, much is in the eyes of the beholder. When the fall out from the Switzerland trip hit the news a few months back, some saw it as a sign of continued corruption at UTA. I saw it as a sign that it is no longer business-as-usual at UTA, that board members didn't follow strict, newly-created policies, and they were swiftly shown the door. I do have confidence in H. David Burton, and look forward to the continued improvement at UTA and the eventual restoration of public trust. 
  • "Listen to the people whom you are sworn to represent, please." "The majority of your tax-paying constituents are opposed to BRT.  Please listen to the people you were chosen to represent." "It seems like common sense to me to see that this is not something the people in this town want, or even need."
    • Excerpts from "Results of the 2014 Provo Registered Voter Poll 5 June 2014"
      Quin Monson

      The Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy Brigham Young University

      "Bus Rapid Transit Provo City’s Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) proposal has proven to be a controversial issue. However, the 2014 survey confirms that voters in Provo overwhelmingly support BRT, with nearly 79% of respondents indicating that they either somewhat (38%) or strongly (41%) favor BRT.

      "Favorability Analysis: Statistical analysis demonstrated that the area of the city in which a respondent lived does not play a significant part in the level of support of BRT, with the notable exception of those neighborhoods directly east of Brigham Young University. Among respondents in precincts 11 and 36, often referred to as the “Tree Streets,” support of BRT was significantly lower, though still above 64% overall. The key difference between this neighborhood and the rest of Provo is the significantly higher rate of “Strong” opposition to BRT, indicating that a minority of residents have intense feelings on the issue, while the neighborhood, taken as a whole, remains supportive of BRT. Our survey questions did not address specific routes for BRT, although these results are likely due to the proposed route on 9th East, to which many residents in this area have voiced opposition."