The Uptown Manefesto

(Edit 8/23/2014, adding Reverse Angled Parking)
Living in Helena missing home gives a guy lots of time to dream about coming home and making a difference. Here’s a (not necessarily linear or finished) braindump.

Some serious long-term planning and agreed-upon vision for the Uptown District needs to be worked out right now before several proposed and competing plans completely destroy the usability, profitability, and safety of the Uptown Business District.

I don’t think the people of Butte necessarily need to flush tax dollars lining the pockets of consultants for a study. We need to come together, sit down, share a beer or nine, and determine the future of our Historic District. We can do this ourselves but we need to be prepared for hard decisions, compromise, and a few temper tantrums.

The historic buildings are designed like so many in larger metropolitan areas with businesses on the street level and homes above. This is not unusual. It works elsewhere but somehow we think Butte needs to do things differently so instead we let the upper floors decay until the rot destroys the businesses below and the whole structure becomes fodder for pigeons and preservationists. Recently well meaning developers have come in and invested considerably into moving people back into these upper floors but their upper crust demographic clashes with the established and colorful nightlife of the area. This conflict will only grow over time and this one issue could ultimately destroy the whole of the District because both full time residents and all night businesses will be mandatory for a thriving area. Bars will still be needed. Live music will be needed. A certain low-income demographic will still frequent the area and need entertainment. And I will still need the occasional garbage omelet at 2:30 am. The rich will not run off the poor and turn the District into a Country Club and the poor will not be able to make every doorway their toilet or opium den. Some common sense compromise is needed. Residences (insufficiently insulated/soundproofed residences?) will still hear the occasional live band until perhaps midnight but they shouldn’t be forced to hear a drunken karaoke rendition of ACDC for the eneventeenth time at 1:30 in the AM on a Wednesday. A noise ordinance limiting reasonable decibel and revelry output should be something that can be agreed upon and waivered a few times a year for special celebrations. It shouldn’t be targeted to driving a single business out or creating a quiet oasis as neither is what Butte is about.

For the other issues, first, we need to define an exact perimeter of the District. (Not a Historical District that includes all the historical residences, but a concentrated Business District where we expect the significant investment to generate significant income for small-to-mid-sized businesses and that income to generate significant tax revenue for the City/County) None of this “everything that’s old is important” thinking. We need to separate business from residential, craftsmanship from crapsmanship, stuff we’re proud to show off from a seedy underbelly best bulldozed and forgotten.  Using the entire county as the boundary may be a great way to obtain Superfund or other Federal funding and grant money, but the strings that come attached to that cash may entangle more than they enable.

Once our boundaries are finalized, arterial traffic is next to be addresses. How can we funnel tourists and local business from Continental Drive, Arizona, Main, and Montana into this district while still allowing arterial traffic to Tech, Walkerville, and downtown to flow around the District? A concentrated business district with angled parking and heavy foot traffic is not conducive to arterial traffic so we must route it around rather than sending it straight thorough Park Street like it does now. The thinking “make them drive through and they’ll stop” is not good business. Supply/Demand, having a product no one can get else where, aggressive pricing, or effective advertising is the way to drive people to Uptown, not the SPAMmers mantra of “a tiny nibble (one customer) out of a huge fish (all the traffic) is still a decent meal.” A fatal vehicle-pedestrian accident is not necessarily the advertising these businesses need.

Angled parking nearly doubles the amount of spaces but significantly increases the possibility of collisions as people back into traffic. Moving to one-way traffic mitigates a good portion of this. Decreasing speeds and regrading the streets so there is not such a slope from the sidewalk to road crown is another good approach, especially on the permanently shaded sections where ice could strand a vehicle in a parking space. These essentially turn a street into a parking lot so moving through-traffic away from this area is also necessary. As heavy through traffic goes away, other possibilities to increase the draw can be implemented. Statues/planters at the intersections become a possibility as they no longer need to support two-way traffic, cobblestone or decorative paving materials can be used on low traffic surfaces, and parking charges/enforcement can truly become a realistic revenue source for the County.

The proposal for reverse-angled parking has been submitted and championed (rather arrogantly, I might add) by a MT Standard editorial. They even included a professionally designed graphic to illustrate the point. Educating the public doesn’t matter. All these other issues still need to be addressed before angled parking OR reverse-angled parking can successfully or safely be implemented in the District. If the arterial traffic (or any real significant traffic) is still present on the streets where reverse-angle parking is to be used. Here’s the problem: You see an open reverse-angle parking spot, you stop just forward of the space (Just like the Standard’s picture shows), the car behind you stops (exactly in the space you need to back into), you shift into reverse (Activating your white reverse lights that indicate to the vehicle behind you that you are parking), they shift into reverse (activating their reverse lights), the vehicle immediately behind them shifts into reverse, and the one behind, and… Finally you have room to reverse and you begin to swing backwards into the spot when out of nowhere a commuter (Late for work, in labor, has to poop, and is dodging a collision ten cars back where some idiot slammed his rig into reverse in the middle of traffic and hit the guy behind him) drives down the middle of the street around a backwards-parade of stationary cars with their reverse lights on suddenly occupies the same space as your vente half-caf iced mochachino. This sounds like a pessimistic asshat’s theatrical storytelling, but I suspect the first police report on reverse-angle parking will bear a striking resemblance.

I envision this plan creating a few new industries in the Uptown as no room in the road for delivery trucks will create opportunity for warehousing and small-scale delivery companies for the district. Imagine all deliveries coming via large semi to a warehouse on the edge of the district where smaller (possibly electric?) vehicles or forklifts then serve the businesses for the final leg of delivery. Prohibiting semis and large trucks in the district eases traffic and allows for tighter parking while drastically reducing diesel particulate and noise.Perhaps we connect the area under tha vaulted sidewalks for this type of back-office traffic?

Once traffic and parking are addressed then comes infrastructure. It is clear that over a hundred years of advancements in electricity, telecommunications, potable water and sanitary sewer installations has resulted in an intertwined patchwork of tubes, pipes, tunnels, wires and cables in the district. A hardcore modernization effort to remove old decaying and intertwined infrastructure should be undertaken. These upgrades would eliminate the monthly requirement to dig up the street to repair several layers of systems damaged by a failure of another. It also open up some lofty what-if discussions: What if a large boiler on the edge or center of the District could use geothermal-based or augmented heat to supply hot water or steam to all the buildings? Could the District come together to form their own utility district to shield themselves from utility prices? Could the steam be used to control snow and ice buildup on sidewalks and streets? Could the availability of steam-driven machinery or steam-created electricity create new industries in manufacturing? What if the District could form their own ISP to supply Internet, video, or voice service to all the businesses and residents of the area? What-if the District covered the entire area with free WiFi? Connected billboards that automatically synced to show information on a lost child or a found purse within seconds of it being discovered? What if the alleyways were covered by connecting roofs?…

Success of the Uptown Business district to me seems to hinge on:
1) Getting tourists and local business into the area
2) Giving them somewhere to park (even if they have to pay for it)
3) Keeping them there (We need attractions, dining, AND ACCOMMODATIONS)
4) Allowing uptown residents, Tech students, and other traffic to flow around the district without bottle-necking it.
5) Removing hazardous, unsightly, and polluting truck traffic from the District in favor of small scale or back-alley delivery that does not occur during high traffic times
6) Preparing the District for the future by giving it the flexibility to grow in whichever direction the technology of the moment requires

You get to pick ONE without destroying the others:
1) Angle Parking
2) Two-Way Traffic
3) Lanes for Delivery Trucks

I don’t see any real safe way for bike lanes to go through this area. They should really stay on the outside edges of the District, with the arterial commuter traffic as bike traffic will only cause conflicts with foot traffic and vehicle traffic unless it has its own dedicated lanes that keep it away from both. (UPDATE 7/2/14 – Actually, moving bike traffic off the main streets like Montana or Harrison to a secondary adjacent street with less commuter traffic and little to no commercial traffic would probably be for the best. Those pesky bikers seem to want everyone to see how their butt looks in those yoga pants so this might be a tough sell, even of it’s much safer for them.)
With angle parking, snow removal both on sidewalks and the streets needs to be extremely aggressive and proactive (applying salt or de-icer BEFORE it snows and working while it’s snowing not waiting until it stops). Possibly more aggressive than Public Works can provide. Another business opportunity created. Pre-Release labor is an option but personally, I’d like to see a couple competitive private small businesses fill this niche.

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