I went to my first ever City Council meeting last night.
I wonder how many people have been to one? I got the sense that there are a few people who go fairly regularly, especially if an issue they care about is up for discussion. But the rest of us, I'm guessing most adults have never been.
(I live in a small city, and know through a colleague a council member. I also, it turned out, know another council member because we used to live next to each other when I first lived in town. How sad is it that I didn't know I knew that second council member? And barely recognized him when I saw him sitting up, though he recognized me and came and said hello before the meeting started.)
The council is making a decision on how best to repair a fairly important road in town, and last night was the final discussion before the vote tomorrow. I went to listen, mostly, and to be supportive of the folks who are trying to influence the decision in favor of more bike and pedestrian friendly alternatives. The road is in horrible shape, even for our generally horrible roads (thanks, tax cutters!).
The meeting started with the city engineer explaining what their plan was, complete with overhead pictures (shown on a big screen) with detailed stuff about lines, paving plans, and so forth. Then city council folks asked questions. And then they opened the meeting up to anyone who wanted to speak. The council president said at the beginning of the meeting that anyone who wanted to speak should get up when the podium is open, wait if someone else is there first, and that everyone gets 5 minutes, and then the council can ask the person questions.
And that's how it went. Everyone was polite (it's the upper Midwest), and everyone who wanted to speak got to, so far as I could tell (the meeting lasted 2 and a half hours).
While there was some water management and such, the controversial part of the city engineer's drawings showed mostly two car lanes in each direction, with one to be marked as a shared lane with bikes, and then different solutions for a center turn lane or left turn lanes at different areas along the almost a mile stretch (it's largely businesses along that street).
The bike/pedestrian advocates were arguing for a bike lane and wider pedestrian walk instead of the second car lane on each side. (You have to remember that when we plan for these sorts of streets, we also have to think about snow on the sidewalks from the plows.)
So it was interesting, because the road reworking is supposed to last 40 years, say (that is, it will be resurfaced more often, but not reworked in terms of the major structures), and that means everyone is trying to think about what the community will look like in 40 years, how much we'll drive, how much we'll need other alternatives, and so forth. It's so complicated!
The bike and alternative transportation advocacy group in town (I didn't even know there was one) had written a letter before asking that the city engineer draw up an alternative showing the bike lane and increased pedestrian area, but they hadn't done that. (There had been many meetings with neighborhood groups and such to give lots of people a chance to talk about plans and what folks in the area want to happen.)
The lack of an alternative drawing meant that most of the bike lane advocates got asked by city council members if changing the plans would mean that the city would have to put off this major repair for another year. And, of course, they pretty much had to say that it would be hard to put off the repair, but they wanted the city to do it right, so yes, it would have to be put off.
Anyway, I'd be willing to bet that the council is going to go with the city engineer's plan, and while it won't be as bike and pedestrian friendly as it might be, it will be a significant improvement over what's there now in all sorts of ways.
I'm glad I went, and will probably try to be a little more aware of stuff happening in town, but I wouldn't want to have to go to this sort of meeting every week!