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Columbia Missourian

DAVID ROSMAN: We need to think about the future in planning projects

By David Rosman
February 20, 2013 | 6:00 a.m. CST

Meetings are simply boring. City Council meetings are worse, which is why I prefer to watch them on the city channel in the comfort in my living room, nursing four-fingers of bourbon. But Monday’s meeting was different.

The discussion of the Providence and Stadium intersection project was front and center. I have been here long enough to know the general issues: traffic, growth and eminent domain. It is the last that caused this entire issue to come to its current public apex.

Speakers and council represented both sides of the issues of widening Providence to allow for smoother traffic flow from Burnam Road south through Stadium and access to Providence north from the Grasslands subdivision. I agree that traffic is not that wonderful during the morning and evening rush hours, and home Tiger football games. Twenty years from now it will be worse. Yet, the traffic problem is not limited to Providence alone.

Columbia has a limited number of roads that run its length and breadth, and they all need help. Clark Lane, east and west of the US 63 Connector, needs to be rebuilt and sidewalks installed. Forum Boulevard south of Chapel Hill Road and Rock Quarry Road are just plain dangerous and need widening. One major thoroughfare project not mentioned was widening Broadway between Garth Avenue and Clinkscales Road and fixing the sidewalks.

John Clark said something I have said for a long time, that most governments do not look any further than tomorrow. Yes, there are 10- and 20-year plans and all seemingly thrown to the wayside within a month. Problems are not fixed, but mended with a series of small and usually unrelated repairs — a patchwork of bailing wire, duct tape and gum.

Councilwoman Laura Nauser and the mayor did the smart thing by asking for the reversal of the Council’s November vote approving the start of the Providence project and for a two-month delay so the neighborhoods, MU and MoDOT can get their acts together.

There is one rule I believe Council and the stakeholders are ignoring; K.I.S.S. – Keep it short and simple (nothing is stupid or silly). Yes, the problems may be complicated, but the best and least expensive answers usually have the simplest solutions.

Franciscan friar William of Occam (of the razor fame), Sir Isaac Newton, R. Buckminster “Bucky” Fuller and others have said that if given multiple solutions, start with the simplest. Bucky once told me that to find the real problem, start from the outside and work your way in – from the easiest to the hardest, reverse engineering.

The simple problem concerns the three streets exiting the Grasslands subdivision, none having a traffic light to permit a safe left-hand turn north on to Providence. The complicated problem is the increased traffic expected in the next 20 years. But ripping down perfectly good and privately owned homes is expensive, time consuming and — politically and legally — extremely complicated.

Even the rules for making such decisions are so complicated that even members of council could not fully understand the procedures. “Meetings? Who needs stinkin’ meetings?”

Mayor Bob McDavid is rightfully concerned about the funding for these projects, an issue that must be brought to the public for approval. We know from experience that complicated information is often misleading, which will lose votes, making 50 percent plus one vote that more difficult to achieve.

Karl Skala, paraphrasing McDavid, suggested that the decision concerning road improvement projects is a political issue. It is, but it is also an economic issue, jobs issue, safety issue, and most importantly, a public issue. Regardless of how good the planning is, how good the research and communication is, or necessity of the proposed road projects, if the council fails to make the project funding a people issue, one that concerns each eligible voter, a vote on funding will fail.

As the Providence and other road projects and their funding are being re-evaluated, as everyone returns to the drawing boards, they may want to consider two of my personal rules for problem solving;

“If you can't find an answer, ask a 5-year old – they do not know from ‘complicated’ or ‘it can’t be done.’”

“Don’t look outside of the box, there is nothing there. Look in different boxes for the answer.”

For the approval process; “SW, SW, SW, N – Some will, Some won’t, So what, Next.”

David Rosman is an editor, writer, professional speaker and college instructor in communications, ethics, business and politics. Questions? Contact Opinion editor Elizabeth Conner.