The proposed Calhoun Street chain saw massacre

Sketch of Calhoun Street widening project, courtesy of the City.

Calhoun Street, according to 255 signatures on a petition I gave to Tom Henry, our mayor, in late winter 09, is the nicest street in Fort Wayne.  Tom plans to change that.  He wants to spend $1.1, plus interest, to “improve ” the street.

He plans to chop down all the trees from Washington to Berry Streets, he plans to rip up the sidewalk and shave 2000 square feet off of each of the two block, he plans to smash the planters, to add truck parking, to engineer turn lanes and to change the street to two way.  255 people are against his plans.  They say the street is fine the way it is.  The point to the growing downtown street scene that is centered on Calhoun.  They point to the tree canopy, to the beauty and utility of the planters, to the relaxing ambiance on the street.

Calhoun, in fact, has become the place to be at noon and later when downtown.  Runners, cyclists, stollers, families, guitarists and plenty of diners and imbibers use the street each day.  They are dead set against the improvements.

Additionally, Mac Parker, one of the longtime leaders of the city collected the names of over 40 lawyers with equally venerable names and reputations who scoffed at the idea the changes would be an improvement.  Together, Mac and I presented our petitions to council on the 28th of July.  A representative of Friends of the Parks, Noel Knox, also spoke against the project, and so did private citizen Mike Conley.  No one spoke in favor of it.  Additionally, the Southwest Area Partnership voted against the project.  West Central, on the other hand, voted for it.  Their president, Mike Anderson, has since decided to oppose the project.

Why?  Well, the first question should be why is the project needed?  Tom Henry, my longtime friend and our mayor, told me, Richard Williams and John Theisen, both lawyers, that 1) it was a personal inconvenience to exit the city county building parking garage and not be able to travel south on Calhoun; 2) he had heard from out-of-towners that they were confused when navigating the downtown area, and 3) he had made a promise to his fellow council members during the vote on vacating Harrison Street at the Grand Wayne that he would work, in exchange for their votes for the vacation, to work to make Calhoun two-way.

Consider the points.  1…Inconvenience.  Tom could use the east ramp out of the city county building parking lot and easily speed south on Clinton.  Timed lights.  One block to the east.  Easy and fast.  2…Out-of-towners.  I can be confused in Kendallville, too, but I don’t demand them to spend a million bucks to redo the city street plan.  3…The Harrison Promise.  This must be where the rubber meets the road.  The other arguments are simply specious.  Tom voted to vacate Harrison at the Grand Wayne so the GWC could link the old building with the new building.  That vote is roundly considered a mistake.  Now, Tom wants to make up for one mistake with another.  But, he thinks that he is obligated to fulfill his promise.  As far as I can tell no one, simply no one wants him to tear up Calhoun.

So, the City has a slide show in which they argue that treees on Calhoun are dying and will soon need to be replaced.  False.  They show in their slide show pictures of trees on Berry and Wayne as representative of Calhoun. Arborists say that they trees on Calhoun have another forty years to go, easy.  The City says the street has to be two-way to allow circulation to the south to save the Oyster Bar and Saigon.  Both are doing well, despite the heinous impediment.  The Saigon is usually packed each day of the week.  The Oyster Bar survives despite a vey pricy menue and losing Jim Kelley Buick, a key customer.  The city further argues that the street needs to be open to reduce congestion leaving Tin Cap games.  One, there is no congestion, and two, Calhoun between Berry and Washington flows with two lanes away from the ballpark.  Again, a simple misrepresentation of facts.

So, why tear it up?  Who benefits.  The opening of Calhoun to two way really only helps Tom Henry and company get south on Calhoun.  To get to the Oyster Bar they need to pass throgh six untimed lights.  On Clinton they have an equal number of timed lights.  Tom could use Main to go east or west, Clinton or Fairfield to go south and Ewing, Harrison or Lafayette to head north.  For a million dollars we could buy Tom a very good GPS system, perhaps pay for a trained chauffeur for, say, thirty years, to get him about town.

The Calhoun Project is a waste of money.  There is no need for it.  The people who live work and relax on the street are adamantly against the project, but Tom plows ahead.

I guess that in each councilmatic district there are a dozen projects of higher priority.  Karen Goldner told three of us at lunch one day that Bobby Kennedy, Board of Works chair, had higher priorities than this and could find other places to spend a million dollars more effectively.  Accoring to Rachel Blakeman of the city, there are plenty of projects that are on hold because they don’t have the money.  You might also remember that the city decided to close the Swinney pool this year and next because they…don’t have the money.

As it stands John Shoaff, Tom Smith, Mitch Harper and Marty Bender are opposed to the expenditure.  Liz Brown, who calls herself, boast about it, reminds her colleagues at the table (on camera) that she is safe guarding every citizen tax dollar, supports the mayor.  Karen Goldner told me early in my efforts that she opposed the project, then she changed her mind, then, after lunch with myself and those two lawyer-friends, she said she would support a trial change to two-way.  Now she again supports the mayor.  It is hard to tell which word is to be believed.  She also belittled Mac Parker and dismissed his petition as “irrelevant.”  Tom Didier is in favor of increseing truck traffic on Calhoun.  (The city plans to shave 2,000 square feet of sidewalk space off of each of the blocks primarily to help UPS and FedEx and food service trucks make faster deliveries.  The drivers say they can use Berry, Wayne or allys to walk a half block and thereby save a $1 million tax dollars…your dollars.)  Tim Pape supports the mayor.

So, the vote is coming.  We will work to encourage one councilmember to join in saving the nicest street in Fort Wayne, the choice for TV standups, the choice of local companies showing off Fort Wayne to prospective employees, the stuff of brchure covers.  It was the scene of Buskerfest, wildly successful in its first presentation.  Change Calhoun and you take away one of our true assets at the cost of a million dollars.

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  1. “Doing something for the sake of appearing to do something.”

    Mayor Henry and his supporters in the council seem to be very good at appearances, bad at substance.

  2. Jim,

    Your argument is getting pretty far out there.

    Keeping Swinney pool closed? Yes- because the money for the street project comes from a bond. Are you suggesting the city should take out a bond and pay interest to keep Swinney pool open this year?

    Mnay of your other points were pretty well refuted in this morning’s editorial in the JG- which others can find here.

    It appears there are many reasons to do this project, and after reading the editorial, I am leaning towards supporting it.

  3. What is ironic is that changing Calhoun to two way will likely increase the traffic flow to the point where it is impossible to exit the garage there turning south. I expect next year we’ll be seing a traffic light installed on Calhoun at the garage exit to correct this major inconvenience.

  4. What is more ironic is that several years ago, the powers that be were absolutely certain that changing Calhoun from two way to one way was a necessary improvement. The nice wide sidewalks and trees were put in for an equally good reason, at a tiny cost to taxpayers. Wonder how long before another wonderful reason will be determined for changing it yet again…

  5. This is a bad project! Wells Fargo says they need the extra room for deliveries so we have to ruin our downtown for them? What really needs to happen is to have the street also have parking on one side during the evening!!
    Bond or not it is still a million dollars of our money for what return?


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