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Thursday, October 27, 2016

Stupidity Street...

The other night I was reading to the four-year old grandson from his favorite poetry anthology. As I read poem after poem at random, one title leaped out at me. I chose not to read the poem as it was above the listener's understanding. A title for this post has been on my mind for months now, but I have set it aside in favor of one that's more to the point.

A year or so ago an article in a local newspaper caught my attention. The city of Monroe had been awarded a federal grant to address storm water management on Main Street. To alleviate flooding from an outdated drainage system that an excess of rainwater at times overwhelmed, the city would use the monies to install french drains overlaid by a porous layer of concrete, allowing the puddling to percolate through to the drains. "Good idea," was my first response: when the government offers you a check, take it to the bank before it "percolates" elsewhere. And it's my opinion no one--me in particular--enjoys shopping in wet socks.

The hydrology issue thus addressed and paid for, the town council decided "Why stop here?" And then the weirdness began. "We need to bring more business to the downtown," the City Council declared. This, mind you, from a smug group of officials who sanctioned the construction of a Walmart, thereby diverting Main Street shoppers north of Highway 2 to Sam's Club. "Let's widen the sidewalks, (give two blocks of Main Street a Parisian ambiance--a promenade, of sorts), reconfigure parking in the 'business' section of town...diagonal parking north side only; parallel parking south side. And let's see to it the work is done during summer months, the busiest time of the year for Main Street merchants. Meanwhile, since we have the welfare of the community at heart, we'll employ public monies to fund our art project." (After all, the government is an unlikely source of funding for "aesthetic" improvements.)

When all the water had percolated and the construction dust cleared, the two blocks of Main Street between Ferry and Blakeley Streets were born again. Merchants and vendors have more room to set up outdoor displays during the few weeks of the summer when it doesn't rain. Main Street Cafe set up a little sidewalk bistro blocking the promenade, slaloming the strollers around the obstruction between the vehicles and the unsightly black posts positioned as barriers curbside (because there is no curb) to keep parked cars from the sidewalks and vehicles parking from crashing into storefronts.

The downtown makeover is a study in unintended consequences. The city "elders" certainly didn't consider the fact that Monroe is still a rural farming community and that the vehicle of choice for many a citizen is a brawny pickup truck which on the north side of Main he'd have to park diagonally. These behemoths have over-sized beds, bumpers, and trailer hitches and when parked on the north side of Main, spill into the road, thus making westbound traffic zigzag its way for two blocks.

Not only does the traveler have to worry about hanging up on a protruding hitch, but he must also avoid oncoming traffic when he is forced into their lane to skirt the obstacles to his right. Large trucks have taken to the side streets rather than navigate around the barrier posts that impede turning onto and from Main Street. During one trip to town I was delayed at the Main Street stoplight when a forty foot land yacht jockeyed back and forth trying to make the turn left from Lewis Street onto Main.

I've asked a few merchants to share their opinions of their new downtown. Some just shook their heads. Others rolled their eyes. Not one positive reaction from anyone I consulted. Carl at Main Street Books said business came to a near standstill during construction and currently is off thirty per cent. His neighbor at My L.A. Fashion said her store and window displays are completely hidden when one of the "monster" trucks parks in front. She directed to my attention to the recharging stations the City installed for electric vehicles and told me they're mainly used by the homeless to recharge their cell phones. "Better not text while you're walking," she said, pointing out the street lights that sprout from the middle of the new sidewalks, "or you'll end up nursing a big knot on your head." Her concluding remark: "Even if they do notice my store, customers are reluctant to hold up traffic while they attempt to parallel park." One of the tellers at Union Bank shared that during her shift she hears considerable horn honking at that corner because the diagonal parking at the corner of Blakeley Street blocks
the view of Main Street, forcing the side street traffic to creep blindly into the intersection where angry motorists honk at their intrusion.

The boondoggle that is the "new" heart of Monroe puts me in mind of what someone said of the camel: it was a critter created by a committee. You might say that a "Confederacy of Dunces" (the intended title of this post) has turned the two blocks of Main Street between Ferry and Blakeley into the fanciest, most expensive alley in town.