"I have sustained a deep admiration for the proud community spirit of people helping people over the 52 years I have lived and worked in Cedar Falls. I have been proud of the quality of the public services and the promise of the great place to live that is Cedar Falls.
As Mayor, I want to continue the tradition of strong community spirit and excellent public services. I want to keep our services and projects safe and reliable.
The Mayor's most important duty is to be an advocate for the people."
On June 23, 2014, I attended my first City Council meeting. I was there because I was concerned that Cedar Fall Utilities Cable had changed its channel line-up and removed some channels that reflected broad based and open sources of information and entertainment on the basis that the charge for cable would go up $11. When I came that night, the agenda was 4 pages long and I expected a long wait before it would be time for the forum part of the agenda. I was surprised when Mayor Crews indicated to me that it was time for the forum item. I looked at my watch and it said, “7:20.” I thought, “Four pages of agenda dispatched in 20 minutes?”
I gave my speech and was told that I needed to talk to CFU. I was surprised because CFU is city-owned and the Council should be interested in the issues of free speech and the freedom to know. Sadly, they were not.
I began to realize that great change had occurred in what the City Council had been. It had been a truly deliberative body where agenda items were discussed, amended, voted down, or passed in an open and democratic way. What I had just witnessed was exactly the opposite. An agenda was passed without discussion and the items were grouped and passed on a single vote.
I also noticed that Councilman Taiber was concerned about two items that would bring businesses to Cedar Falls. It was a pattern that I noticed in other council meetings that I attended. I also noticed that people’s attention was not on Mayor Crews but on Richard McAlister.
By coincidence, the June 23 meeting was the first meeting that Richard McAlister was City Administrator. It was clear that he was in charge in the meeting, even though Mayor Crews was presiding.
I began researching the City Administrator Ordinance 2824 and was astounded at what I found. 2824 made McAlister that only one who could do anything on behalf of the City.
As I researched, I found out that the City Administrator ordinance was illegal. Chapter 372 of the Iowa Code says that in order to change the form of government, there needs to be a petition and an election. 2824 had only a 7-0 vote by the Council and, if you read 2824, the people never get to vote on the City Administrator. The Council does and only 4 of them have to vote yes to select the person they want to be City Administrator.
Much has happened to Cedar Falls in the last three years. Yes, it was only three years ago. And, for the people, the last three years have not been good ones.
A Safe and Reliable Cedar Falls
Safe and Reliable. Words that I read often as I researched highways across the country. Safe means: “protected from or not exposed to danger or risk; not likely to be harmed.” Reliable means: “consistently good in quality or performance; able to be trusted.”
When Cedar Falls provides services to the people, the people have a right to expect those services to be safe and reliable.
Recently, the Council has not considered safety and reliability when making decisions.
When the Council accepted the Foth Engineer 4C design that called for 6 roundabouts and medians in the reconstruction of University Avenue, the only criterion that was emphasized was cost. Supposedly the $32.5 million for 4C was less expensive than any other option. There was no due diligence as to safety, reliability or cost. Foth’s assertions were accepted at face value. Evidence shows that roundabouts and medians do not make a road safe and reliable, especially for pedestrians and bicyclists but also for motorists. Nor do they reduce the number of accidents, especially when the roundabouts are two lanes as are the roundabouts at Boulder and Holiday. And they cost more.
When the Council decided to close Fire Station 2 in North Cedar, the people of North Cedar were not safer and the fire protection was not more reliable. The reduced number of fire rescue personnel and the increased time it takes for Fire Rescue to arrive make fire protection less safe and less reliable. A recent tragic home fire in North Cedar proved it.
When the Council decided to experiment with one side refuse collection, the people did not find the service safe and reliable, and yet the Council rapidly expanded one side collection from one to more than 80 streets that have all or part of the street with one side collection. Ordinarily the refuse container is not placed in the street, it is placed near the curb, but not on the street. In one side collection, the containers are to be placed on the other side of the street against the curb. Pushing the refuse container across the street is not safe in good weather, and is even more unsafe in inclement weather. And the curb on the other side may be blocked by cars, so that the containers cannot be pushed against the curb. One side refuse collection is definitely not safe and is not reliable.
For decades, the Council had tax money to provide safe and reliable services to the people of Cedar Falls. Now, supposedly, the money isn’t there. Where has it gone? Perhaps the Council has been too generous to the companies awarded construction contracts and too generous to the businesses that want to come to Cedar Falls. Perhaps.
Vision and Visibility
Vision and visibility are significant concepts in our language. Vision is defined as the faculty or state of being able to see. Visibility is defined as the state of being able to see or be seen:
Whoever designed and whoever approved the reconstruction of University Avenue did not have vision when they chose to put roundabouts and medians on University Avenue, on Iowa Highway 934. They did not see how the reconstruction would affect businesses and people.
No business impact study was done and businesses have suffered with the decreased traffic because people are avoiding the roundabouts. Through traffic has been diverted to other roads. Greenhill, Main Street, and Rainbow have had dramatic increases in traffic; traffic that used University Avenue before. As a result, some businesses have gone out of business and others are having difficulty staying in business.
Drivers are much less safe because they have at least four yield signs to consider on each two lane roundabout. The two lane roundabouts also are not safe because one car may yield and the other one may not. Changing lanes also makes them unsafe.
Roundabouts are unsafe and unreliable for pedestrians to cross and for bicyclists to use. The traffic never stops. Pedestrians and bicyclists are unsure if cars are going to yield. They often do not. Studies show that bicyclists are the most vulnerable for fatal accidents on roundabouts.
By including medians on the reconstructed University Avenue, whoever designed and approved the design did not envision the problems that medians create.
Medians make a road less safe and divides the road when access is needed.
Prairie Parkway shows that medians on a main road make the road less safe when, as I have seen personally, a driver turns and drives down the wrong lane.
Medians divide a road when the traffic needs to have access to both sides. Roundabouts do not solve the access problem that medians create. Center turn lanes do. Just drive down University and see how many homes and businesses would be accessible with center turn lanes.
Whoever designed and whoever approved the reconstruction of University Avenue did not have vision when they chose to put roundabouts and medians on University Avenue, Highway 934.
Whoever designed and whoever approved the reconstruction of University Avenue did not understand visibility.
Visibility means being able to see and be seen. The structures on the roundabouts and the landscaping of the medians reduce visibility to a dangerous level. The oncoming traffic is obstructed from view by the structures being constructed within the roundabouts. The same mistake was made on Prairie Parkway where the oncoming traffic cannot be seen in the roundabout at the top of the hill (a place where a roundabout should never be built) and where the landscaping on the medians hides oncoming traffic. Look at Prairie Parkway now and you will see what University Avenue will look like in a year or so.
Whoever designed and whoever approved the reconstruction of University Avenue did not have vision when they chose to put roundabouts on University Avenue, Iowa 934 and they did not understand visibility.
University Avenue as it is being reconstructed is unsafe and unreliable and will become more so as the construction proceeds.
Fixing Costs Less Than Building
Forum Speech, September 18, 2017
I have proposed to fix University Avenue to make it safe and reliable by taking out the Boulder and Holiday roundabouts but leave the Waterloo Road roundabout if the vision-blocking center structure is removed. I have also proposed that no more roundabouts be built and that the optimized traffic lights be restored. Finally, I have proposed that the medians be replaced with center turn lanes. University Avenue then would have 4 lanes with center turn lanes and optimized traffic signals with one roundabout at Waterloo Road. The other changes made so far would be retained, for example, the opening up of access to University Avenue at Boulder and Holiday.
The only comment I have heard is that it would cost more if the Boulder and Holiday roundabouts were removed. “Don’t take out what has already been built,” they say. I have heard no comment that the roundabouts are safe and reliable. I have heard no comments that these roundabouts are safe for pedestrians, in particular, the students at Peet Junior High who before had a walk signal at the Tucson and Valley Park traffic lights. No, the only comment is: “Don’t take out what has already been built.”
If the roundabouts are taken out and four lanes replace them, Cedar Falls would save millions of tax dollars. There would be no $5 million or more spent on the “dogbones” at Highway 58. In fact, Foth 4C did not adhere to the Federal Highway Administration recommendation that University remain 6 lanes from Highway 58 to Valley Park to accommodate traffic. Let me repeat that: the FHA recommended that University remain 6 lanes from Highway 58 to Valley Park to accommodate traffic. The FHA also said that from Valley Park to Midway that it could be either optimized traffic lights or roundabouts. Obviously, the traffic lights would have been cheaper because they were already there. And they would have kept University Avenue safe and reliable.
What would it cost to remove the Boulder and Holiday roundabouts and replace them with 4 traffic lanes? Approximately $500 thousand. To continue to build the Cedar Height roundabout would cost $1.5 to $2.0 million. To build the dogbones at HWY 58, at least $5 million. In other words, it would save at least $6 to $7 million if Boulder and Holiday roundabouts were removed and no more were built. More would have been saved, if the right of way (ROW) costs required to build roundabouts had not been incurred. The optimized traffic light option had no right of way (ROW) costs. Foth 4C is incompetent in design and negligent when it makes University Avenue unsafe and unreliable. The City should make Foth pay to make University Avenue safe and reliable again.
I have proposed a fiscally responsible way to fix University Avenue. With the money saved, maybe we could work to restore city services that have been cut so badly in the last four years.
What is the Real Cost of University Avenue?
Forum Speech, September 5, 2017
Did the State of Iowa give Cedar Falls a fair price when it gave the City $20 million to reconstruct the 2.3 miles of University Avenue from Highway 58 to Midway Drive? Cedar Falls must have thought it was or it would not have accepted it.
Did the State of Iowa give Waterloo a fair price when it gave Waterloo 28 million dollars to reconstruct 3 miles of University Avenue from Midway Drive to Highway 63? It must have because Waterloo recently accepted $28 million from the State.
The State gave each city roughly the same amount per mile --- a little over $9 million per mile. Was $9 million a fair price for each mile of reconstruction? The construction costs for 1 mile of 4 lane roadway is a little over $5 million, In fact, new construction of a 5 lane undivided urban arterial with center turn lane and 4' bike lanes costs an estimated $5.3 million. $5,312,066.00 to be exact. (Source: https://capitolfax.com/summary.pdf) The cost then of reconstructing the 2.3 miles of University Avenue would be an estimated $12.2 million.
The $20 million pays for the road and provides the funds for the necessary infrastructure work. $12.2 million or even $20 million is far less than the $32.5 million that Foth Engineer said is the cost of 4C with 6 roundabouts. $5 million has been added to the $32.5 for the sewer replacement work at College Square. The cost of the dog bone roundabouts at Hwy 58 raise the estimated cost to $43 million.
With an estimated $43 million being spent, which is $23 million above what the State paid the City, what does the City and the people get? Is University Avenue safer and more reliable than it was when it was six lanes, had optimized traffic lights and a 45 mph speed limit? No.
Foth’s 4C design has many design flaws that make it unsafe and unreliable. Some of these flaws are:
Because University Avenue is not wide enough for a multi-lane roundabout at Holiday, traffic on the access road has to go through the parking lots of Famous Dave’s and Hong Kong. Dangerously not safe.
The S-curve entrance to both the Boulder and Holiday roundabouts make the roundabouts less safe. In fact, I have found no other roundabout that has an S-curve entrance. Not safe.
The landscaped structures in the center of the roundabouts at Boulder, Holiday and Waterloo Road not only make them unsafe, they make them dangerous. A driver cannot see the traffic on the other side until a vehicle makes the turn and is only feet away. When visibility is impaired, for any reason, the road becomes unsafe.
The traffic on Valley Park either has to turn left on the access road and go through the Hong Kong parking lot to get to the Holiday roundabout or has to turn right at the stop sign and go through the Boulder roundabout which is much less safe because the driver has to deal with the many yield signs and depend on other drivers yielding when they should. Judgment calls often lead to bad results. Not safe.
The medians with the landscaping makes even worse a bad feature of the 6 lane University Avenue. Medians divide a road and the turn lanes that have been added do not correct the problem. The turn lanes provide access from only one direction. I can turn left into College Square at Valley Park, but I cannot turn left into Valley Park. Also, some places, specifically, the residences, have no access to a turn lane.
I have come before this Council repeatedly to plead for you to reconstruct University Avenue correctly and to save the people’s money. It has all been to no avail. You are going to keep the Foth Engineering design; a design that is hopelessly flawed and exorbitantly expensive.
The people deserve better.
One Side Refuse Collection
Over the last three years, many city services have been cut. Bus service, public safety (including police and fire protection), yard waste, and refuse collection have all been reduced or not maintained to properly serve the people of Cedar Falls. I want to examine one of these and ask why the City Council took the action they did.
One side refuse collection has recently been introduced and it has proven to be a bad decision.
The Cedar Falls web site has the official explanation of why some Cedar Falls residences now have one side refuse collection and why more may have it in the future. It says, in part:
“What is One-Side Refuse Collection?
This is a cost saving initiative to reduce the amount of miles driven, equipment maintenance, collection times and fuel usage. [Let me repeat that: “This is a cost saving initiative to reduce the amount of miles driven, equipment maintenance, collection times and fuel usage.”] [Notice there is no mention of serving the people, of improving collection service for the people.] Currently, the City of Cedar Falls refuse collectors travel in both directions to pick up carts from each side of the street. With one-side collection residents line up carts on the same side, wheels against the curb, which means the truck only needs to make one pass through on a street.
Why One-Side Refuse Collection?
• Fewer miles driven. The City has over 200 lane miles. By reducing miles driven by approximately 40%, the savings will be significant.
• Less fuel consumed
• Reduced truck maneuvering, increasing safe route operations
• Potential to increase the number of customers served by each truck
• Helps stabilize refuse rates”
The city says that the program will be expanded if successful. That has already happened! The City has greatly expanded its one side collection!
The City’s current program involves all or part of 82 streets:
“One side streets 2017
River Ridge/Timberledge 5th/6th St. /Barbara loop Joanne/Williamson Douglas/Kennedy/Thomas Joy/Rocktyn/Westview/Rosewood/Cadam/Maple/Cypress Longview/Clair/Pine/Sumac/Cypress/Cedar/Longview Ct. /Central N. Division N. Francis Oak Park Minnetonka dead end Lakeview/Lakeridge
Abraham Ryan/Fandre Clark/Summit/Laurel 29 11' St./Walnut (University -29th) Sandahlwood Berry hill/Cordoroy/Paddington Wynnwood Thresher/Shocker Cherrywood Dr./Normandv/Newland Oxford/Coventry Fireside/Hearthside Rocky Ridge Rd
Luke/MiIlennium Birch/Gibson California/Hickory Sunset (From Rownd to Willow) Veralta/Hiilside
Loren Dr. Fjord/Marius/Carey/Glacier Stanwood/Maucker Horseshoe Devlin Circle Briarwood Knollridge
Future one-sided (Next Year)
Quail Ridge/Quail Run/Feather Run Daina/Deena/Valley High Melendy/Stewart Carlton/Homeway Continental Heights --- once developed Heritage/Sturgis /S Lawn/West Gate.”
Where in all of this is serving the people?
It is nowhere. Two- sided garbage pickup had been the practice for decades and, now, it has been changed for no good reason.
Why? Why does the city say it needs to save money?
It doesn’t. It has tax money. Cedar Falls has over 200 miles of lane surfaces because the city has expanded rapidly. The expansion has produced more tax revenue to provide services.
Where is the tax money going that should be spent on services? Maybe the Council could put on its website an account of where it has gone.
Discontinue the unsafe and unnecessary one side refuse collection. Return to the safer and more reliable two side collection.
A Report Card for the Cedar Falls City Administrator
by Jim Skaine
According to the Ordinance, Cedar Falls has a Mayor- Council form of government, but since June 23, 2014, the City has not operated as Mayor-Council, even though they publicly say that it is.
When the Council created the City Administrator, they changed in practice the government from Mayor-Council to Council-Manager-Ward. But they did it illegally. It was illegal because the Council failed to follow Iowa State Law Chapter 372.To change the form of government, a petition of 25% of those voting in the last city election is required. There was no petition. To make the change, an election must be conducted to determine whether the people want to make the change. There was no petition and no election.
Ordinance 2824 gives the City Administrator almost complete authority to run the government of Cedar Falls. The City Administrator is not elected. 2824 says that a vote of 4 Council members will hire a City Administrator and a vote of 4 Council members will fire him.
City Administrators have been in power for over three years, so it is appropriate to grade how well they have governed the City in those three years. What would a report card for the two City Administrators: Richard McAlister and Ron Gaines show?
The report card has five categories: honesty, obeying the law, providing services, spending tax monies, and respecting citizen rights.
Honesty. The City Administrator has been dishonest in repeatedly telling the people that Cedar Falls is operating as an elected Mayor-Council form of government when. In practice, Ordinance 2824 created an unelected City Administrator and a Council-Manager-Ward form of government.
Obeying the Law. The City Administrator has violated the open meetings law by having agenda items passed with little or no opportunity for debate and having whole categories of items passed with a single vote.
Providing Services. The City Administrator has cut services and made them more costly. They have cut police and fire protection, bus services, refuse collection, and yard waste collection.
Spending Tax Monies.
Tax monies have been wasted in the reconstruction of University Avenue and more will be wasted if the reconstruction continues as planned.
Tax monies have been used to favor some groups at the expense of the rest of the people. Two examples are: expensive alleys for a few, and economic development deals that yield negative tax revenue for the city.
Tax monies have been diverted from needed services and has resulted in high fees and reduced services.
Respecting people’s rights. The City Administrator has restricted rights. like free speech, freedom to participate in the decision-making process, not having Council meetings agenda available in timely fashion.
Overall grade: After three years, the City Administrators are still illegal and they have a failing grade on each item on the report card. Let’s return to operating as the Mayor-Council form of government as it should be.