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Archive for May 22nd, 2008|Daily archive page

Council member Wieneke wants to know about the city’s parking privatization plans that he’s never been told a thing about

In Chuck Wieneke, City Hall, Downtown District, Justin Shields on May 22, 2008 at 8:32 pm

Council member Chuck Wieneke is the second City Council to bark about a plan, which is under study, to turn the city’s downtown parking operation over to a private operator.

Handling over all of the city’s parking operations — meters, enforcement, parkades and skywalks — to a private company would mean nine full-time city employees, three half-time ones and a less-than-half-time one would be out of jobs.

At Wednesday’s council meeting, Wieneke asked the city staff to talk to him about any kind of downtown parking changes that are under study and may be in the works.

“As of this time, I’ve never been told anything about what is going on,” he said. “Nobody has every shared anything with me.”

The Downtown District and city staff, in fact, have been looking at the prospect of turning some or all of the city-run parking system over to private management. A Gazette story reported as much five weeks ago, noting that a committee had selected two companies as finalists for the job.

The thought then was that a private company would be put in place by July 1 if any move was going to be made.

Doug Neumann, president/CEO of the Downtown District, has said that the district likes the idea that a private company may bring better service and spiffier facilities to the downtown parking operation. Neumann also has said that employees for a private operator would make less than current city employees.

Council member Justin Shields made his disdain for a parking privatization plan known last week when he threatened to vote against the hiring of new police chief, Greg Graham. Shields noted that Graham would be earning more than the chief he was replacing, Mike Klappholz, yet the city might end up eliminating parking positions for lower-waged employees.



Cedar Rapids seeks bike-friendly status similar to cool places like Madison, Eugene, Fort Collins and Ann Arbor; Podzimek giddy

In Brian Fagan, City Hall, Kris Gulick, Pat Shey, Tom Podzimek on May 22, 2008 at 4:54 pm

It wouldn’t be unfair to say that most if not all of the nine members of the City Council are eager to do what they can to raise the profile of Cedar Rapids.

After a push from council member Tom Podzimek, the city now is moving ahead on the task of earning for Cedar Rapids the status of “Bicycle Friendly Community,” a distinction handed down by the League of American Bicyclists.

No Iowa city now has such distinction, though Iowa City once did have it, and a number of Iowa cities have applied, according to city officials.

Eighty-four cities nationwide are now designated bicycle friendly, including such places as Madison, Wis., Eugene, Ore., Ann Arbor, Mich., LaCrosse, Wis., Fort Collins, Colo., and big cities, Chicago, Milwaukee and Minneapolis.

According to a City Hall memo, such a designation is not easy to obtain.

Among the requirements are for a city to provide bike racks on most city facilities; equip buses with bike racks (which the city is doing this summer); identify low-volume roads as “touring routes;” and implement a “complete streets” policy that requires accommodations for bicycles and pedestrians as part of new road construction (a discussion that the City Council is now having).

Podzimek couldn’t have been happier on Wednesday evening to hear that the city is pushing ahead.

“Gee that was easy,” he said in an e-mail. “(I) should have asked that question 30 months ago.”

He and council colleagues Pat Shey, Brian Fagan and Kris Gulick all participated in the recent ride-a-bike-to-work-week ride.

Shey rode his bike to the council meeting last night. He said he was mad about gasoline prices, and intended to ride the bike all week.


Public Works’ Hanson charms council; council member Vernon praises honesty over hiding the truth

In City Hall, Kris Gulick, Monica Vernon on May 22, 2008 at 2:00 pm

Craig Hanson, the city’s public works maintenance manager, all but charmed the City Council on Wednesday evening with his analysis of the city’s recently completed battle with winter ice and snow.

It’s the honesty that does it.

Hanson reported that the city fielded more than 1,500 calls and more than 1,000 e-mails from inquiring or angry citizens with questions related to the city’s performance during this winter’s snow and ice onslaught.

Hanson admitted that the city made mistakes and suggested ways to improve.

For instance:

Next season, the city is apt to hire a contractor to shovel unshoveled sidewalks and then bill the property owner just like the city does now with the mowing of weeds. That will get the job done quicker. The city also may try to connect neighborhood youngsters who want to shovel snow with property owners who need shoveling.

In its plowing work this winter, the city knocked over more than 100 mailboxes, and the city was too slow in replacing them. Hanson will have more mailboxes on hand next winter so replacements can be made quickly.

The city expects to better enforce rules against citizens blowing snow into the streets.

Communication with the public will improve.

Among matters yet to discuss in the coming months will be the city’s alternate-side parking in some residential neighborhoods. Residents don’t always comply, and one thought has been to implement the policy all winter, not just after a snowstorm, so residents are better trained when snow arrives.

Council member Monica Vernon couldn’t praise Hanson enough.

She said Hanson’s presentation was refreshing because it acknowledged the city’s shortcomings while offering a plan to do better.

“I think our citizens want to hear that,” said Vernon, who added that too often in the past the tendency might have  been  to keep “hidden” what didn’t work right.

Council member Kris Gulick asked Hanson if it was possible to try to measure how much it might cost the city in payments that result from plows hitting parked vehicles and how much the city might save if it better enforced the alternate-side parking rules. He also wondered how much quicker the city could get plowing done if people followed the rules.

Gulick noted that one of the photos in Hanson’s presentation was a photo of Gulick’s own northeast Cedar Rapids street in winter. It showed cars parked on both sides with barely enough room for a plow to get through. The street is not now among residential streets with an alternate-parking designation, Gulick said.