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A blog that takes a look at West Chester area government, politics, and community events.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Whoa Buddy!

John Petersen, Chester County's most prolific political blogger, has written an open letter calling for Tredyffrin Supervisor Bill DeHaven not to seek the Republican endorsement in 2009.

DeHaven's offenses:
- He thought it'd be nice to put an ice rink in Wilson Farm Park
- He thinks kids should walk to school
- He does not think the Covered Bridge of Valley Forge should be Tredyffrin's logo
- He said at Monday night's Board of Supervisors meeting that he would not tolerate the dissent of those who oppose Tredyffrin's plan to build more sidewalks.

What's wrong with these positions? Well, for one, they promote exercise. 

But what they really promote is community. During the two years I've covered Tredyffrin, I've watched DeHaven fight for two things: emergency services and community (to DeHaven, a community is not "a nice-looking place place where property values are high and low income people won't bother us").

DeHaven, a lifelong Tredyffrin/Easttown resident, is nostalgic for the Berwyn of his childhood and parenting years. He describes it as a community where people still ran into each other on walks to the store, still knew each other well enough to help each other in times of need, still allowed their kids to play together on the street, and, of course, still supported the local fire company by going to its fundraising fairs. These things still happen, but not as much (I'm told) as they used to.  

Now, regarding DeHaven's strong words at Monday's meeting: yes, he shouldn't have said he won't tolerate those who oppose the township's sidewalk plan. But it's important to understand the context of his statement.

During a discussion about Tredyffrin's long-term vision for sidewalks, Supervisor Paul Olson argued that residents who do not want sidewalks along their properties should have the option to reject them. He argued against "sidewalks to nowhere" (the ones the township is about to build are near schools) and said that sidewalks could disrupt the integrity of private property, add to homeowners' expenses, and lead to the taking down of trees.

At this, DeHaven, who has put a lot of energy into the sidewalk planning process, became visibly irritated. If I had to guess, I'd say that his "no tolerance" statement was directed more at Olson than at the straw man in the audience (no one had shown up to complain about sidewalks, although the TV cameras were running).

So, that's my defense. Be advised that DeHaven is a bit of a media darling. He's outspoken, gives good quotes, and puts personal conviction way above the party line. We reporters like that.

Why doesn't Petersen like him? Who knows. 

Ever since Petersen left the Republican Party and became an independent blogger, he has been attacking notables from both parties. Perhaps he thinks that's the only way to prove his independence?

P.S. DeHaven's dislike of the covered bridge logo ties into his feeling about community. He told me a few months ago that he doesn't like the logo because it calls to mind the Tredyffrin of 300 years ago, not the Tredyffrin he knows and, despite his complaints, apparently loves.

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Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Those speed bumps will kill us all

A man named Tom McCarey, from Berwyn, showed up to Monday night's Tredyffrin Supervisors meeting and made some startling claims. He said that the two flat-top speed humps the township plans to put on Old Lancaster Road will "endanger the lives and property of hundreds of residents who live near the flat-top humps and condemn them to a life of inconvenience, pollution, noise, congestion and pain."


His premise was this: speed humps slow down fire trucks and ambulances, meaning that when you have a heart attack or when your house catches fire, those life-saving vehicles won't get to you in time. He also argued that the humps will increase traffic congestion, impede snow plows, cause noise, increase air pollution (slow down, go over hump, re-accelerate) , and be uncomfortable for elderly and sick people to drive over.

But township officials say they intend for the humps -- which will be part of the new sidewalk network that will surround Tredyffrin/Easttown Middle School and Conestoga High School -- to serve as crosswalks. At 6 inches in height and 22 feet in width, they are designed to make it easier for motorists to see the children who are crossing on them.

The Tredyffrin supervisors, who are very attached to the sidewalk program, did their best at Monday's meeting to dismiss Mr. McCarey.

But did he have a point?

Well, he would have if the township were installing abrupt speed bumps every 20 feet. He would have if the bumps were not, essentially, road plateaus with ramps on either end. But, given the facts, his arguments are extreme, and his credibility is ruined by the fact the literature he gave to me and to the Township supervisors on Monday night clearly identifies him as a member of the National Motorists Association.

As far as I can tell, this "grassroots" lobbying group is comprised of auto enthusiasts who believe that the government should get the hell out of your way while you're driving.

While some of the group's positions seem reasonable, others seem insane. For example, the NMA advocates for relaxed DUI laws, and offers its dues-paying members the following deal:

"PROTECTION AGAINST UNFAIR TICKETS - As part of our Traffic Justice Program, any person who receives a speeding ticket while they are a member of the NMA, fights it in court, and loses, will have that ticket paid for by us!"

Mr. McCarey did not help his case when he told me that traffic-calming measures like speed humps are examples of "new urbanism," a "top-down, Soviet-style" planning strategy.

Regarding walkable, new-urbanism-style communities, he told me, "That's not the way people want to live."


Anyway, Mr. McCarey, like any good community activist, made an extra special effort to be chummy with me and my colleague Chris Williams, a reporter from the Wynnewood-based newspaper Main Line Life.

Although his press-courting effort seemed a bit heavy-handed, I didn't regard it as unusual until I saw this on the NMA website:

From a section titled How To Build Opposition To Traffic Calming In Your Area:

"As a citizen activist, you will engender a degree of sympathy from the local newspaper. Approach the editors or reporters and let them know that you are forming a citizen's group to oppose traffic obstruction projects. With a little encouragement, the paper may do a story about your efforts. This is a tremendous opportunity to explain why you think traffic obstruction tactics are harmful to your community."


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