Achievability, publicity questions nag PPACG transportation plan update

       A workshop on the Pikes Peak Area Council of Governments (PPACG) long-range transportation plan update will be Thursday, Jan. 20, from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at the PPACG building.
       According to Jason Wilkinson, spokesperson for the regional planning agency, the four-hour session in the office's lower conference room at 14 S. Chestnut St. will be open to the public.
       The update effort has become controversial, because of complaints from a few PPACG board members at the December meeting about the achievability of some of the goals and, at the Jan. 12 meeting, concerns from PPACG Chair Sallie Clark about staff publicity gaps and the “confusing” language in what she termed “an important regional document.”
       Four PPACG workshops last year had worked up 35 “goals and performance measures” for a regional transportation plan, and these were put before the public in survey form over a 30-day period ending Jan. 14.
       The Jan. 20 meeting will combine the “subject-matter experts” who had contributed to those workshops, and they will also consider the citizen survey responses, Wilkinson said.
       According to the PPACG website, the four workshop categories were/are transportation, community/social, economic and environmental.
       PPACG transportation planner Craig Casper predicted he would bring “a set of refined goals” back to the board for its next meeting Feb. 9.
       The PPACG board consists of elected officials from government entities in three counties (El Paso, Park and Teller).
       At the Jan. 12 meeting, Clark, also an El Paso County commissioner (and Westside resident), asked Casper if press releases about the earlier workshops had been sent to the media. He said no, but added they were all “open to the public.” He elaborated that PPACG had decided the best approach was to invite certain individuals to the workshops who had knowledge specific to the issues.
       On the PPACG website, the workshops are listed with the adjective “public.”
       When Clark suggested organizing a public meeting in the near future to make sure neighborhoods and people in general are fully informed about the plan and its progress, Casper responded, “What we've found is that a public meeting is a really bad way to do this.” A better way, the agency has learned, is to set up a booth and seek feedback where people are convening already (such as farmers' markets, festivals and bike fairs), because public meetings tend to attract only “people with an ax to grind,” Casper said.
       This prompted a retort from board member Goldie Dyess (mayor pro tem of the town of Calhan). “A public meeting is a public meeting,” she said. “It should be open and clear as glass. I don't care how many cranks you get or people with axes to grind.”
       In the end, no board member made a motion to set a public meeting, but Clark clarified with PPACG administrators that the Jan. 20 workshop meeting would be well publicized.
       PPACG Director Rob MacDonald told the board his agency needs communications help from the member government entities. “We rely on your local staffs to get the word out,” he said.
       After the meeting, Clark (who had just been voted in as 2011 chair by the other board members earlier in the meeting), said she met for an hour and a half with Wilkinson (who is in his first year at PPACG). Her goal is to craft a communications policy that will involve more “reaching out” to the public, as she put it. She also said she has not given up on her public-meeting idea, and hopes to schedule a date before the board's February meeting.
       The PPACG is required by federal law to update its regional transportation plan every four years, according to the agency website (ppacg.org). The goals/ measures aspect is one of several plan pieces that will be coming to the board in “increments,” as Mac-Donald put it, with PPACG board approval of the document as a whole scheduled in 2012.
       The plan is used to guide regional transportation policies.
       Regarding the comprehension aspect, Clark said she herself had taken the survey and “found it confusing,” even though she believes she's pretty well-informed on local issues. “Someone with no knowledge would have no idea why these goals would even be attainable,” she said.
       Casper agreed that the transportation goals process “has created some confusion. We're not doing a good job of communicating the origin and reason for the goals.”
       For example, he said, the goal of preserving endangered species was not decided locally but is a requirement mandated by the U.S. Congress.
       Other proposed goals/ measures in the update include proportionally reduced auto use, greater emphasis on non-motorized travel (specifically bicycles and mass transit), higher-density infill in areas deemed “under-utilized,” lowered greenhouse gas emissions and reduced transportation impacts on neighborhoods. Goal assertions include commute times as good as or better than today's, the assurance of travel security and safety and an economy that is “competitive.”
       At the December PPACG board meeting, according to the minutes, board members expressed doubts about how realistic the goals were for bicycles and buses and questioned infill as a mandate.
       The board eventually voted at that meeting to release the survey to the public, “with the statement that these goals are aspirational and will eventually be subject to fiscal constraint.”
       Some of the goals/measures have been carried over from the previous regional plan, with the recent workshops “supplementing” them, according to Casper.
       The Westside Pioneer asked PPACG exactly which goals are the supplemental ones, but did not receive a response as of press time Jan. 12.

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