Some final thoughts on the Road Diet issue in Danville

The Advocate-Messenger reported on Wednesday that the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet announced that plans to consider the “Road Diet” option in Danville have been cancelled. The article reports that no one is exactly sure who was involved or how that decision was reached, but reports that it likely came from some high-level official in the Kentucky state government somewhere. 

Here are a few final thoughts I’ve had recently on the recent Road Diet discussion over the past week or two:

First, numerous letters to the editor have made claims to the “will of the majority” on this issue (see here and here, e.g.). Road Diet opponents claimed that they had a “majority” on their side and proponents made similar arguments. Well, they can’t both be true. So who is right? Were the majority of Danville residents in support of or opposed to the Road Diet proposal? From my perspective, the answer is “we don’t know.” No one did a scientific probability survey nor did anyone happen to talk to all 16,000+ Danville residents on the matter. I think there’s good evidence that a majority of downtown business owners were opposed to the Road Diet and that a majority of city and EDP officials were in support. We can also confidently say that a majority of letters to the editor were opposed. But these three groups are not representative of the entire population and are numerically less than 0.5% of all city residents. So any claims to know what a “majority of Danville” thought on the matter cannot be supported with existing evidence and we should be more cautious in our claims about what the “majority” thinks on this issue.

Second, I am very impressed with level of activity with which the downtown business owners organized on this issue. They saw an issue that they were concerned about, they showed up to meetings, they organized petitions, they wrote letters, etc. Although we have no publicly-available evidence one way or another, it’s possible that their efforts either directly or indirectly affected the decision of the state to cancel the Road Diet plan. (It’s also possible that the two were completely unrelated, I don’t have enough information to know either way.) Either way, kudos to them for taking action and participating in democratic self-governance. The lesson for Road Diet proponents is that they should have been quicker to organize and just as vocal if they wanted to have the same level of influence.

Third, (and this is completely a guess – this could be wrong), I imagine that those running for Danville City Commission this fall are relieved not to have to take a public stand one way or another on this issue now that it’s out of their hands. It would be interesting to ask them during this fall’s campaign how they would have voted on this issue if it had been permitted to continue. Mayor Hunstad is the only one (to my knowledge) to have expressed a public stand on the issue.

Fourth, Pam Wright reported in her article: “Numerous other sources claim to believe an individual or small group of individuals had an influence at the state level to stop the decision.” I would urge Ms. Wright, or anyone else for that matter, to try to find out exactly who this “individual or small group of individuals” was and publicize the information. Transparency, openness, and honesty are hallmarks of good government, and from the available evidence it looks like this decision was made in the dark by a few people without public input… exactly the kind of decision-making process that the downtown business owners were originally protesting. Ultimately, this decision was not made in an open, transparent, or “democratic” fashion.

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