Tom's #Mailbag, July 27, 2018

Tom's #Mailbag, July 27, 2018

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The Mailbag knocks down a few questions, ideas and legends today:

— no, that is not a lookout tower atop the Lincoln Building in downtown Champaign.

— no, Springfield Avenue in west Champaign will not be widened and buses will not be removed from it.

— yes, there is a city ordinance that prohibits alcohol from being served at outdoor cafes before noon — although that might be about to change.

— and yes, there is a problem with the traffic signals at Mattis Avenue and Curtis Road.

But wait, there's more ...

Dockless bikes in C-U

"Dockless bikes, who owns them? If they get stolen are the taxpayers stuck with the replacement costs? I ask as Chicago media is reporting on how easy it is to steal them and the citizens of Chicago are stuck with the bill. Does the same apply here?"

Perhaps Urbana, Champaign and the University of Illinois are learning from Chicago's blunders.

"The companies that wish to rent bikes in the area must be licensed and so far, only one company has applied for a license (VeoRide, based in West Lafayette, Ind.)," said John Schneider, Urbana's community development services director. "The bikes are owned by the companies that rent them, and the city is not responsible for stolen dockless bikes; however, each bike has a GPS unit that the company (installs) to track its location, reducing the likelihood of theft."

Biking on township roads

"I went on a bike ride in the country this evening and was surprised (and disappointed) to discover that multiple roads that run parallel to each other have been covered with gravel (e.g., Windsor, Curtis, Old Church), making it very difficult to find a safe bike route. (In case you aren't a bike rider, bikes can readily slide on the gravel, causing riders to fall. In addition, we can't ride as close to the edge of the road because the gravel is even higher near the edge, so we're more likely to get hit by a car.) Here are my questions: First, would those responsible for making the decision regarding what parts of roads get covered in gravel and when that road work occurs consider spacing and pacing the graveling in an area so bicyclists can readily find safe routes when bicycling out of the city and back? Second, can and will the officials take any other steps to help guard the safety of cyclists?"

The roads you were riding on are township roads and are the responsibility of Champaign Township Highway Commissioner Keith Padgett.

"It is unfortunate that the bike rider chooses to ride on rural roads while there are many bike dedicated paths in the Champaign-Urbana area. There are far too many bike rider/vehicle deaths in rural areas of townships but that is the choice they are making," he said. "Champaign Township as well as many other townships utilize the oil and chip method to maintain the desired integrity of rural roadways within the boundaries of each township."

The roadwork you referred to is normally done in the summer months, he said.

"Champaign Township is currently on a two-year cycle of oil and chip maintenance, which means that the rural roads of Champaign Township will receive a new road surface during the summer months. It's normally done while school is not is session, letting the roads cure out while the school buses are off the rural roads. A school bus turning around on a fresh road can be an issue."

Padgett said that the "oil and chip method is used to provide 'grip' to the road surface, especially during the winter months.

It also helps keep the oil from coating the side of a vehicle during hot summer days."


Wider Springfield Avenue?

"I was wondering if Champaign or IDOT has considered widening the two-lane portion of Springfield Avenue in Champaign. I know additional lanes were considered in the past; I think the last time was in the 1990s. While I am sympathetic to the adjacent homeowners who would lose portions of their front yards and shade trees, I think it is reasonable to expect that if you live on a state or federal highway in a growing community like Champaign, the highway might one day be expanded. If IDOT does not have any interest in adding lanes, could the road be changed to be one way, along with another nearby street, similar to Business US-51 in Bloomington? Or would the MTD at least consider shifting their buses off Springfield Avenue? The backup on westbound Springfield Avenue between Prospect Avenue and State Street is sometimes bumper to bumper for the entire stretch, and can take as long as 10 minutes to traverse at 5 p.m. despite the short half-mile distance."

It appears that that stretch of Springfield Avenue — once the subject of a contentious debate decades ago about widening — will remain as is.

"There are currently no plans to widen U.S. 150 to four lanes but the concept has been researched," said Kensil Garnett, the Region 3 engineer for the Illinois Department of Transportation, which is responsible for that section of Springfield Avenue.

As for the Champaign-Urbana MTD removing its buses, MTD Managing Director Karl Gnadt said, "I understand the questioner's frustration, but unfortunately, there's not much to offer here. There just is no alternative to using Springfield Avenue in that corridor. Any road that is built to specifications capable of handling bus traffic would take the bus so far out of the core area that it would no longer be a viable choice for the riders in that area.

"There are vehicles that must use that stretch of road — like buses and homeowner's cars; so drivers of vehicles that aren't required to use that stretch might be able to find viable alternatives, though."

Outdoor alcohol service

"While at brunch in downtown Champaign on Sunday last weekend we were surprisingly told that we could not purchase alcohol in the outside dining area until noon. Some research indicates that a new bill (2018-045) included several amendments to the city code, one of which restricts the sale of alcohol at an outdoor cafe until noon on Sundays (Article III (Sec. 5-31.1)). I wasn't able to find any discussion about this in the city council minutes or study sessions. This certainly puts a damper on Sunday morning brunches on beautiful mornings! Any idea why this 'no outdoor alcohol' until noon on Sundays law suddenly appeared?"

Champaign Mayor Deb Feinen said the rule all along has prohibited outdoor alcohol service before noon, but that because of your question (and others the city has received) a change is in the offing, perhaps in August.

"This was an existing provision in the outdoor café rider language already that was not changed. We have stepped up all around enforcement of downtown cafes this summer and the prior non-compliance came to light," she explained. "I have been contacted by several people about this issue and just this week talked to council and the deputy liquor commissioner about revising the outdoor café rules and liquor code to allow for an earlier time frame for outdoor service.

"Staff got the go ahead (Tuesday) night (after the council meeting) and I expect that we will try to move quickly to get this on an agenda so that people can still enjoy the remainder of the good weather."


Kirby Avenue work

"What is the road construction in the eastbound lane on Kirby Avenue between Mattis and Prospect?"

Ameren Illinois and KS Energy closed the lane of traffic on Kirby Avenue between Cambridge Drive and Prospect Avenue for utility work. It is expected to be reopened to traffic by Friday, Aug. 17.

Up on the roof

"On top of the Lincoln Building in downtown Champaign is a square structure with windows on all sides. Did this once function as a lookout tower?"

The notion that that was a lookout tower is a lot more interesting than its actual function. The tower atop the five-story building is simply the area for the mechanicals for the building's elevator, said Tom Pantham, the leasing agent for the building at 44 E. Main St. Incidentally the Lincoln Building was constructed in 1916.

Stone Creek construction

"Driving through Stone Creek (subdivision), I noticed at least seven new houses being built. Does this signal hope for the subdivision and more importantly its golf course?"

Kevin Brumback, project manager for The Atkins Group Residential, said there are eight homes under construction on Stone Creek Boulevard of the east Urbana subdivision.

"One is under contract to a buyer, the remaining seven are starting to be listed now," he said.

He credited part of the construction to the Think Urbana program, which offers property tax discounts for the first five years of new construction, plus no sales tax on construction materials.

"The city of Urbana has been phenomenal to work with across the board. We have plans to continue building homes at Stone Creek and I don't see that ending anytime soon," he said.

Mud tracks

"On North Lincoln Avenue across from Supervalu there is a parcel of land with several piles of dirt on it. Every time it rains, truck traffic coming and going from this land tracks mud out on Lincoln Avenue. Is this allowed?"

Urbana Public Works Director Bill Gray said the owner of the subject property has been contacted by the IEPA and the city of Urbana.

"This site which lies outside the corporate limits of Urbana has been used for clean fill and excavations spoils for several years. The owner has committed to address the mud tracking issues and remain compliant with its IEPA erosion control permit," Gray said.


Champaign EAV

"(A recent) article about the latest Campustown apartment building reminds me that we still have not seen an answer to the question of how all of these new buildings are affecting our property taxes. Wouldn't all of this infill construction lead to higher assessments on those parcels and thus a reduction in taxes for the rest of us? Or are there incentives that are cancelling out the increase?"

The assessed value of property in the city of Champaign has made a nice increase in the last three years after dropping the previous three years.

In 2017 — the most recent year for which figures are available — the total assessed value of property in the city climbed to $1.76 billion. In 2007 it was $1.44 billion. The greatest growth has been in the value of commercial property, from $554.4 million in 2007 to $829.6 million in 2017. Residential property growth has been from $879.19 million in 2007 to $915.48 million last year.

Here is the overall assessed value for all property in the city since 2007:

2007 — $1.447 billion

2008 — $1.533 billion

2009 — $1.540 billion

2010 — $1.541 billion

2011 — $1.525 billion

2012 — $1.517 billion

2013 — $1.492 billion

2014 — $1.514 billion

2015 — $1.539 billion

2016 — $1.663 billion

2017 — $1.760 billion


Failed traffic signals

"I know this intersection has been a topic of interest before, but I'm bringing it up again. The stoplights at Mattis and Curtis signal the green turn arrows first, regardless of whether or not cars are in the turn lane. Can the sensors be reset to detect where the cars are?"

Not only are the sensors being reset, they're being replaced.

"The detection equipment at the intersection of Curtis and Mattis has failed," said Kris Koester, a spokesman for the Champaign Public Works Department. "This had been an intermittent issue that was previously addressed through repairs. However, it has become clear that the current system is not reliable and Public Works is in the process of purchasing a new detection system for the intersection that will be up and running later this fall.

"Until the new equipment is in place, the left turn arrows will have to remain on recall, which means they will come up regardless of whether there is a vehicle waiting to turn or not. The city appreciates everyone's patience as we work toward a final resolution to this issue."


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