Several years ago, my wife Kelly and I hosted a Christmas party at our home in Canterbury on the Lake subdivision. I was chatting with three neighbors. As is often the case in Milton, the conversation turned to local traffic congestion. A neighbor lamented that the traffic circle at Hopewell and Francis Roads had been overwhelmed just a few months after it had been built. I asked my neighbors whether they had noticed that the back-up (stretching to Cambridge High School) at the roundabout had suddenly materialized. And knowing that I was knowledgeable about the affairs of the city (at this point I was deep into city politics), they said (paraphrasing) “Uh oh. Tim knows the story behind the overloaded traffic circle. Tim, let’s hear it.” And I did know the story. The cause of the gridlock at several intersections–Highway 9-Bethany Bend; Cogburn-Bethany Bend; Cogburn-Hopewell-Francis, and Highway 9-Francis—was the result of the gating of the Crooked Creek subdivision. Creek Club Drive, which bisects the subdivision and runs from Highway 9 to Francis Road, had served as a route for southeast/northwest-bound traffic in Milton for 20+ years. Closing Creek Club Drive to the public forced all traffic around the subdivision, thereby increasing the volume of vehicles at nearby intersections. The capacities of these nearby intersections were far exceeded, causing gridlock. This was predictable . . . and in fact, had been predicted by the City Public Works Director, who recommended against the City’s abandoning (i.e, privatization of) the roads in Crooked Creek, which was a prerequisite for gating. The City Attorney also advised against the privatization. (More about this below.)
I relate this story because it highlights the importance of local government to Milton’s quality of life. Although many people noticed the traffic congestion from the Crooked Creek gating, few citizens understood the reasons for the congestion and even fewer connected the congestion back to a City Council decision. It was this gating of Crooked Creek that caused me to initially engage with our local government. Up to this time, like most citizens, I had little noticed City government. I was like most residents who don’t care/engage until a nearby issue forces municipal government into their consciousness. And as I came to understand, if you wait to engage until an issue is on your doorstep, you are probably too late to the game. A key lesson I learned is that citizens must engage on important community threats wherever they arise because, left unchallenged, such threats eventually metastasize to nearby properties.
The gating of Crooked Creek motivated me to finally engage in local politics. For 20+ years, Creek Club Drive was a public road that I often used. When I heard that the Crooked Creek HOA had petitioned the City to privatize the subdivision’s roads, I decided to express my opposition to the City. I called the City and was put in touch with the Communications Director, Jason Wright. He suggested that I appear before Council and speak. I had never been to City Hall and did not even know where it was located. I did attend the Council Meeting and I did speak. I was surprised that many like-minded souls also spoke against privatization. If memory serves, the speakers for and against were evenly split. (Surprisingly, much of the opposition was comprised of Crooked Creek residents, including several who lived on Creek Club Drive. I also discovered that I had friends on both sides of the issue.) I was encouraged that both the City Public Works Director and City Attorney advised against privatization. The Public Works Director articulated reasonable arguments. His studies showed that 1) only 15% of traffic was through traffic and 2) the Cogburn-Bethany Bend intersection would become gridlocked by gating (and this was borne out). The City Attorney stressed that council should focus on the “overall interests” (with a stress on “overall”) of Milton, not the interests of a “particular slice” of Milton. Well, as I came to realize was common practice, City Council brushed aside rational arguments and approved the road privatization 6-0. My first taste of City Council left me disappointed and underwhelmed (by my elected representatives). Some council members asked no questions; others provided no justification for their vote. (This is typical and a strong justification for town hall meetings—a governance best practice–where citizens can question their council members in a formal setting.) Many objections from citizens and staff were not even acknowledged, much less addressed. The primary justification (for road abandonment) cited by Joe Lockwood and other council members was “local control”—a principle asserted by citizens in the Matilda’s hearings (where nearby opposition was nearly unanimous) but ignored by Council. Of course, some City Council members asserted that there would be further hearings; that Creek Club Drive (part of Milton’s trail plan) would continue to be accessible; and road improvements would be made to mitigate congestion. However, these were mostly empty promises, except that some improvements were made at Cogburn-Bethany Bend (but long after the Crooked Creek gates were closed and providing only a modest increase in the intersection’s capacity.) In the aftermath of the vote, I did write a letter the Milton Herald. Following is a link to my letter.
As a business professional, what most disturbed me about the Crooked Creek issue was not that I lost access to a road that I frequently used or that traffic congestion significantly increased. It was rather that the City had given a valuable asset, worth many millions of dollars, to an HOA with really nothing provided in return. (The only benefit was that the City no longer had the expense of maintaining the Crooked Creek roads.)
The lesson of this story is that local government matters. City staff and City Council routinely make (often terrible) decisions that strongly impact your quality of life. And many of these decisions get little, if any notice. That is unfortunate and it is the reason why I started my blog, posted petitions, and have taken other actions to educate citizens and to encourage their active community engagement . . . it matters!
Unfortunately, Council’s decision to abandon the roads in Crooked Creek has continued to wreak havoc on Milton, the result of unintended consequences that I will discuss in Part 2 of this post.
Advocating For Citizen Engagement,