Monthly Archives: February 2009

Uptown Circle opens Monday for traffic; Remember, always drive counterclockwise

Ever since a roundabout became part of the Uptown redevelopment plan I have joked that we ought to set up cones in the parking lot at one of the high schools so some of us can practice driving in a traffic circle.

When the circle finally opens to traffic Monday, March 2, I would love to be there with a video camera to capture what I believe will be a non-event.  

My council packet arrived Thursday with a new brochure that diagrams proper traffic circle movements.   The brochure says the circle is “as easy as yield, enter, and exit.”  

Let’s hope we don’t need those cones after all.

I could be wrong, but somehow I think we’ll collectively manage to negotiate our way through the circle without too much difficulty — as long as there aren’t many pedestrians and cyclists in the beginning.  (We’ll have to get used to them eventually when the trail finally reopens.  Yeah, I’m ready for that to happen, too.)

Here are the directions for Uptown Circle: 

  • Slow down as you approach the circle.
  • Yield to pedestrians and bicyclists.
  • Yield to traffic in the circle, wait for an acceptable gap in traffic, and then enter the circle while maintaining a slow speed.
  • Within the circle, do not stop except to avoid a collision; you have the right-of-way over entering traffic;  Always travel in a counterclockwise direction.
  • Exit the circle at your desired point, again always yielding for pedestrians and bicyclists.


Actually, Mar. 2 will bring several changes to the Uptown traffic scene:

  • Weather permitting, underground utility and street construction will begin Monday on North St. between Fell Ave.  and Uptown Circle.   Businesses remain open.   Sidewalks will be open for pedestrians.  This is a very critical time for these businesses.   Please keep them in mind during the construction period which hopefully will be brief and smooth.   Actually, the target for reopening this stretch of North St. is mid-to-late summer.
  • The intersection of Beaufort St. and Broadway Ave. is currently closed.  This intersection is anticipated to reopen to local traffic on Mar. 2, and to all traffic sometime late summer.
  • The block of West Beaufort St.  between Uptown Circle and Broadway Ave.  is anticipated to open to local traffic on Mar. 2.  The entire stretch of Beaufort is anticipated to open to all traffic sometime late summer.   In other words, the block of West Beaufort between Fell Ave. and Broadway Ave. will finally reopen when the Marriott Hotel and Conference Center opens in late summer.
  • The northbound late of Constitution Blvd. from Uptown Circle to College will open for traffic Mar. 2.

If you haven’t bookmarked the helpful Uptown construction update page, here it is.   You can sign up for Uptown email alerts as well.

This is an exciting time.    Thank you for your continued patience through Uptown’s transformation.

And good luck on the circle.


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Filed under Marriott Hotel and Conference Center, Transportation, Uptown Normal

Main Street Corridor Backgrounder — The Plan and the Form-Based Code

In his recent comment Normal Bob asked for some background on form-based zoning.    On this blog, I aim to please.

Both the Main Street Plan and the proposed form-based code are easily accessible on line. 

I have provided links to both documents in this post.   

For citizens interested in planning documents,, the website of the McLean County Planning Commission, is an excellent resource.

The Main Street Plan is available on the home page of that site.

In the 140-page document Main Street:  A Call for Investment, Farr and Associates recommends a single code for the Main Street corridor.   On page 36, the planner states:

“To create the active, pedestrian-friendly, aesthetically pleasing, multi-modal Corridor desired by the residents of Normal and Bloomington, the Main Street Corridor code should place a greater emphasis on building form as it relates to Main Street and the couplet (Center/Kingsley).   This type of code, known as a form-based code, focuses on the ultimate form of the building, while still regulating use and zoning management.  The goal of this type of coding is to reconnect buildings and the adjacent public spaces, such as streets and open spaces.  This relationship is the second half of the puzzle to creating a pedestrian-friendly Corridor, which requires improvements to both the right-of-way (public space) and adjacent development (private and public space) so that they can work together to define Main Street.

A form-based code will regulate the development along the Main Street Corridor with a series of building type standards.  Created from the results of the image preference survey (see the summary of the public process in the Appendix) and additional public input, these building types provide specific details to guide construction and rehabilitation along the Corridor.”

The actual proposed form-based code for the Main Street Corridor is also available on line on the Town of Normal’s website (along with the Main Street Plan), although it is a little bit harder to find.

The code establishes districts and permitted and special uses for each district, building type standards, setback requirements (front and side yard) and lot coverage, off-street parking standards, landscaping requirements (for parking lots, lot buffers, tree canopies, screening for refuse containers and utilities, etc.), and sign restrictions. 

A number of hearings have taken place on the form-based code.  Minutes from January’s Normal Planning Commission meeting are here:

A few very important things to remember:

  • Current uses would not change.
  • The form-based code would be applied only to new development.
  • Parking restrictions are looser than those in the present zoning code.
  • Landscaping is regulated about the same.
  • Signs would be restricted (but there is movement toward more leniency).

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Filed under Development, Zoning

Tax the solicitors? Depends on who we’re talking about

The Town of Normal has an ordinance on the books that requires door-to-door solicitors to register at Normal City Hall.

SEC. 22.4-1 REGISTRATION REQUIRED. It shall be unlawful for any person to solicit within the Town of Normal without first having obtained a Registration Certificate from the Chief of Police or his designee. Registration Certificate will be issued in a nondiscriminatory, nonarbitrary manner. Registration shall apply to nonprofit, religious, charitable, and commercial activities alike. Registration Certificates are valid for thirty (30) days including the date of issue, unless sooner suspended or revoked as provided herein.

When solicitors become a problem, you can always ask to see  their permit.  If they can’t produce one, then you can assume they haven’t registered.   In the past, our police have encouraged some of these unwelcome, unpermited solicitors to take a hike.

As we considered the range of new fees for in the upcoming budget, a $20 fee for recouping the cost of issuing soliciting permits was raised as a possibility.   After all, it takes time for the police department to issue the permit and respond to calls when solicitors become a problem.  

Town staff estimated 400 soliciting permits might be issued in a year.   A $20 fee would generate $8,000.

At our budget work session last month, the Normal Town Council briefly discussed the impact of charging a fee for the solicitor’s permit.  We learned that the major fundraiser for the ISU Habitat for Humanity Chapter involves 200 volunteers going door-to-door.   200 x $20 would pay for a lot of building materials.   Out of that discussion, Town staff proposed that the council cap a not-for-profit’s permit at a maximum $200.

Even then, the Habitat chapter has contacted the council asking for a not-for-profit exemption.  Who can blame them?  

Then I started thinking about everyone else like the lawn care kid who showed up last week and asked me if I was interested in having my yard analyzed for free.   I thought about taking my daughter up and down the street to sell Girl Scout cookies.  Were we visiting our neighbors or soliciting? 

I flashed back to times when I have passed out campaign literature and asked citizens to sign my nominating petitions and wondered if I was a solicitor.   Visits from missionaries, international students, and people hawking everything from cleaning products to citrus fruit to firewood all came flooding back.   Who was not-for-profit and who wasn’t?

A few summers ago our neighborhood began to receive Sunday evening visits from the out-of-town ice cream truck.   It didn’t take long for the ice cream truck’s novelty to wear off and become an annoyance.  I would dread the sound of the amplifed music coming from blocks away.  

It was one of those repetitive melodies that stuck in your head long after the truck and its over priced inventory were gone.  

My guess is $4 gas last summer kept the itinerant ice cream man from his appointed rounds.  

If we should tax anyone, we ought to slap a big fee on the ice cream man for playing the annoying music.   Might keep him away.

Or maybe we should just stick with having him and everyone else register, forget about the solictor fee, save ourselves the trouble of trying to make distinctions, and call it a day.


Filed under Budget, Town Council

Time for Main Street’s form-based proponents to make their best case

If I were keeping a scorecard on the debate over form-based zoning along the Main Street corridor, I would say the opponents are winning.

They’re winning because they have been collectively and passionately defining the issue in what has become an endless series of public meetings.

Based on the media coverage, the casual observer can only conclude that the proposed  form-based code is the folly of out of town, out of touch planners and designed only to create an inhospitable climate for businesses up and down the corridor. 

The other night at the ISU Alumni Center, the McLean County Chamber of Commerce held a hearing on the proposed form-based code.   Only one person — McLean County Museum of History Executive Director Greg Koos — spoke in favor of the form-based code.  

Eloquent as always, but alone.  

Based on the testimony I observed,  I would be surprised if the Chamber’s new political action committee would recommend anything but denial when it hands its report to the Normal and Bloomington planning commissions.    There might be some additional recommended tweaks, but the overwhelming sentiment was negative.

And I have to admit some of the opponents’ arguments were compelling.

McLean County Museum of History director Greg Koos testifies at a McLean County Chamber of Commerce hearing in favor of form-based zoning along the Main Street Corridor.  He was the only supporter to testify Tuesday evening at the ISU Alumni Center.

McLean County Museum of History director Greg Koos testifies at a McLean County Chamber of Commerce hearing in favor of form-based zoning along the Main Street Corridor. He was the only supporter to testify Tuesday evening at the ISU Alumni Center.


Obviously, I am more than a casual observer.   I’m listening very carefully to the discussion. 

Eventually, when the last hearing is over, and the final proposal is cobbled together, I expect to vote up or down on  formed-based zoning along Main Street.  

I have gone on record in support of the Main Street Plan and voted to initiate the proposed form-based code.  I have also supported changes to address some of the concerns.   Ultimately,  I still believe that as redevelopment occurs many corridor landowners will begin to see a significant appreciation in their property values.  

But in the absence of any vocal community support, it’s only natural that doubt begins to creep in and take hold.

So besides Greg Koos, where are the supporters?  

Where are the prospective developers, the property owners, the community leaders who want to see this happen?  Where are all of the enthusiastic participants of the public meetings that created momentum for the Main Street Plan?   

Or has that enthusiasm not carried over to the form-based code?

If form-based code supporters are wondering when it’s the right time to speak out, I’d recommend they do it now.

I’m listening.


Filed under Main Street, Town Council, Zoning

A week and counting for the highly anticipated Normal Stadium 14 opening

It’s T minus 7 days for the opening of the Starplex Cinemas at the Constitution Trail Centre, 201 McKnight Drive.  


The Normal Stadium 14 now has its full line up in place for opening night, Feb. 27, including the Jonas Brothers 3-D, Confessions of a Shopaholic, Coraline, Gran Torino, He’s Just Not That Into You, and Friday the 13th — among others.

And they’re still hiring.

The website indicates that all tickets for the 3-D shows are $12.  Other shows are priced at $8, $6 for kids and seniors.

Might be a good night to see a movie at the new theater and grab a meal at the new Rosati’s…or Moe’s.

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Filed under Development

Sorry, I know it’s green but I can’t support neighborhood electric vehicles sight unseen

Some things I just have to see to believe.

The idea of neighborhood electric vehicles is intriguing.   Who can argue with the logic of a vehicle that you plug into the wall socket to charge and drive for six to eight hours?  Especially if gasoline prices hit $4 again.

 NEVs can travel between 20-25 mph, and the State of Illinois recently gave cities, towns, and villages the green light to authorize their use on any road with a speed limit of 35 mph or below.

The cars must be equipped with head lights, brake lights, turn signals, mirrors, seat belts, and the day glow orange slow moving vehicle placard.

Evidently, Illinois State University might be in the market for a few of them, and a citizen indicated a desire to purchase one.   So I guess that’s how this issue ended up on the agenda Monday night.

Going into the meeting I had a few questions. 

Like are these vehicles sturdy enough ?   Will they disrupt normal traffic flow?    With (almost) everyone else already traveling at or over the speed limit, how would a car topping out at 25 mph fare on College Avenue, Main Street, Hovey, or Vernon?

Based on the questions and concerns other councilmembers were raising and my fear that these cars might create a hazard on Normal streets, I could only conclude that authorizing these cars would amount to an accident waiting to happen.

This was not an issue I felt comfortable deciding until I knew more or saw one in action.  Tabling this matter sounded like a wise move.

You would think that any company interested in selling these in a community on the verge of authorizing neighborhood electric vehicles might consider putting on a demonstration.    I really would like to see one on our streets.   In the meantime, here’s a video of an NEV being road tested.

As I understand it, the U.S. Army is buying hundreds of these to run on military bases.   Would you consider buying one of these?   More importantly would you find them a traffic hazard on our streets?


Filed under Illinois State University, Transportation, Uncategorized

Weather’s doing a real number on Normal streets but don’t bother filing a pothole claim

The late winter freeze-thaw cycle is taking a toll on Normal streets and wreaking havoc on tires and rims.   This is the price we pay for those 60 degree days.

A crumbling spot of pavement on Broadway near College Ave. in Uptown.

A crumbling spot of pavement on Broadway near College Ave. in Uptown.

It’s beginning to look like this year’s street damage could match the damage last year which could mean another supplemental road repair program in the upcoming budget.  

I can tell you that after driving around town, I’m leaning in that direction.

Last year’s program focused on patching and rebuilding portions of Northtown Road and East Raab along with various other necessary patches.  It also involved prodding the State of Illinois to do something about the surface-of-the-moon-like conditions at the intersection of College and Main.       

The potholes are creating an obstacle course that is sending some folks to the repair shop.

However, I’ll save you the trouble of filing a claim and receiving a rejection letter by telling you that the pothole is like that “act of God” referenced in many insurance policies.  Of all places, people in this community should understand that concept.

It means that the potholes occur and the Town fixes them as it finds them but is not legally liable for them, according to Assistant City Manager Pamela Reece:

“Basically, we believe our obligation is to repair potholes when we become aware of them.  If we know of a dangerous situation and don’t act on it, one could argue that we have been negligent and therefore liable for damages.  However, in regard to potholes, we can’t determine when and where they will occur and we continue a regular effort to fill those we know of.  Thus, we have fulfilled our legal obligation.   The courts have supported this position.”

I’ve noticed the pothole crew has been out and about a lot lately.  And I suspect if you’re driving around town on this week you’ll see them shoveling cold-mix into the many cracks, crevaces, and crators.

Statistics provided by the Town public works department show that 2008 was a really bad year.  

Tons of cold mix for potholes:

2005 — 93

2006 — 75

2007 — 122

2008 — 217

2009 — ??

Help us out.  Tell us where the worst potholes are.  If you’ve got a camera, take a picture and send it to me at








Filed under Street repair