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Archive for August, 2015

Another chapter in the sloppy history of red-light cameras in Kansas City and St. Louis concluded yesterday, as the Missouri Supreme Court determined the way both cities had employed the cameras was illegal.

Nevertheless, City Manager Troy Schulte of Kansas City said he probably would recommend continuation of the program — provided the company that provided the service can make changes to legalize the program.

Even though the program proved effective at reducing red-light-running wrecks at KC’s 17 photo-enforced intersections, I personally hope Mayor Sly James and the rest of the council see fit to kill this program.

Wisely, James told KC Star reporter Lynn Horsley he was withholding judgment. He said he would confer with Schulte and police officials before making up his mind.

Horsley reported that St. Louis officials, who appear to be more deeply committed to the program, said they intended to prepare a new ordinance that complies with the court’s rulings.

I think there’s a good chance St. Louis will proceed with a new program and KC will drop it. James isn’t dead-set on it, and we’ve got a new city council that has the benefit of seeing the program’s checkered history.

drone_sign_071813For obvious reasons, most residents loathe the program. It has the appearance of a classic Big-Brother-is-watching intrusion. In addition, the only image the cameras had to capture was the license plate number. Didn’t matter who was driving, the registered owner was responsible for the ticket.

The legal problem, however, was that running a red light is a moving violation, which requires the assessment of “points” against a person’s driver’s license. But KC and St. Louis were treating the citations as something akin to parking tickets and not assessing points. Obviously, you can’t assess points unless you know for sure who was driving.

Now, the company that runs the KC and St. Louis program says it is able to provide images of the people driving the cars, which, in theory, would allow specific drivers to be cited and assessed points.

I say…yeah, sure. Technology has greatly improved, yes, but it’s going to take some fantastic camera to record clear facial images through vehicle windshields. If KC or St. Louis tries to implement an altered program, I think we will see thousands of identity challenges, and perhaps another trip to the Supreme Court.

At one time, I favored the camera program because statistics indicated it achieved its goal of reducing red-light-running wrecks. But after all that has transpired, and after it has been established that both cities were running clearly illegal programs, I’ve changed my mind.

There’s another factor that went into my change of heart. In 2014, I was spending some weekends in St. Louis and staying at a Drury Inn, off I-44, at a spaghetti-junction intersection. It was a headache navigating that intersection, where Wilson Road, Hampton Avenue and Sulphur Avenue converge. Plus, Hampton goes from four lanes to two.

Not only was it difficult to tell who had the right of way at times and if you could go right on red at various places, but on top of everything else, “Photo Enforced” signs bore down on you, daring you to make one questionable move. For me, it was like being on an important phone call and having someone in the same room shouting advice at you.

No, it’s time for those damn cameras — and those Big Brother “Photo Enforced” signs — to come down. Let’s go back to having the cops, not cameras, monitor the most dangerous intersections. Let the cops turn on the flashing lights, pull people over and write tickets to the people whose driver’s licenses they hold in their hands. Let’s go back to the old-fashioned way of nabbing red-light runners…and charge the points.

 

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Patty, Brooks and I were tossing around ideas for spontaneous trips early last week, when Patty had an epiphany and blurted out, “Let’s go to Table Rock Lake.”

In short order, we found a place to stay, and Friday morning we headed south on I-49, then Missouri 13 to Kimberling City.

To the best of my recollection, we had been to Table Rock Lake twice previously, but we had never stayed close to Kimberling City, the biggest city on the lake, with about 2,500 people. It seems a lot bigger than that during the summer, though, when tens of thousands of people converge on the area and fill the resorts and marinas and launch their boats on the lake, which was constructed by the Corps of Engineers in the mid-1950s.

It’s a beautiful place and, because it is a Corps of Engineers lake, it doesn’t have private houses lining the shores. It’s a much more natural and beautiful setting, in my view, than Lake of the Oarks, which is smothered in private homes. Lake of the Ozarks is a much rougher body of water, too, making it unappealing to people who like to fish in relatively small boats — like me.

The place where we stayed, the Lighthouse Lodge Resort, was just off Missouri 13 and adjacent to the Port of Kimberling, which bills itself as “Table Rock’s largest full-service marina and resort.” Even though we were next door to the busy “port,” our resort was quiet and relatively secluded. The cabins face the water, and it cooled down nicely in the afternoon, when the sun passed over the backs of the cabins.

For the most part, Brooks and Patty swam, took whirlpool baths and relaxed at the resort. Both days I rented a fishing boat from the Port of Kimberling’s “What’s Up Dock” (best name ever for a marina) and fished and gave Brooks and Patty boat rides. The boat had an 80 horsepower motor — the biggest I’ve ever driven — and moved along at a nice clip.

Now, here are a few photos, which, I think, will give you a better flavor of the place…

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The Kimberling Inn on Missouri 13 affords a nice view of the lake.

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The cabins at the Lighthouse Lodge Resort, where we stayed, sit atop a ridge that slopes down to the lake.

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We were in No. 10 — two bedrooms, two baths.

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Our resort has a small dock, but these larger ones nearby are part of the massive Port of Kimberling.

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Big powerboats don’t have a monopoly at Table Rock.

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This is your captain speaking…

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The Kimberling City bridge — part of Missouri 13.

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The only reason I photographed this fish is because it was a good fit for a selfie.

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Until next time, from the Lighthouse Lodge.

P.S. I am shocked and appalled at the suggestion (see comment below) that I would tell “fish tales.” I was much too modest to include my photo of the biggest fish I caught, but since my credibility has been challenged, here it is…

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That fish was so heavy I couldn’t hoist it high enough to get its tail in the picture…Now, Gayle, I think you owe me an apology…or I’ll be forced to sue you for virtual damages!

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I guess many of you have heard by now about the woman who is suing Lambert’s Cafe, the legendary “Home of Throwed Rolls,” alleging she suffered a serious eye injury after being struck by a throwed roll last fall.

The plaintiff, Troy Tucker, is seeking $25,000 to cover bills related to a “lacerated cornea with vitreous detachment.”

In June, of course, Kansas City Royals’ mascot Sluggerrr was cleared of legal responsibility for a detached retina that a man contended he suffered from a hot dog Sluggerrr had tossed into the stands. That case was in the courts for five years.

…You might not have heard of them, but several other people have filed lawsuits after becoming victims of strange occurrences.

The long arm of Google has not yet reached out and captured these incidents, but I can assure you each is chronicled in the 1956 edition of Encyclopedia Britannica. You can find them in the “W” book, under the heading “weird and wacky.”

Here you go…

:: Two guys were playing an intense game of ping-pong when one of them smashed a ball that struck the opponent’s side of the table and then rocketed into the opponent’s mouth. The opponent sued, saying he suffered contusions and abrusions (combination of abrasions and bruises) to the roof of his mouth. The defendant (the free swinger) contended that the opponent was in the wrong because he should have kept his mouth shut. He further contended that if the opponent believed he was in harm’s way, he should have donned a fencing mask before the game began.

:: At a KU men’s basketball game, a cheerleader tossed a wadded-up Jayhawk T-shirt toward a student who was hanging over a railing. The T-shirt unfurled in flight, and as it floated just short of the student’s reach, he toppled over the railing, striking the back of his head on a concrete step below the railing. The student sued, contending that the T-shirt was poorly packed. The cheerleader’s defense was that only an idiot would risk his neck for a $5 T-shirt.

:: At Binion’s Horseshoe Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas, a playing card that a dealer had flipped toward a player caught a draft of air and sailed up toward the player’s face. Luckily, the flying missile – the ace of spades – missed the player. Unluckily, however, jerking back to avoid the ace, the player’s head collided with a tray of drinks in the hand of a passing hostess. Citing contusions and the aforementioned abrusions, the player sued Binion’s. In its defense, Binion’s contended that it would never take advantage of an honest man.

:: At a piñata party, a 10-year-old girl took a wild swing at the piñata, missed and struck the party organizer – who, admittedly, was standing a bit too close – on the crown of the head. The organizer, bleeding profusely from a superficial cut, immediately called off the party and sent the kids on their way. The girl’s parents sued the organizer, contending that he had endangered the children by failing to immediately stanch the bleeding. The organizer’s defense was: Never take candy from strangers.

Finally, here’s one with a happy ending. Out at Kauffman Stadium one night, during the ketchup, mustard, pickle race, the ketchup kid fell hard halfway through the race and sprained his ankle. His parents ran to his side to check on his condition and consider their litigious options. Fortunately, however, along came Sluggerrr, who handed the boy a hot dog, which he consumed on the spot. The parents decided to leave well enough alone.

 

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Our gung-ho, “we’re-ready-to-rock-and-roll” mayor has just embarked on a thoroughly delusional journey. His backpack is loaded with peanut butter crackers and granola bars, and he’s ready to stay out in the wilderness for months, it appears.

Yesterday, city officials acknowledged for the first time — although they knew it weeks ago — that the company manufacturing the streetcars to run between the River Market and Union Station is running significantly behind schedule.

Initially, the first car was to be delivered in June. Then it was late September and now it’s the end of the year.

To which, Mayor Sly James proclaimed: “It is not acceptable to be late. We’re ready to rock and roll.”

The problem is you can’t start a party without a band, a disc jockey or somebody spinning records in the garage.

No music, no party…By the same token, no streetcars, no trips up and down Main Street.

Don’t get me wrong…I’m a fan of the streetcar line, and I think it’s going to generate additional energy and excitement downtown and be good for tourists and residents alike. For months, I’ve been watching progress on the installation of the rails, and that part is essentially done. The next big element is the overhead power lines. A tremendous amount of street repaving also needs to be done.

James has been pointing to an arbitrary opening date: mid-March, when the Big 12 men’s basketball tournament begins.

He’s still hoping for that, but it isn’t going to happen. In fact, I will be surprised if one streetcar is carrying passengers by late next year.

Construction of Kansas City’s four streetcars was begun in Spain, and final assembly will be done in Elmira, NY, in part, The Kansas City Star reported today, “to comply with buy-American requirements attached to federal grants for streetcar projects.”

But streetcar production is just one of several areas in which big problems and delays could develop.

Another is that each vehicle must be tested for 300 miles along the route. That alone is probably going to take several months. Remember, it’s four cars, 300 miles each.

Plus, transportation engineers have to figure out and precisely plot how streetcars, vehicular traffic and pedestrians are going to intermingle safely up and down Main Street. You can’t just plop those cars on the rails, yell “all aboard” and turn on the juice. Safety is a huge consideration that won’t take care of itself.

It’s reasonable to expect some of the problems that Washington D.C., has experienced in its effort of several years to get two streetcar lines going. One of the lines, a 2.2-mile run along “H” Street was supposed to have started operating more than a year ago. But it’s still mired in test runs.

Reporter Michael Laris of The Washington Post wrote last October that during test runs “the first cars on the city’s inaugural line, running east of Union Station, have snarled traffic and been in two minor accidents.”

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On a test run last October, a Washington D.C. streetcar stopped in traffic near the intersection of H Street and 3rd Street NE. (Washington Post photo.)

A month later, Laris quoted a City Council member as saying, “The main thing the H Street streetcar line has done is found a way to turn a lot of people against the streetcar who otherwise could have been for it.” 

So, when James says delay is unacceptable, he’s like a first-time flute player trying to get a sound out of the instrument, other than rushing air.

Streetcar and light-rail projects almost invariably cost more than budgeted and aren’t done when they’re supposed to be.

At this point, the best thing we can hope for is that the $100 million budget for our two-mile system doesn’t become $150 million or $200 million. In that context, a delay of several months is nothing to whine about.

But Sly has set the tone: It’s going to be the blame game from now until the streetcars are carrying live passengers. He’s going to spout and fume and grunt about how unacceptable the delay is.

You know why he’s unwilling to accept delay like a rational adult, don’t you? Right, because if he doesn’t point the finger at someone else, then it all falls back on him. And that’s what’s really unacceptable.

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It might have been a while since some of you have driven around the Crossroads area and taken a close look at what’s there and some of the things that are coming.

I worked out of the The Star’s 18th and Grand building for 36-plus years, and, I can tell you the neighborhood was long run down — home, primarily, to auto repair places, auto salvage operations, warehouses and a handful of C-minus bars and restaurants.

It’s much different now, of course. The Star is now surrounded, within a few blocks in any direction, by renovated buildings and an array of businesses.  The Crossroads’ website describes the area as “an eclectic enclave of boutique shops, one-of-a-kind restaurants, creative businesses, studios and art galleries.”

The Crossroads’ official boundaries are Troost on the east, I-35 on the west, 22nd Street on the south and Truman Road on the north. For all practical purposes, however, the hub is between Broadway and Locust, from 16th to 22nd streets.

On “First Fridays,” the central part of the Crossroads is jammed with foot traffic, and parking is a mess for blocks around.  The next First Friday is two days away. Today I went down there and took some photos, which, I think, capture the feel and look of the Crossroads, which has evolved, with little investment of public dollars, into one of Kansas City’s great success stories.

Here you go…

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The Freight House, built in 1887 by the Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul Railroad, was one of the first buildings to be restored. And Lidia’s was one of the first occupants.

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YJ’s coffee shop at 18th and Wyandotte was another early arrival.

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The Art of Pizza, on the southeast corner of 18th and Baltimore, was home to Kenneth Smith Golf clubs when I came to town in 1969.

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Up-Down, an arcade and bar at Southwest Boulevard and Baltimore, seems to draw nice crowds.

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The Brick, a popular bar on McGee just north of 18th, was for many years The Pub, owned by Jimmy and Joe Spinello. It was the go-to lunch and drinking place for many KC Star employees. Now, it’s geared to the younger set.

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This building, north of The Brick and across McGee from The Star (far right corner), used to house The Star’s circulation department. It has been renovated and subdivided into a variety of operations, including Screenland Theatre.

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Here’s a 1927 photo of McGee Street, looking south from the northeast corner of 20th and McGee.

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Here’s a shot from the same vantage point today. That’s the Western Auto building behind the two story building, and I’m not even sure that the two-story building is the same building as the one in the foreground of the 1927 photo. (The building in the ’27 photo is three stories, where this one is two.)

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Here’s another old photo, (1951) from the Missouri Valley Special collections, of an auto parts store at 1820 Oak. It’s now a parking lot. In the background is the old City National Bank (later Republic Bank) on the southeast corner of 18th and Grand.

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Apartments and a small retain space are going in on the west side of Main, south of 19th.

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North of the apartment development is the two-story building where the late political boss Tom Pendergast had his office. He was on the second floor.

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A combination Residence Inn and Courtyard by Marriott is going up at 16th and Baltimore. The grassy foreground is where KC’ new convention hotel is to be built.

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Grinders, between Oak and Locust on 18th Street, is an eastern anchor of the Crossroads. To the left of the Grinders’ “east” is a coffee shop and bar called Thou Mayest.

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Thou Mayest.

 

 

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Another sign of progress: The rails are down on Main, just north of Union Station, where the new streetcar line will end. The line is scheduled to start operating next year.

 

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