- Babcock Place Case Study
- Babcock Place is a six story apartment building housing senior citizens
who pay subsidized rent. It faces a four lane street in what largely is
a residential area. The president of the tenants' association sent a handwritten
letter to the city council requesting a crosswalk at the corner so residents
could cross the street safely to get to a Dairy Queen and a church. The
request was sent to the city's Traffic Safety Commission. The Commission
is composed of five citizens appointed by the mayor with the city council's
approval. According to procedure, the city's traffic engineer conducted
traffic counts to determine if a crosswalk was warranted according to nationally
accepted traffic safety standards. These standards are designed to balance
the desire for traffic control with the need to move traffic efficiently
and safely. The standards can be adjusted for the elderly or other exceptional
cases. The engineer reported to the Commission that no crosswalk was warranted;
the Commission followed the engineer's recommendation that the request
be denied and forwarded its recommendation to the city council.
The residents were upset at the recommendation and voiced their displeasure
to the city council citing numerous incidents where they could not cross
the street safely. They even suggested sarcastically that if the city council
would buy the paint, they would supply the labor! When the item came to
the city council, the adjacent neighborhood association voiced its support
for the crosswalk, noting that many of their members crossed the four lane
road to get to a supermarket adjacent to Babcock Place.
The city council deferred the item asking staff to explore alternatives
to the crosswalk. In the meantime, I visited Babcock Place, and based on
my conversations with the residents learned that the "story"
was not so much getting to the Dairy Queen or church as it was a matter
of mobility and dignity. For the residents, the inability to cross the
street limited their independence, and as one grows older independence
and dignity are tied to mobility. In essence, they seemed to be saying,
"Isn't it government's role to help older citizens maintain dignity
in their lives, and isn't a crosswalk a cheap way to accomplish that goal
even if it causes some inconvenience to traffic flow?"
While this seems to be a trivial issue in the life of any city, it is not
an uncommon one, and it generates a lot of emotion.
- If some form of traffic control at the intersection will build these
senior citizens' faith that government is responsive and representative,
is it worth it to reject the traffic engineer's advice, knowing that without
some agreed upon standards, decisions of where to post stop signs, crossing
guards and traffic lights will become more political than they already
- How is this issue related to building a sense of community? In this
case, how has staff's handling of the request affected the citizens' impression
of government? Has staff adequately fulfilled its role in this case?
- Do you think the city council-staff relationship in this case fostered
trust and confidence in one another? If not, what could have been done
- What values are being expressed by the citizens? By staff? What kind
of interest does staff have in a case like this? How might the outcome
of this case affect staff's work in the future?
- What are the various stories at play in the case? What is the citizens
story? What is staff's story? What values are conveyed in the various stories?
How does scientific thinking clash with anecdotal thinking in this case?
- After a weekly meeting to review the upcoming agenda, the mayor corners
the chief administrative officer and asks, "What do you think we ought
to do?" As the chief administrative officer, what will you tell the
mayor? What is your objective in answering the mayor's question?
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