Exploring Disparity and Bike Lanes

After a year of waiting, the Pensacola City Council heard details of its disparity study last night. According to the study, city government has improved its numbers, but Pensacola as a whole has a ways to go.

“It’s very detailed, very thorough and left no stone unturned,” Councilman Ronald Townsend commented on the nearly 300-page report.

In August 2011, the city contracted with MGT of America to conduct a Comprehensive Disparity Study. The study explored disparities in opportunities for minority and women-owned businesses.

The study found that, overall, minorities— African Americans, Asian Americans, Native Americans, Hispanics and women—in the Pensacola area are “underutilized.” The report used a grading system which considered the available pool and to what degree that pool was utilized.

Representatives from MGT, a Tallahassee firm, presented the study to the city council and suggested ways the landscape might be better balanced. The council accepted the draft version of the study and City Administrator Bill Reynolds said the mayor’s office is already looking over the recommendations.

Councilman John Jerrlads told his fellow board members that the MGT study would only be helpful if the city took its recommendations under advisement.

“As long as council is willing to do that with a serious commitment, I believe the city of Pensacola can move forward,” Jerralds said, later noting that other area entities should also get a handle on their disparity numbers. “We are dealing with disparities that are age old. I bet you earnest, straight up money that there’s something going on over at the county, the school district, the ECUA and everything else.”

While the disparity study showed an improvement when it came to city contracts, it also pointed to an exceptionally disadvantaged scene in the private sector.

“Are we the worst?” asked Councilwoman Maren DeWeese, after hearing the bleak private sector review.

“That’s not every community in the United States,” replied Eagen Bense, a principal investigator on the study, stressing that MGT only had a handle on the locales it had studied (140 different locations since 1990).

“No, but the one’s you studied?” DeWeese asked.

Eagen told her that Pensacola’s private sector was the lowest out of that field. The report termed the private sector’s minority utilization as “very low.”

The city council also tended to its ongoing search for a council executive yesterday during its Committee of the Whole meeting. The council has now turned to the Landrum Agency, an employee provider, in an effort to find someone to work as its executive.

Sandra Smith, of Landrum, informed the council that the agency had five finalist for the position. The candidates range from a theater manager to a state representative.

While some council members expressed a desire to be more involved in the process, others preferred to have Landrum present them with its final choice. Eventually, it was decided that President Sam Hall will present the council with his choice for consideration.

Complete Streets was also on the city council’s radar yesterday. Mayor Ashton Hayward  requested that the council adopt the Complete Streets Resolution to establish a policy that integrates bikes, walking and public transit into the city’s planning.

The council appeared supportive of the complete streets concept, but some members said the resolution did not go far enough.

“It’s rather benign,” said Councilwoman Megan Pratt. “‘We like bicycles and pedestrians’ is basically what it’s saying.”

Pratt suggested a more “proactive” approach. Other council members readily warmed to the concept of forming a committee to study the issue.

“Where do we want this city to be in ten years or 20 years insofar as our bicycle path?” Pratt asked.

“I think Councilwoman Pratt is right on target,” agreed Councilman Brian Spencer, recounting the well-established bike lanes he encountered on a recent trip to Canada.
“Their lanes are so established they are two-way bike lanes with concrete barriers separating them from the traffic.”

Reynolds said that the resolution was only a first step—a “starting point”— in the complete streets venture. He said the mayor’s office intended on exploring the concepts being voiced by council.

“This is exactly the next step you want to take,” he said. “This is your big blue arrow, in military parlance.”

Townsend told the council that he was on board with complete streets, but didn’t want to see the westside of the city neglected in the effort.
“We ride bicycles, and they may not be as expensive as downtown or intown, but we want assurance we can ride our tricycles,” the councilman said.

Though Reynolds suggested holding off on forming a complete street committee and putting the item on an upcoming agenda for discussion, the council was ready to act.

“I just hate to hold up this process,” said Hall.
“Let’s launch this,” agreed Spencer.

The committee will be comprised of five council members—Pratt, Spencer, DeWeese, Townsend and Sherri Myers—and five members of the public appointed by the council. They mayor’s office will also be represented in the committee.

The Pensacola City Council meets for its regular meeting Thursday, 5:30 p.m., at Pensacola City Hall.