Thursday, December 30, 2010

Normal New Year: Out with the Old, In with the New!

Normal, 2011: what's OUT and what's IN

Out: complaining about the Traffic Circle
In:  complaining about the Multimodal Transportation Center (MTC)

Out: parking bump-outs
In:  bumper-to-bumper parallel parking

Out: Bank of Illinois
In: Heartland Bank

Out: corn crib as a storage unit
In: Corn Crib as a ball park

Out: mistakenly saying "Downtown Normal"
In: mistakenly saying "Twin Cities" (neither identical nor fraternal any more)

Out: complaining about the rough ride on Main St., just north of College Ave.
In: complaining about the rough ride on College Ave., just west of Towanda Ave.

Out: concern about pedestrian safety at crosswalks
In: concern about pedestrian safety at the MTC tracks crossing

Out: lengthy Town Council discussions about the appearance of signage
In: lengthy Town Council discussions about the appearance of buildings

Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Normal HSSSM

An anonymous source close to those who know people who went to school with people who work for the town of Normal has revealed that, inspired by plans for high speed rail, there are plans in the works for high speed street sweeping machines. You know, those small vehicles that currently go about 5 mph, with the brush that sweeps junk from next to the curb out into the street? Evidently, someone is applying for a government grant to pay a local teen to "soup up" the town's street sweeping machines -- adding larger engines, huge tires, and maybe painting some flames on the sides. It is hoped that they could reach speeds as fast as 65 mph, enabling street cleaning to be accomplished in a couple of hours. The machines would have the right-of-way at all intersections between 3:00-4:00 a.m. on Wednesdays. The secret plan is affectionately referred to as "Operation Tasmanian Devils" (like in the old Bugs Bunny cartoons).

When contacted, people who post negative comments about Normal on the local newspaper's website say they are already calculating how much money will be wasted on these machines, how noisy they will be, and are brainstorming derogatory nicknames for the machines (e.g., "Normal Squirrel Mixers," "Normal's-High-Speed-Waste-Of-Our-Tax-Money-They-Can't-Do-Anything-Right Machines").

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Friday, December 24, 2010

Monday, December 20, 2010

Normal in Books

Google has created a "Books Ngram Viewer" which is a program that allows you to find out how many times a word or phrase has been mentioned in over 5 million books, between certain years. Of course, I had to try "Normal Illinois" and, as you can see from the graph, it wasn't mentioned at all in the late 1800s but peaked in frequency of mentions just before 1960. Local historians could probably explain the changes in frequency.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Normal HSR Efforts Catch On in Russia

First, Normal started planning for high speed rail. Now, Russia is doing the same. Russia is going to host the 2018 World Cup and Putin is promising high speed rail services linking host cities. Has he been reading the Pantagraph?

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Normal Parking Spaces

A study by civil engineers at the University of California, Berkeley, estimates that there are 2 billion parking spaces in the U.S.  If all of those spaces were combined, they would occupy an area the size of Massachusetts. The estimate includes paved spaces (public as well as private, such as your driveway parking) and uses the assumptions that there are 8 parking spaces for each car and that there are 250 million cars in the country. (There are probably other factors involved, in case you're doing the math.) What I find interesting is the statement that there are "500 million empty [parking] spaces in the United States at any given time." Remember that the next time you are looking for a parking space!

I don't know how many parking spaces there are in Normal, but I'm sure somebody who works for the Engineering Department in Normal could come up with an estimate. Are there really 8 spaces per car?  Let's see, one for work, one for the Post Office, three for shopping (groceries, clothing, books), one for the bank, one for medical/dental appointments, and one for home. Yes, 8 spaces for my car!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Normal Tracks Crossing Dilemma

With the building of the new multimodel transportation center comes the dilemma of how to get pedestrians from one side of the railroad tracks to the other: tunnel or overhead walkway? The Normal Town Council has authorized a study of the issue. There are other places that have also faced this dilemma. Laramie, Wyoming, for example, has an impressive walkway over a major set of tracks. I don't think Normal needs a walkway quite that large! Mayor Oscar Goodman, Las Vegas, has proposed building a tunnel containing shops and restaurants to connect one part of the city to another, under some tracks. Well, Normal's walkway, if underground, won't be long enough for any businesses to locate there. Safety would be more important than retail opportunities, I'm sure. It will be interesting to see what the designers come up with.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Normal Shopping Carol

Here's a little holiday song to get you in the mood for shopping!

Uptown in Normal


Uptown in Normal shoppers pause
Thinking they just saw Santa Clause!
Down through the alley with lots of toys
For Normal tykes
Bringing Christmas joys.


[Chorus]
Ho, ho, ho!
To Normal we go!
Ho, ho, ho!
To Normal we go!
Uptown in Normal
Fun, fun, fun!
Buying some presents
For everyone.

First on my list
Are my friends so dear:
Bikes, books, perfumes
Will bring them cheer.
Maybe some comics
Or fresh baked bread
Will be the gifts
That I buy instead.


[Repeat Chorus]


Next are my co-workers --
What a team!
Restaurant gift cards
Will make them beam.
Just for myself
I think flowers will do.
And Merry Christmas
To all of you!


[Repeat Chorus]

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Normal Thanks Giving

There are so many things to complain about that distract me from all of the things directly around me that I should be thankful for, so I wanted to take this opportunity to express my thanks for...
*clean air and water
*autumn (my favorite time of year)
*friendly, helpful people at local stores
*the abundance of products and services to choose from
*first responders and everyone who devote their lives to our safety and well-being
*great co-workers
*a wonderful town to live in
*town staff and elected officials who work to make this a wonderful town
*opportunities to help others
*technology that is used to improve life
*favorite authors who keep writing novels that I enjoy
*all of the people who do the behind-the-scenes work that makes life better
*chocolate :)

Thanks!

[Not a complete list, by any means, and the items are not in any particular order.]

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Normal to Jesse: Happy 202nd Birthday!

Today, November 10, is Jesse Fell's birthday. Jesse Fell played a significant role in Normal's history. Everyone in Normal should do something today in recognition of Fell's contributions to this town: plant a tree, take a stroll around the ISU campus, visit the new statue of Fell, Davis, and Lincoln that is in front of the Center for the Performing Arts (in Bloomington), or drive down Fell Ave. and honk your horn in celebration. (Just kidding! I wouldn't want to upset the residents along that street.)

Jesse Fell has no Facebook page, Twitter account, or silly nickname like J-Fell. We can just think about him as a founding member of this community and imagine what his life was like as he played out his role in the history of Normal.

Happy Birthday, Jesse Fell!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Normal TV Shows

Some re-purposed TV shows with a Normal twist:

"Normal Days" -- sitcom about a middle-class family in Normal and "cool" family friend who rides his motorcycle up and down Veteran's Parkway

"Mr. Normal" -- oddball show about a talking horse illegally kept in a local subdivision

"Real Housewives of Normal" -- reality show about bickering fashionistas who spend a lot of time at local bars

"Welcome Back, Normal" -- heartwarming show about an ISU graduate who returns to teach misfits at a local school

"Big Normal" -- reality show in which a group of annoying people are locked in a (putty-colored, vinyl-sided) house with a tiny back yard for 3 months, waiting to see who hangs on to their sanity the longest

"Amazing Normal" -- 10 teams race around Normal, taking on challenges such as finding a parking place near the Post Office and going out to eat at a restaurant without reservations

"N.O.R.M.A.L." -- set during the Korean War, this show follows the antics of anti-government doctors (with funny nicknames) who amuse viewers with their sarcasm, sexual harassment, and mean-spirited pranks; occasionally makes fun of the local culture

"Futurenormalama" -- cartoon featuring various creatures (evil robot, absent-minded professor, intelligent but odd looking female, and one Normal guy) living in Normal of the distant future (still lots of restaurants but they're floating in space)

"South Normal" -- cartoon featuring the adventures of snotty, foul-mouthed, completely selfish youth (will probably get canceled because it isn't cartoonish enough)

"Ally McNormal" -- special effects-laden drama/comedy about a skinny lawyer and her ongoing dating difficulties as she goes through all of the available (and a few of the married) men in Normal; only enough episodes for one season

"Normal Pickers" -- two Normal guys who try to find valuable items to buy and resell for a profit, but who can never seem to find anything over 15 years old in Normal

"Normal Anatomy" -- hospital drama focusing on the personal lives of doctors as they handle kids injured on the soccer field, teens with repetitive motion injuries to their texting fingers, people who were trampled when the store doors opened the day after Thanksgiving, and local elected officials suffering from hearing loss due to angry residents yelling at them for spending money on anything other than fixing the streets

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Normal Street Safety

I could never be a police officer because, among other things, I have a very low tolerance for traffic violations. Just today, I saw a bicyclist run two stop signs (at least he was riding in the street instead of on the sidewalk!) and I saw someone in a "big truck" (my description for any vehicle not a car) run a red light. And I was only driving for a grand total of maybe 15-20 minutes. So, I was impressed when I read about the traffic safety efforts being made by the New York City's Department of Transportation and the NYPD. They are working to make streets safer by getting the word to drivers about the importance of the 30 mph limit: "Hit someone at 40, there’s a 70 percent chance they’ll die. Hit someone at 30, there’s an 80 percent chance they’ll live. That’s why it’s 30." They are also going to ticket bicyclists who ride on sidewalks, go through red lights, and ride the wrong way on streets.

Raising awareness and increasing enforcement should make a difference, even in a huge city like NYC. Of course, they got a $150,000 grant to fund these efforts. If Normal is serious about encouraging and increasing safe bicycling around town, perhaps there is some grant money out there that could help.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Normal Apathy

The fine folks in the local government of Boulder, Colorado, have come up with the idea of handing out raffle tickets to residents who attend a series of public meetings about local issues and to those who attend certain Council meetings. Raffle prizes may include items donated by local businesses as well as items purchased by the city.  These meetings cost time and money and the city wants to involve as many residents as possible to make the meetings worthwhile.   If the meetings are going to be held anyway and the prizes are donated, why not bribe more people to attend and (hopefully) become involved in local issues? What's interesting (and, unfortunately, not surprising) is that many comments in response to this idea are negative.

I think more Normal residents would attend public meetings and Town Council meetings if they had a chance to win a prize. Maybe they would discover that they have a vested interest in the issues and would become involved in local efforts.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Normal NIMBY

Ever want to protest a development project in your neighborhood?  Here's an idea for a NIMBY robot that knows just what to say at Planning Commission and Town Council meetings!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Normal's Chance for Academic Fame?

The Chronicle of Higher Education has offered college towns across the U.S. the chance to get some (positive) publicity.  If you want the reporter, Lawrence Biemiller, to come to Normal, you need to send him an email with a list of people to interview -- people around here who make the colleges "unique, engaging, smart, fun."  Also, you can suggest places to visit and places to eat (that should be easy).

How about it? Should he come to Normal? Who would you put on the list of people to be interviewed?  He starts his travels November 1, so send in those emails! That address is: postcards@chronicle.com.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Normal Leaf Peeping

The Farmers' Almanac Blog says that the best time for leaf peeping in northern Illinois is Oct. 12-22 and the best time for leaf peeping in southern Illinois is Oct. 19-29.  I guess that means that the best time to see Normal's trees decked out in the amazing colors of fall is between Oct. 16-23. I think they look beautiful already! Let's go peeping!

Monday, October 11, 2010

Normal Hydrant Flushing

Here's to the Town of Normal employees who patiently wait while fire hydrants are "flushing." The hydrants have to be flushed regularly to keep them in good working order and the town staff always alert residents as to when they can expect this in their neighborhood.  It is done overnight and, from what I've seen, takes quite some time because each hydrant is left flushing for a surprisingly long amount of time (not sure exactly how long, but it seems like at least 30-45 minutes).  I wish the water could be diverted onto grassy areas instead of letting it run along the curb. Maybe someone can develop a diverter device to do this.



Saturday, October 9, 2010

Normal Form-Based Code Reinterpretation

Just wanted to share this article that suggests a new type of "form-based code" based on blending religion and zoning. What a unique way of looking at it!

Friday, October 8, 2010

Normal Night Lights


An interview with a light artist and designer raises the issue of lighting in town at night and how it contributes to our experience of that space.  I'm more of a morning person so I'm not familiar with how Uptown Normal looks at night -- how much street light illuminates sidewalks, how light from inside store fronts spills out onto the sidewalks, how harsh the lighting is from a pedestrian's view, how colorful the lights are, and other properties of lighting that should be considered.  I know that the Normal Theater sign is quite colorful and eye-catching at night. Other than that, I'm in the dark about the lights.

Most of us don't notice lighting until the holiday lights go up. Then, we notice how much those lights perk up a place (when tastefully displayed). The right outdoor lighting in a town can make it more enjoyable to visit, so I think it's worth considering. Hopefully, some lighting expert will take a critical look at Normal's lights and make suggestions about possible improvements.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Normal: Head-Strong or Heart-Strong?

A study by Park and Peterson (2010), "Does it Matter Where We Live?: The Urban Psychology of Character Strengths," suggests that some cities have residents with higher levels of what they call "head strengths" while other cities have residents with higher levels of what they call "heart strengths." Head strengths are intellectual and self-oriented while heart strengths are emotional and interpersonal.

Using a questionnaire posted on their website, the authors of the study rank the 50 largest cities in the U.S. based on these two strengths. San Francisco, CA, had the highest head strength and El Paso, TX, had the highest heart strength.

Variables correlated with head strength included voting for Obama in 2008, a larger number of colleges and universities, a higher cost of living, and greater population density. Variables correlated with heart strength included voting for McCain in 2008, smaller population, less population density, a higher average yearly temperature, lower cost of living, and more families with children.

Normal probably meets more of the qualifications of a heart-strong town than a head-strong town, with the exception of having colleges and a university. Looking at the study's list of heart strengths, the people in Normal should be fair, forgiving, grateful, honest, hopeful, playful, kind, leaders, loving, modest, persistent, religious, team-players, and enthusiastic. But if lacking in head strength, Normal residents probably don't appreciate beauty, aren't creative, curious or open-minded, and don't love learning.  I can think of all sorts of exceptions to those conclusions! Of course, it's always good to use your head and your heart, so it would be best if Normal residents have a mix of both strengths.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Normal Shweebs?

An inventor in New Zealand has come up with a way for commuters to get to work by traveling in a pedal-powered tube, called a Shweeb, that hangs from a monorail.  The shape of the Shweeb makes pedaling more efficient than pedaling a bicycle, so people don't have to worry about not having enough energy to make it move. And if someone pedaling slowly is approached from behind by someone in another Shweeb who is pedaling faster, the rear Shweeb can join up with the front Shweeb and help increase the speed of the slow-poke.

It's environmentally friendly, provides a workout, and is more personalized than taking mass transit! But would it work in snowy, windy, stormy Normal?

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Normal Indoor Positioning Feature Future?

This is an article about indoor positioning. Basically, as I understand (or misunderstand) it, it's like a navigational system for people to use at indoor venues such as grocery stores, malls, and college campus buildings. Looking for the salad dressing at a grocery store? Use the positioning system. Looking for a particular classroom or a particular class (depending on which way the system is set up)? Use the positioning system. Heaven forbid anyone use signs or, even worse, actually ask someone for directions! Wouldn't want to have to put any thought into looking for the product/destination. And you sure don't want to have to interact with another human being.

 [Sigh!] Is this really necessary? Stores and campuses in Normal aren't really that large that someone needs electronic navigation. And in real life, products and classes get moved around. Just deal with it without electronic assistance.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Normal Nuggets of History

Time for a trip to the Normal Library's book sale! This time, I got three books about the history of McLean County and one old map/brochure of Illinois. I've already discovered a few interesting items in the books.

One chapter in The Way It Was In McLean County 1972-1822 by H. Clay Tate (1972) describes the infamous incident of a mob of locals breaking into the jail, dragging horse thief/murderer Charles Pierce out of the building, and hanging him from a tree "at the northwest corner of Market and Center streets." Oddly, there were no witnesses to identify anyone in the mob so no one was charged for this murder.

Another chapter describes recreational activities over the years in McLean County. Regarding baseball: "Indoor baseball held at the Coliseum often drew crowds of 1,000. Bloomington joined the Three Eye League in 1898. The league disbanded around 1940." Maybe they couldn't find enough three-eyed players to participate??

And it's hard to believe the variety of businesses in this area: 20 cigar manufacturing plants, a caramel factory and 150 other candy factories, an overall factory, four woodworking businesses, six brick yards, a brewery, a pork packing company, two flour mills, two feed mills, a canning factory, coal mines, etc.

It will take me quite a while to go through these books and learn more about this area. The pictures are also interesting -- Eastland Mall being built, Veteran's Parkway (nee the Belt Line) being constructed. I really appreciate people who take the time and effort to record this information so it's available for those of us who want to know what this area was like in the past.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Normal Needs "Smart" Traffic Lights

Here's an article about traffic lights with minds of their own. The idea is to have traffic lights that "talk" to nearby traffic lights and to monitor current conditions so they can do what is best to keep traffic moving. Currently, there are traffic lights that take into account the traffic needs at that one intersection, but that isn't as good as having traffic lights that can also take into account the traffic that will be coming from nearby intersections.

This is supposed to cut down on lights that go through preprogrammed cycles, which leave you sitting at a red light when there is no cross-traffic. And it is supposed to be better than lights that are timed down a particular street (e.g., Veteran's Parkway), because that timing doesn't take into account fluctuations in traffic or accidents that may cause back-ups.

I like the traffic lights that change when they "sense" the presence of my vehicle at (or approaching) the intersection. The "dumb" lights, on the other hand, need some education. Or they need to talk to the smart lights and learn how to respond to changes in traffic.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Normal Green Buildings = Healthy, Happy Workers

An article (quoting a study) suggests that people who work in LEED certified buildings miss fewer hours of work and are less stressed and less depressed than people who work in "conventional" (i.e., non-green) buildings.  With an increase in LEED certified buildings in Normal, employee health and productivity should increase. And employers with businesses in those buildings have a good reason to require employees to work even longer hours and to work additional days: it will make them healthier and happier!

[The best line in the article is the reference to the "lame-stream media." Very appropriate.]

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Is Normal Fashion Normal?

The article "On Fashion's Night Out, Normal Hits the Streets" on the New York Times website discusses Fashion Week in New York City and how the fashionistas this year look more like "normal" New Yorkers. So, what is "normal" fashion in Normal? Are there fashion trends around here and if so, are they concentrated among the college students?

Fashionable footwear in Normal seems to reflect extremes: flip-flops and boots. I've seen flip-flops worn in winter and boots worn in summer. Good old medium-blue denim jeans are more common than the overly baggy jeans or the skin-tight-with-trendy-holes jeans. And the popular tops for young females remain the low v-necks over tanks or camisoles. Anyone out of college seems to subscribe to the "whatever is most comfortable" rule of fashion (e.g., no teetering around on uber high heels, no tights that look like jeans or whatever those things are, and no fancy multi-layering-with-loads-of-jangly-accessories). (If you are beyond college and you try to wear the trendy clothes that college students wear, you might want to re-think that.)

Being surrounded by college students and academics, I don't get a chance to see the popular fashions among the corporate set. Someone from State Farm or Country Financial will have to cover that.

There isn't a "Fashion Week" or even a "Fashion Day" in Normal, and there doesn't seem to be any social pressure to be 'fashionable' around here. Maybe we could call our style "Comfortably Normal."

Friday, September 3, 2010

Normal's Big Green Boxes?

Here's an idea: transform a large, empty retail space into a place that grows organic herbs and vegetables. Called "big green boxes," these could potentially provide year-round produce for local residents, restaurants, and institutional cafeterias.  They are described as containing fish tanks from which the water circulates out to the growing areas and then back to the tanks (after being filtered). The fish thus fertilize the crops.

Kind of an interesting idea. But if it didn't work out, it might be difficult to transform the green box back into retail space. On the other hand, if it's probably not going to be purchased for retail use any time soon and might even be torn down, an old store as a place to grow  increasingly popular organic produce might be a good idea.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Normal's Dream HSR!

We think high speed rail that moves us 100-150 mph is exciting but that's nothing compared to a train that would run 5,000 mph through a proposed tunnel from New York to London!  This project ranks #9 on the top ten list in the article "Most Ambitious Transportation Projects of the 21st Century."  Can you imagine a train going that fast and derailing?  Or hitting something on the track? I prefer the current speed of trains, thank you very much.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Normal General Stores?

This article suggests developing Suburban General Stores in residential areas so residents would be able to walk to a store within their subdivision and buy basic items. Supposedly, this would save money that would have been spent on driving to stores, and it also might increase social interaction among residents (one idea is to put a front porch on the store to serve as a gathering place).

This sounds nice in theory but raises issues such as the additional traffic and noise from delivery trucks, the impact of the store on the people who live close to it, and how zoning laws would accommodate it.  There are convenience stores sprinkled around town that are within walking distance of some residential areas, so it isn't a completely new idea for this town. And unless lots of people are making frequent trips to stores for one or two items, it doesn't seem like a necessity locally.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Normal's (Relatively) Minor Traffic Jams

After reading this article about a 62-mile traffic jam in China, I will be less upset about waiting in "long" lines of traffic at local intersections. Well, slightly less upset. And that will only last for a few days. After I've forgotten about the traffic jam in China, I'll go back to being really upset.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Normal: Future Bicycle City?

Columbia, South Carolina, has been chosen for the location of a "Bicycle City" -- a development that is car-free (cars must be parked on the perimeter). There is also the requirement that all buildings are LEED-certified. Of course, they've got a good climate for biking. Even so, I wonder if there would be much interest for such a place in or near Normal. Would people be willing to have less convenient access to their cars in exchange for the benefits of not having vehicles in the neighborhood (no traffic noise, no car stereos booming, children could safely ride in the streets, etc.)? The article about Bicycle City does not address issues such as garbage pickup and delivery trucks. Obviously, emergency vehicles would be allowed in.

In an era when we want everything personalized to meet our own wants and needs, it's not surprising that someone would come up with the idea of a specialized subdivision. There will probably be more of these in the future (and maybe they can retrofit some older neighborhoods to meet consumer demand).

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Normal Farmers Market Joins the Crowd

There's an article quoting a USDA announcement that farmers markets have increased 214% since 2000, and have increased 16% since just last year! There are now 6,132 farmers markets across the country and Illinois has 286 of them, ranking third after California (580) and New York (461), and just ahead of Michigan (271). Missouri, Minnesota, Idaho, and Michigan have had the greatest percentage increase in farmers markets in the past year, so there's obviously a growing (hah!) interest in buying (hopefully locally grown) produce outside of stores.

I haven't been to the Uptown Trailside Farmers Market yet this year (due to the brutal heat in the late afternoon) but I have been buying produce at the new farmers market on College Ave. on Saturday mornings. I think more and more people have discovered that event and I'm hoping that it continues next summer because it's very convenient, both in location and time of day (starts at 7:30 a.m.).

Monday, August 9, 2010

Normal Pedicabs?

Someone has suggested the use of pedicabs as an alternative form of transportation (similar to rickshaws). They could share bicycle lanes, reduce the number of automobiles on the streets, and give the "drivers" lots of exercise! I kind of like the idea, although they would only be a warm weather vehicle. Wonder how many people would be motivated to drive these things?

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Normal Traffic Future: Different Views

There is a nice panel discussion of the issues surrounding efforts to increase pedestrian and bicyclist accessibility in cities. Do city planners have to choose which side to take: pedestrian/bicyclist or automobile? Or is there a different way to look at it? It appears that many cities in the U.S. are pondering this issue. Normal is also taking steps (hah!) to increase pedestrian/bicyclist accessibility and is facing criticism and opposition as a result. Give up driving lanes or parking space on the streets so "a few" people can ride their bikes? Many seem to be saying "No!" to this. (What I find humorous but puzzling is the local animosity toward bicyclists that wear spandex -- what I call "spandicles." Are they hated for their clothing or their aggressive biking?)

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Normal Future Transportation Needs

I came across an article about city planning and how difficult it is to know what the future needs of a city will be, especially in terms of transportation. The author starts the article with the example of city planners in Europe in the late 1800s thinking that horse manure was going to be the biggest problem for cities in the future. Obviously, they were wrong.

I thought it was particularly appropriate to think about the issue of future transportation on the day of the ceremonial groundbreaking for the new Normal Transportation Center. The Transportation Center plan is based on the assumption that people in the future will still give priority to efficiently traveling from one place to another, thus having a hub for trains, buses, and taxis makes sense. The article, on the other hand, suggests that perhaps that kind of view is ignoring the important role of information in our transportation needs/uses. Perhaps our future transportation won't merely be physical movement from point a to point b, but will require the transportation itself to provide our means of work and/or leisure. The article mentions holding meetings on trains and having a mobile day care as examples.

Maybe we've already started moving (sorry for the pun) in that direction: people are texting and talking on cell phones as they drive -- conducting business, handling social issues, etc. We are already combining information with transportation.

I am absolutely no good at predicting the future (even what's going to happen in the next 30 minutes!), so I have no ideas beyond what that article suggests. Good thing I'm not a city planner.

There is a saying that might apply to this issue: it's the journey [that's important], not the destination.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Normal's Utility Boxes: Wrap 'Em Up!

An artist has transformed utility boxes in Culver City, California, into works of art. The boxes are wrapped with vinyl that has images (plants, benches, store fronts) that blend with the surroundings. What a great idea! This would not only spruce up unattractive structures but would probably also reduce graffiti. Someone needs to bring artists and public utility representatives together to make this happen locally.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Normal Transportation Center Web Cam

The web cam on the Normal website now shows site preparation beginning for the Multimodal Transportation Center. How exciting!

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Normal's Relative Youth

Another CNNmoney.com ranking of cities: Normal is the 7th youngest city with a median age of 24.3 (Champaign is a couple of years older). Twenty-somethings -- they make me feel older, slower, a technological left-behind, and unfashionable. On the other hand, they make me feel wiser, more sober, and less distracted by social minutiae. I'll embrace the latter, dismiss the former, and accept that which cannot be changed.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Normal's Non-Top Ten Winning Ways

CNNmoney.com has an article rating cities in terms of quality of life. Normal isn't in the top 10 but compared to the top-rated city, Eden Prairie, Minnesota, Normal does have lower house prices, lower property taxes (yes, lower!), and a higher low temperature in January. There is also a lower percentage of divorced people in Normal (obviously, because many college students are not divorced, yet). And even better, the sales tax, state income tax rate, and auto insurance premiums are all lower than those in Eden "We're #1" Prairie.

So go ahead and celebrate your victory, you Eden Prairians. It's a hollow victory, though, because Normal's got you beat in ways that really matter.

Normal FJR Fix

Hooray, they're fixing Ft. Jesse Road [note: elected officials standing in the road and they're not in a crosswalk -- isn't that asking for trouble?]!! It's a minor inconvenience at the moment but it will be so nice to drive east on FJR and not swerve back-and-forth, avoiding big-asphalt potholes. Now, if the railroad crossing gates work correctly and the ISU bus no longer sits for a long time blocking traffic at the Rec Center bus stop, I think driving that road might just be a pleasant experience.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Normal VOLs?

This is a quasi-humorous description of vigilant old ladies in Europe who spend a lot of time looking out their windows, watching for any illegal/anti-social/questionable activity. It sounds funny but it's actually quite helpful to have people at home (especially during the day), keeping watch over their neighborhood. That's why it's nice to live near retired folks: they're usually keeping an eye on things (if they aren't traveling or off playing golf). Maybe, instead of posting signs indicating that there's a neighborhood watch, we should have signs that there are Vigilant Retirees watching.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Normal Fellow Twin-Citian Urbana to get Bike Path

The Daily Illini reports that Urbana will begin work on a bike path. Bike Urbana created a Bicycle Master Plan, increased bike usage, and helped Urbana earn the League of American Bicyclists' "bike-friendly community" designation (the first one in downstate Illinois).

I lived in Urbana (and Champaign) for quite a few years and I remember that area as having so much bicycle traffic that this effort to increase bicycle usage surprises me. Of course, I spent most of my time around the U of I campus, so I wasn't aware of bicycle riding on the outskirts of the area, where the planned bike path will be located. I actually rode my sister's bike to run errands during my first year there (before I got a car). (I can't believe I rode a bike on Springfield Ave.! Seems risky to me now.) There were bike lanes along the streets throughout campus, which was helpful for bicyclists but gave pedestrians another lane to cross with caution. I always admired the MTD drivers who (usually) managed to get around campus without hitting people, bikes, scooters, cars, or squirrels.

Good luck to Urbana with their bike path! Hope it is as nice as the Constitution Trail.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Normal SCAF

This year, the Sugar Creek Arts Festival returned to its original location along the streets of Uptown Normal. Very hot, flat, and crowded (hey, someone should write a book with that title!). The parking deck was nearly full (hello, fourth level) and the area between the booths/tents was packed -- and this was right after it opened at 10:00. Maybe everyone was trying to get there early in the day before it got even hotter. There is so much to see and buy that I don't think people have to worry about missing out on anything if they attend later. Lots of jewelry, pottery, accessories, and unique art.

Why people bring their dog to the event is perplexing, although I'm sure it's very exciting for the dog -- lots of people and billions of odors to experience.

I'm quite proud of myself for resisting the desire to buy a lovely silver necklace with blue stones. In fact, I didn't buy anything (not even food or drink). But I had a nice time looking at everything and I'm sure the artists sold lots of items even without any purchases from me. The Festival has obviously become quite popular and that's good for everyone.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Normal Attractions?

I happened upon a website http://normalil.areaguides.net/, which is supposed to give some basic information about Normal, IL. For example, there is a list of "Top Normal Attractions." The problem is that this list includes attractions that are not in Normal:
Peoria Players Theatre
Bertha Frank Performing Arts Center
Krannert CTR For Performing Arts
Assembly Hall
Avon Theater

Just thought that was rather misleading.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Normal Bicycle Highway (Byway?)

"Bicycle Highways" by Tom Vanderbilt is an article discussing ways to increase bicycle use in cities. Basically, there are three ways to do this: have bicycle paths along the sides of streets (set apart from vehicle traffic by painted lines), have bicycle boulevards (streets that give bicyclists priority over drivers -- with minimal vehicular traffic, slow speed limits, and turns or barricades that allow bicyclists to continue on their way but divert vehicles), or have bicycle highways (completely separate roadways for bicyclists). Lots of cities are trying to integrate these methods and are finding that the key is to get bicyclists to feel safe.

Normal already has the Constitution Trail, which would fit the category of a bicycle highway. It seems like that is the one method of increasing bicycling that would make riders feel the safest, so I think we've got a good start. The bicycle and pedestrian master plan addresses a lot of the bicycling (and pedestrian) issues for the local area but will probably have to be implemented little by little, given the complexity of implementation as well as the costs. I'm sure I'll be well past the age where it would be safe for riding a bicycle on any roadway by the time that plan becomes fully implemented!

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Normal [Your Name Here] Transportation Center

This is an article about big cities (like Philadelphia) allowing corporations to pay for the naming rights to transit stations. What if this happens to Normal's multimodel transportation center? We could have the "Comcast Connection Center" or the "Mitsubishi Multimodel Maximus." It would be so, well, commercial! The place would be a giant ad for a company. I hope that doesn't happen.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Normal Signals

No one likes sitting at red lights but we do appreciate having a chance to go through the intersection (hopefully) safely when the light turns green, so we put up with it. The irritation of sitting at red lights increases dramatically, though, at intersections where there is no or very little cross-traffic, and/or at intersections where a traffic signal just doesn't seem to make much sense (like at a one-way side street that dead-ends onto a one-way, 2-lane street). I haven't heard of any traffic signals being replaced by stop signs, so I think it's safe to say that once a traffic light gets installed, it's here to stay.

That makes the suggestion from this article of replacing traffic signals with stop signs very radical but it does make a lot of sense. Here is what the author says about using stop signs (AWSC = all-way stop control; TWSC = two-way stop control) instead of signals, such as what happens when traffic signals aren't working:

"Now, if you’ve ever noticed that traffic seems to flow more smoothly when the signals are broken than when they’re working, it’s not your imagination - the Transportation Engineering Institute confirms that “AWSC treats the cross-street movements more favorably, without the wasted time associated with traffic signals.”
Implementing TWSC or AWSC is cheaper, by several magnitudes, than installing a traffic signal, which nowadays costs from $80,000 to $100,000 or more depending on bells and whistles such as crosswalk signals and the like. Add to this the perpetual expense of maintenance and the cost of electricity to power signals 24 hours a day, and you’re talking about a serious drain on taxpayer dollars."


Saving money and allowing traffic to move more smoothly with something as low-tech as a stop sign. Imagine that the next time you're waiting at a red light at ??????? and ???????? [fill in the street names of a despised intersection] even though there is no cross-traffic or there was only one vehicle and it left the scene quite some time ago.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Normal Corn Crib vs. Old Corn Crib



The new Corn Crib baseball park isn't anything like the old corn crib at the family farm!






Saturday, June 5, 2010

Normal Uptown Snapshots

First, a picture of the PINK dumpster at the JSM construction site in Uptown Normal. Have you ever seen a pink dumpster??
Second, a picture of the sun setting behind Uptown Normal.




Friday, June 4, 2010

Normal History

At the Bloomington Library book sale, I got an interesting little book called "The Making of Illinois" by Irwin F. Mather (copyright 1925). In the chapter "Education in Illinois," there's a section on "The Normal Schools":

"The public school system having been fully determined upon, it became necessary to found a school where teachers might be properly trained. Accordingly, in 1857, the State legislature passed a law establishing a 'State Normal University,' 'to qualify teachers for the common schools of the State.'
The Board of Trustees selected by the legislature chose a site for the new school near Bloomington. Here the buildings were erected, and around them sprang up the beautiful little city of Normal."

Aw shucks, that's nice of you to say.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Normal Baseball Wikipedia Entry

Just looked at the reference for "Normal CornBelters" in Wikipedia. Not very much information is available and, uh, there are some interesting sources of that limited information. (I don't refer to Wikipedia very often, so I'm not familiar with their usual sources.) They do have a nice picture of the logo. Perhaps more information will be added now that they are playing in 'the crib'.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Normal Uptown et al.

It turns out that there are other "uptown" projects. Well, one other project, at least. Specifically, Marion, Iowa, has an uptown project in the works. The project addresses "signage, benches, lighting, street trees, sidewalks, and opportunities to accommodate additional pedestrian activities within the Uptown area. The plan will establish a theme for the area that respects the history and architecture of the area, yet also provides a framework for the success of Uptown to sustain long into the future."

Sound somewhat familiar? I'm not sure that there's a specific "theme" for Uptown Normal ("Changing the Definition" is more of a goal than a theme) but the efforts to address the streetscape and to accommodate more activities are the same.

I wonder how many uptown projects are taking place across the country. Is it a fad? Are we riding the crest of a wave in a sea of uptown renewals?

Monday, May 31, 2010

Normal Uniqueness

This is an article about residents of Birmingham, Alabama, getting together to oppose the look of "cookie-cutter" developments (e.g., fast-food chains, drug stores). They even started a Facebook site called "I Believe in Birmingham" for posting information related to their movement. According to the article, residents don't have to accept a standard design of a business if they believe that it won't fit in with their community. They just need to be educated, organized, and vocal in expressing their opposition.

It's good to know that it is possible to get businesses to change their designs and it is also good to know that some residents are willing to take the time and effort to get involved in shaping the look of their communities. It's something to keep in mind as Normal continues to grow and new businesses come here.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Normal, Denver, & Form-Based Code

Interesting article about Denver's development of form-based code. I like the idea of chickens within town but not the idea of "carriage houses" in neighborhoods. Those are my opinions and I stand by them.

Normal Sans Color

I've noticed that there is very little color in the webcam view of Uptown Normal. The only colors come from the sky (when it's blue), trees (in season), and the Normal Theater sign (when lit after dark). Otherwise, the buildings, street, sidewalk, and storefronts (as seen from the webcam) are all grayish. Even the vehicles don't have bright colors. Kind of blah looking. It's probably just the distance of the camera from the street that causes this. Or else the streetscape really is that blah. At least the new CVS Pharmacy will liven up the scenery with red signs!! Oh, I get it: red CVS signs to go with the ISU school color. Coincidence or clever strategizing?

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Normal Branches

After spending two hours pruning bushes and trees, I'm thankful that Normal provides yard waste pick-up. (The good soil of central Illinois must make the bushes grow like crazy!) I usually have a giant pile of branches to set out by the curb twice a year. One pile down, one to go.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Normal 100th Post!

This is my 100th post. I started this blog by writing summaries of the sections in the 2008 Town of Normal Annual Report. After that was completed, I wrote comments on information about Normal, I wrote silly, Normal-related song lyrics, I created Normal word scrambles, I found Normal-themed information on the internet, and I made observations about things going on in Normal. It's been challenging but fun. I feel like I've tapped into all possible sources of information about or relating to Normal, though, so I'm not sure where to go from here. Hopefully, the summer months will present me with some new information and ideas to share. Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Normal Reality

Normal reality shows:
"The Real Housewives of Normal" -- Five women eat, shop, talk, and fight for our entertainment. Introducing the housewives: Lois, the real estate agent with a temper; Brianna, showered with money and gifts from her rich boyfriend (she's not actually a housewife but that doesn't seem to be a requirement to be on this show); Suzee, divorced and raising two young children while selling her own line of beaded jewelry; Dorissa, professor's wife who is constantly entertaining (and gossping about) the local academic elite; and Wendy, newly married with a shady past (she's from -- gasp -- Chenoa!) and a wandering eye.

"So You Think You Can Teach" -- Contestants compete to see who is talented enough to hold the attention of constantly-texting students while also teaching them a thing or two. Judges include a university president, two principals, thirty teachers/professors, and fifty helicopter parents. Viewers may also cast votes for their favorite contestant (but have to pass a quiz first)!

"Dancing with the Elected Officials" -- Local elected officials are paired with professional dancers to learn difficult dance steps and trade in their dignity for a chance to win some goofy trophy. Which Mayor has what it takes to two-step without tripping? Which Council members look best in sparkly costumes? Who will be the tough judge, the lenient judge, and the judge who always makes loud, passionate observations about the dancers? Stay tuned!

"Big Normal Brother" -- Houseguests are locked inside a compound at a not-so-secret location in northeast Normal where they will spend the summer surrounded by cameras, competing for food, evicting fellow housemates, and engaging in show-mances. Participants include the old guy, the mother figure, the nonconformist, the homosexual, the religious gal, the exhibitionist, and the not-so-bright one. The theme of this BB season is "expect the abnormal!" Rumor has it that one houseguest is actually an animal (well, genetically; it's complicated). Watch the show and subscribe to the 24-hour live feed so you can see the stuff that gets edited out for TV. (The show doesn't really have anything to do with Normal except that the compound will be located here and that's enough to get us some national attention. No such thing as bad press...)

Two reality shows that were rejected as possible Normal-themed:
"Amazingly Normal Race" -- Getting around Normal and engaging in the local customs are just too difficult, stressful, and/or odd for teams to handle.
"Normal Millionaire Matchmaker" -- Normal rich people refuse to mingle with those of lesser means, no matter how hot they are.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Normal 3 Degrees of Separation

Even though Bloomington has switched to single-stream recycling, Normal continues to require that recycling be separated into three categories: paper, cardboard, and containers. That's ok. We can handle that. It's nice and tidy, kind of like Normal: business district ("Uptown"), historic districts, university area, farmland, newer subdivisions. Please remember to pick up after yourself and, if you're the last to leave, turn out the lights. Thanks.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Normal Misleading Title

From the Normal web page: "A Single Man Showing at the Normal Theater" is quite an attention-grabber ... until you realize that it's just the title of the movie. (Now that ISU students have left town, there probably is only one single man around here.)

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Normal Theatrics

There's a Broadway show called "Next to Normal." It's a musical about pain and anguish! Obviously, it's not about our town. What would a musical about Normal, Illinois, include? Probably not cats, cowboys, sailors, or a carnivorous plant. Maybe farmers, insurance company employees, and college students? And the setting would include corn/soybean fields, college campuses, lots of restaurants, and a traffic circle.

Possible songs included: "Oh, What a Wind-Driven Snowfall!," "Menus," "Feed Me, Waiter!," and "There Ain't Nothin' Like a Quad!"


Now that I've come up with those song titles, some lyrics have popped into my head:

"Oh, What a Wind-Driven Snowfall!" -- Oh, what a wind-driven snowfall. Oh, what a bitter cold day. I've got a frostbitten feelin' winter's not goin' away. All the cars on the streets sliding sideways. All the cars on the streets sliding sideways. The schools are all closed and State Farm has shut down. But the restaurants are busy all over this town! Oh, what a wind-driven snowfall. Oh, what a bitter cold day. I've got a frostbitten feelin' winter's not goin' away.

"Menus" -- Menus, from our favorite restaurants, with the wonderful entrees, and desserts we all love. Fancy wine lists and a la carte items offered to us. Let us order one of each from above.

"There Ain't Nothin' Like a Quad!" -- There ain't nothin' like a quad. Nothin' in the world. There ain't nothin' you can sod that is anything like a Quad.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Normal emails

Want to know which roads will be closed? Want to know what hot-button issues the Town Council will be discussing at their next meeting? You don't have to wait for The Pantagraph to find out! Just sign-up for automatic email notification! It is kind of disappointing to find out that the road that you usually take will be closed in the coming weeks (oh no, another email with "road closure" in the subject line!), but at least it saves you the hassle of trying to find a detour when you are running late. The Children's Discovery Museum seems to have the largest fan base. Poor Public Works -- only 15 fans! Won't you lift their spirits and request emails from them?

It's a great service. And if you're not sure about making a long-term commitment, you don't have to worry: you can remove your name from the list at any time. And they won't pester you with "Find us on Facebook" or "Follow Us on Twitter," at least, not yet...

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Normal Oddities

I enjoy using "bing" for online searching because the home page always has unusual pictures with links to information about the source of the pictures. Recently, there was a link to a list of 18 oddities of Yunnan, a province in southwest China. I wondered if I could come up with at least 8 oddities of Normal:

1. Surviving squirrels know how to avoid cars. Seriously, they really know how to avoid cars.
2. Parking is allowed in right-hand driving lanes along streets.
3. Parallel parking, which takes much more finesse, has replaced angled parking, which is easy.
4. Elected officials and town staff really care about the town. Seriously, they really care.
5. Young people stop wearing flip-flops only when there is snow, several inches of snow.
6. Every storm occurring in Normal is "possibly severe," according to local meteorologists.
7. Eating out is a competitive sport.
8. Home owners are obsessed with using mulch and lawn chemicals.

There are probably many others but I don't want to scare anyone.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Normal Scrapbooking


I foolishy volunteered to create a scrapbook for an organization that I belong to that is celebrating its 10th anniversary. The only other time that I've made a scrapbook was when I was in middle school, and it consisted of birthday cards and various other documents taped to the pages. I realize that scrapbooks have now been elevated to the status of "hobby" which means that they will be more time-consuming and expensive. After spending a great deal of time looking for just the right stickers and paper (and spending a fair amount of money), I then spent literally hours putting together the pages. And it still isn't finished! I'm seeing stickers in my sleep.

I can testify to the fact that Normal stores have many scrapbook items to choose from, so if you are planning to enter the scrapbook zone (imagine scary music), rest assured that you will be able to amaze friends and family with your works of art after spending many hours and dollars at the local scrapbook-enablers. (Don't forget the glue dots! Whoever invented those things deserves an award.)

Friday, March 19, 2010

Normal Envy

Merna is the new Normal! Some Normal residents have received Census 2010 forms that say "Merna" instead of "Normal." [Sigh!] This is a great example of why proofreading is so important. No one takes the time to proofread any mre. :)

At the "Director's Blog" for the 2010 Census, it says:
"Some of the addresses on census forms list a city name that is not yours (some even arrive without a city name). Don’t worry.
IF YOU RECEIVED A CENSUS FORM AT YOUR HOME, YOUR RETURN WILL BE COUNTED IN THE JURISDICTION WHERE YOUR HOME IS PHYSICALLY LOCATED."


Take that, Merna!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Normal Bicycling Directions a la Google

I tried the new bicycling directions at Google maps, asking for directions from Heartland Community College to an address by Landmark Mall. The directions included a u-turn onto the Constitution Trail at the college, which is kind of strange, and then proceeded east on Raab Rd., to south on the Trail, to east on College Ave. I understand taking the Constitution Trail but College Avenue seems a little risky for a bicyclist. Getting directions for biking is a nice feature to add, but it does reveal the lack of safe bike lanes throughout town.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Normal Citation$

In Normal’s “Corporation Counsel 2009 Annual Report” there is a list of the number of police citations and fines paid for those citations. The relatively low numbers probably don’t reflect the actual amount of activity occurring. Examples include: 1 count of criminal damage to property; 1 count of noisy animals; 5 counts of permitting a dog to run at large; 1 count of solicitation; 104 counts of possession of cannabis; 4 counts of possession of fraudulent ID; 1 count of theft plus restitution less than $300; 2 counts of disturbing quiet; and 1 count of public nudity. The total dollar amount collected from all of the police citations in 2009 was $618,832.30. If all violations were discovered/reported and given citations, how much more would that amount be?

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Normal Multi-Millions Puzzle

Question: What has accommodations for train passengers and bus passengers, offices, Council chambers, a funky clock, and a $22 million (million!) federal grant?

Answer: The soon-to-be-built Normal Multimodal Transportation Center.

Value for Normal's future: Priceless!

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Normal Term Limits?

I just read that the former Mayor of Honolulu, Frank Fasi, died. He had served as mayor for 22 years!! Known as "Fearless Frank," he once drove a bulldozer to the parking lot next to City Hall and had the parking lot transformed into a park (now named for him). The NYT obituary also says that Mayor Fasi had tried to start a light-rail network (it's about to be built), he bought a private bus company to end a bus strike, and he started community gardens and farmers' markets.

On the one hand, maybe when an elected official becomes known as "Fearless," it's time to think about term limits. On the other hand, citizens kept reelecting him, so they must have approved of his actions. Normal mayors serve 4-year terms but there doesn't seem to be a limit on how many terms they may serve. Should there be a limit?

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Normal Valentine

“I Love Normal” (to the tune “I Love Paris” – with embellishments)

Every time I look down on this timeless (college) town,
Whether blue or gray (or threatening green) be her skies,
Whether loud (like car stereos) be her cheers,
Or whether soft (like slushy snow) be her tears,
More and more do I realize that. . .

I love Normal in the (severe weather) spring time.
I love Normal in the (blustery) fall.
I love Normal in the (humid) summer when it sizzles.
I love Normal in the (bitterly cold, icy) winter when it drizzles.

I love Normal every (windy) moment,
Every moment of the year.
I love Normal. Why, oh why, do I love Normal?
Because my love (job) is here.