In the early 1990s, I was a sixth-grader at North Elementary. Every once in a while - I don’t remember how scheduled these events were - early dismissal Fridays would be switched from instructional time to a much more loosely arranged series of stations in which students could talk to various professionals from various professions. So there would be doctors and biologists and scientists and artists and tradespeople.
Each would be given a little bit of space and students were welcomed to go from station to station. At each one, they could ask questions, see demonstrations, and generally peak through a small window into the lives of these particular people.
In that these stations happened 21 years ago, I only really remember one of the stations that I visited: U92’s. Without implying that I was ever cool (I wasn’t), I can acknowledge that I had the faintest hint of familiarity with U92 due to my possession of an hour-long cassette tape that featured an hour’s worth of music by They Might Be Giants. A friend’s sister had recorded it from the station’s weekly artist feature show, an hour’s worth of music by that week’s chosen band.
My mind was blown by the concept that a radio station could emphasize a single band’s work for an entire hour but at the time, I somehow didn’t put together that I could listen to U92 on my own. In my defense, I was 12, and 12-year-olds are dumb. That tape though still got worn down to nothing.
When I saw that the radio station was on the list of visitors, I signed up, and when I realized they were doing a live remote broadcast - or at least, what we were told was a live remote broadcast - I was nervous. Three or four of us stood around as the DJ went from person to person, asking the same questions. What was our name? What other stations had we been to? What was our favorite band?
That last question gave me the chance to say, “They Might Be Giants,” a response that appeared to be entirely unexpected and then, to my great happiness, entirely appreciated. It wasn’t that the U92 staffers in attendance had minded getting more anticipated answers - we were 12, after all - but hearing a band that was getting played on their own airwaves was clearly amusing.
Then it was over. We received some promotional materials, including a U92 bumper sticker that my father only pried off of my old bedroom door a few years ago (angrily muttering, probably), and a promotional magazine for the station that I’ve still got somewhere.
From that day through the end of high school, U92 was always the first station I checked when looking for music. I ended up hearing all kinds of music by virtue of listening to the station’s motley collection of shows. When I moved away to college, I was horrified by the station on campus, and when I came home after graduating, I was happy to have a place worth turning on the radio dial. To this day, U92 (well, 91.7) is still the first station I program into my car’s radio dial.
Several friends (including this website’s own Aaron) have worked at the station. Sometimes there are reunion weekends, and old DJs that I remember get airtime. I still occasionally call in requests, although I’m older now and my musical tastes have worsened considerably, they’ll still sort through what they’ve got to play a They Might Be Giants song if I’m polite enough when I ask.
I turned on the radio today and they were doing a live remote from the Mountainlair. They were giving out posters and stickers and vinyl. I’m glad to hear that they’re still there, and I like knowing that the station’s still available. So for no particular reason at all, here’s to U92, the city’s best radio station.
One side of the heavy trucks debate would like to ensure that nobody thinking seriously about this issue has good data to work with. That side is represented by, amongst others, our local media establishment, including WAJR and The Dominion Post, as well as various city officials, including Jeff Mikorski and Glen Kelly.
WAJR and The Dominion Post are easy to understand, as they’re owned by the Raese’s, the same family that owns Greer Limestone, the same corporation whose heavy trucks are the ones being targeted by proposed regulations. Thus, the apparent inability of WAJR and The Dominion Post to produce any sort of journalism that’s worth a damn makes perfect sense. It isn’t an accident. It’s intentional.
But Mikorski and Kelly are a different story. They’re alleged “professionals” and, as a result, are afforded a certain amount of respect that outfits like WAJR and The Dominion Post obviously don’t deserve. Respect has its limits though. It has to be earned.
One way to earn it would be the provision of thoroughly researched, easily available data, preferably the data used to create this bit of hokum from last Friday. Kelly is the one who prepared the letter referenced in WAJR’s coverage. It includes a list of the twelve companies which have had the most accidents in an eight year period (from 2006 to 2014) within Morgantown’s city limits. However, the list contains no context. There are no hard numbers. There are no opportunity measures. There is no attempt to control the data in any meaningful way. There is just a stupid list, bereft of what any reasonable person might describe as intellectual curiosity.
In the comings weeks, as the city council fights this issue out, Mikorski and Kelly should be expected to provide answers to all of the following questions:
-How many of the 268 accidents involved the sorts of trucks that Safe Streets Morgantown is proposing to regulate?
-How many of the 268 accidents occurred on the roads that Safe Streets Morgantown is proposing to regulate?
-What is the ratio of opportunities-for-accidents to actual accidents, as broken down by vehicle type?
None of this data should be particularly hard to assemble, especially if there exists somewhere a raw breakdown of the numbers that went into the 268 total accidents.
Late last week, WAJR started hyperventilating about a letter it claimed to have uncovered that showed definitively that coal and limestone truck traffic is safer than other kinds of heavy vehicles. We were meant to conclude that the attempt to ban certain kinds of heavy truck traffic downtown was an unjust and inappropriate solution.
This website alleged - quite rightly - that the letter was almost certainly prepared by somebody with an interest in protecting the heavy trucks from any sort of regulation. We went so far as to suggest that this person might have some involvement with the Raese family, the people that own a huge majority of our local media outlets (including WAJR) and Greer Limestone (one of the companies that benefits from trucking as it is currently regulated).
We were wrong about that though. The letter was written by Glen Kelly, Morgantown’s assistant city manager. Ignoring the oddity of the letter writer’s name not being disclosed in the breathless WAJR article - how did WAJR happen to stumble across this letter again? - It shouldn’t be particularly surprising that Greer Limestone’s report…err, I mean WAJR’s reporting on the letter doesn’t exactly match what was actually contained within.
So if you’d just read the WAJR story, you’d know that the organizations that have had the most accidents between 2006 and 2014 were the county’s two busing groups (Mountainline and the County Schools), a trash company (Allied), a beverage delivery company, and a fuel delivery company. You wouldn’t know though that the letter included the top-twelve most accident prone companies, and that the next seven were heavy trucking groups. WAJR somehow forgot to mention that.
WAJR also neglected to contextualize the numbers in even the slightest way, although it might be worth noting that the letter itself didn’t bother to engage in anything more critical than, “So, here are the companies that have had the most accidents. That’s all. Don’t bother thinking more about this.”
Here are some of the most obviously manipulative examples:
-The seven companies who filled spaces six through twelve were counted as being independent of one another. The issue of course isn’t specific companies, but rather, the heavy trucks themselves. Counting their numbers separately makes it appear as if their accident totals are less than. One wonders what the total number of heavy truck accidents were, something that is impossible to know from Glen Kelly’s memo.
-The 2006-2014 numbers include all accidents within city limits. Buses and trash trucks travel everywhere throughout the city. Heavy trucks do not. One wonders what the numbers would have been if any sort of control had been introduced into the calculation of these accident totals. For example, who has had the most accidents along the routes that would be affected by the proposed prohibition on heavy truck traffic?
-The number of opportunities to have accidents matters too - Kelly calculated that there had been 268 total accidents during the eight year period from 2006-2014, or roughly 33 accidents per year. Who was having the most accidents per opportunity to have an accident?
That last one is an interesting one, mostly because one half of this city never wants to talk about proportional realities. That half likes raw numbers. We saw this last during the insanely stupid debate about the city’s Vote By Mail program. Jim Manilla, Ron Bane, Wesley Nugent, and Linda Herbst opposed the program, and insisted that all we think about was the total cost of the program. What they didn’t want voters to focus on was an analysis of something more refined, like cost-per-vote. Vote By Mail was much, MUCH, cheaper than the alternative when effectiveness was taken into account, which was precisely why those four had no interest in considering effectiveness at all.
It should be noted that our current City Manager, Jeff Mikorski, and Kelly owe their jobs to that council. Mikorski got his job after those four chased the previous City Manager from the job via back-channel bad behavior. Kelly came just as the previous council was transitioning to the current one (after a devastating electoral outcome Manilla, Herbst, and the candidates they’d used to try to beat current sitting councilors). It would appear as though Mikorski and Kelly are both continuing to carry out the 2011-2013’s City Council embrace of manipulative mathematics designed to steer the city toward particular outcomes.
And of course, WAJR is happy to play along. After all, the city’s report said what WAJR already believed about what was and what wasn’t good policy for the city. That’s why the letter’s claims were published without anybody asking anything about the quality of the claims being made. WAJR clearly never said, “How exactly were these conclusions reached?” It simply saw what it wanted, twisted the letter’s conclusions even further, and declared victory.
This city continues to deserve better, both from its media, and from its officials, but barring a significant change in the ownership of either, it ain’t gonna happen.
This morning, WAJR’s generally dead Twitter account suddenly started spitting out tweets about a letter that the city the radio station had “obtained.” Here’s a subsequent news article about the mystery letter. It is headlined:
Coal and gravel trucks not responsible for most accidents in Morgantown
The articles goes on to show that the organizations who have had the most accidents downtown are two separate busing companies, a beverage delivery service, a garbage hauler, and a tanker-truck outfit. The proposed ban on heavy-trucks wouldn’t prevent those groups from taking heavy trucks through downtown. Now we’re meant to gasp at the hypocrisy of it all.
Except that anybody with any familiarity with the proposed heavy-truck ban knows that those organizations with legitimate reasons to be downtown - like, say, providing transportation, or drinks, or hauling garbage, or delivery gasoline - were always going to be allowed. Those that are only using downtown Morgantown as a shortcut though? Those were always the trucks being targeted, as the city is getting absolutely nothing out of them cutting through. That includes the aforementioned “coal and gravel” trucks mentioned in the headline.
Knowing that though is insufficient, because it hardly tells the entire story. So let’s go further, and let’s start that process by noting that the coal and gravel trucks alluded to in the WAJR headline are driven by independent contractors. Anybody tallying total numbers of accidents was almost certainly not counting all of the independent contractors as a single, monolithic group. They would have each been considered separately, thus making it absurdly easy to jigger the numbers in such a way as to make those five organizations look like a bigger threat to driver safety than the “coal and gravel” trucks that roll through town daily.
But perhaps more important than this obvious manipulation of the available statistics - where are those statistics coming from again? - is the fact that WAJR is owned by the same family that owns Greer Limestone: the Raeses. And ain’t it just the damndest coincidence in the world that Greer Limestone produces the gravel that goes on the trucks that rumble through town that WAJR trumpets as being safer than other types of heavy trucks? Weirdly, WAJR didn’t mention its ownership in today’s hyperventilating news-story.
The Raeses also own the Dominion Post, a newspaper whose editorializing policy always oddly reflects whatever is in the Raese’s best interests, something that other local news organizations always forget to mention when they’re breathlessly reporting on the Dominion Post’s editorial positions.
That’s the point here: if a Raese affiliated media outlet (WKKW, WVAQ, WAJR, WCLG, the Dominion Post, the entirety of the West Virginia Radio Corporation) is saying anything, via either news or editorial, rest assured that this position has little to do with a common understanding of “truth” and plenty to do with what’s best for the Raese family. This is true in its ongoing attempt to screw WVU Athletics out of millions of dollars in revenue and it’s true in today’s letter. Speaking of which, that letter was oddly uncredited to any particular person, almost certainly because it was prepared by somebody affiliated with the Raese family. Once again, just an oversight, I’m sure. Still, this is yet another example of the longstanding reality that the overwhelming majority of our local media reflects only what is best for its owners, not necessarily what’s best for everybody else.
Mountainfest starts tonight. It is supposed to rain. Here’s hoping it pours.
I do this every year. The festival organizers decide, for the however many-th year running, to invite several thousand of their closest friends to town and I rage against their inevitable arrival. I might as well be standing at the edge of the ocean, screaming about the tide.
Rather than use all of that oxygen, let’s just leave it at this: motorcycles aren’t the only way to have a mid-life crisis.
Check ‘em out.
I drove my friend Bill home last night, and while going through town - from VanVoorhis through Wiles Hill, downtown, and finally into Chancery Hill and South Park - we talked about Morgantown being a changing place. He bemoaned the fact that the town today isn’t the town that it once was and I railed against the desolation of once great neighborhoods.
But here’s the thing: time changes everything. Leave a jagged rock in a stream long enough and it will come out as smooth as silk. This is the nature of things.
Which brings me to the proposed regulation of truck traffic downtown. If the trucks are banned, things will change. The ways things were won’t be the way things are. What we’re about to watch is a fight - a legitimate fight - between two sides for whom there exists no middle ground. Those for the ban will claim that keeping the trucks out of town represents a colossal leap forward for the quality of life along the roads those trucks travel. Those against the ban will claim that government is regulation run amok.
If I was a betting man, I’d place money on the truck ban failing. Again. But I only rarely gamble and never with money. Still, it isn’t hard to imagine a group of councilors - Nugent, Bane, Selin, and Shamberger would be my guesses - coming up with a litany of nonsensical objections to even trying the ban, thus further damning the neighborhoods those trucks trundle through. That’s local politics for you.
That’s depressing though. I don’t want to think about the inevitability of disappointment. Instead, I want to think briefly about one potential benefit of the ban: the revitalization of lower Greenmont. For the sake of conversation, let’s describe lower Greenmont as everything between Cobun Avenue and Deckers Creek, not because that is necessarily the proper definition, but because those are the blocks closest to Brockway Avenue, and a Brockway without as much heavy trucking is a very different Brockway indeed.
We can start with the relative inaccessibility of the businesses located along Brockway. There were once businesses on either side of the road, and that isn’t a reference to fifty years ago. Within the last decade, there was a hot-dog stand, a plumbing business, a home decor place, and others. They’re gone or leaving. But a new laundromat is going in, the mechanic’s shop reopened, and the New Day Bakery still thrives. It’s a place with potential.
What if the trucks weren’t rolling through? What if there was slightly less traffic, and slightly less of the noise that comes along with the trucks? No neighborhood is more primed for a serious gentrification than Greenmont. It is within walking distance of downtown, its homes are affordable enough, and in the case of anything between Brockway and Deckers Creek, they’re significantly less expensive than they are elsewhere in South Park. It isn’t difficult to imagine that a small change in the city’s traffic patterns could mean big things for that area.
And people are moving to town. Some of them will want easy access to downtown and the university beyond it. Some of them won’t want the housing associations that come along with the thirty-seven gajillion housing developments ringing the city. And they won’t be students. Students are already in parts of Greenmont but not in the cancerous way that they’ve overtaken lower Wiles Hill, all of University Hill, and significant portions of Woodburn. There’s something about the neighborhoods there that have minimized the number of move-in.
Put those two factors together and combine it with something like a ban on big trucking and suddenly, buying cheap fixer-upper homes throughout Greenmont, and especially anything near Brockway, might suddenly become a much more appealing proposition. The potential is there. It just needs a push.
Of course, a ban on trucking might do nothing, save reduce the noise and the wear-and-tear on existing infrastructure. That wouldn’t be the worst result in the world. But if there is a chance for a significant revitalization of neighborhoods closest to town - if there is a real change for the sort of change that might not make old-timers clench their dentures - maybe taking the leap is worth it.
We now have exactly 300 Tumblr followers and 800 Twitter followers. This is extremely unexpected given what we started with, which was zero, in both cases, although we should probably note that everybody starts with zero.
Anyway, thanks for reading, liking, and sharing. That’s very nice of all of you. Except you Steve. Ugh.