Archive for the ‘bicycle/bicycling/bicyclist’ Category

THE Unreasonable Man: Tim Wong

Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

A very dear friend recently died. For 25 years we were brothers in bikes, water & energy conservation, anti-consumerism and so much else involved in community building.  Below was my contribution to his Celebration of Life last weekend (this is the disco version; my talk was a much more condensed version). I hope to add further posts about all things Wong over the next few weeks. -MB

Tim was THE DEFINITION of The Unreasonable Man. As George Bernard Shaw said, “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.”

Progress in Madison toward a better biking future, a more energy sustainable future, a more water efficient future happened in great measure because of Tim and his unreasonable ways.

And the thing is, people hated him for it. But the way some of us saw it, the more people hated him, the more we knew he was on the right track.

Circa 1980, this unreasonable headline blared across the top of the front page of one of his many underground newspapers (a succession of which, he was routinely booted off of, btw): “$5 a Gallon and a Pound of Sugar in Every Gas Tank!”

And the fight against the deathmobile was on. But it was, of course, on before that.

Not long after high school (ca 1860?!), Tim joined in the defense of a minority neighborhood in Washington DC. It was the beginning of Tim vs. the highwaymen. That fight never abated for the entirety of his life. The DC highway fight was moral combat against environmental racism even before there was a term for it. The middle class black neighborhood that was slated for the bulldozer fought back. Tim joined that fight. They won. That neighborhood is still healthy & happy. Compare to the fates of once-successful minority neighborhoods across the country that went under the bulldozers. From Chicago’s Bronzeville to vast swathes of St. Louis, now they are just husks of their former selves.

Tim was in the thick of the fight to unshackle Madison’s minority neighborhoods from their highway entombement. An early 90s example: The Williamsburg Way/Beltline underpass that would have eased highway segregation was fought by the racists on the one side of the highway. Tim was on the other. He was in the thick of the fight to build the underpass and thereby push the all-neighborhood connectivity forward. Another example: The Beltline overpass was denounced by the aristocrats over in the Dudgeon-Monroe neighborhood on the grounds that “those people” would sneak into their backyards and rape their daughters; their property values would crater. Tim pushed for the overpass and for all-neighborhood connectivity there too. It was built. Crime is still negligible in the surrounding neighborhoods. Property values have soared. Hmmm.

At no point could Tim be construed as a ‘leader’ in any given fight. That would be anathema to him. But he was always there. Providing spine, bombast, data crunching, analysis, and snark. Basically, he was the villager that needed to be destroyed in order for the highwaymen to keep “saving” our villages from traffic. Saving us always meant more traffic, of course.

And they did keep trying to destroy him. At one point, he was the chair of the city’s ped-bike subcommittee. The highwaymen & others tried every strategem possible to shut him down. But they just couldn’t. So they did the midwest nice thing, and did away with the committee altogether.

When he was on the Transit & Parking Commission, he used the city’s own data to show how awfully they were managing Madison Metro’s resources. This really pissed off the powers. Eventually Mayor Pave summarily threw him off of the commission for the crime of analyzing data.

I think the apotheosis of all things Tim came through our neighborhood’s plan, The Schenk-Atwood-Darbo-Worthington-Starkweather Plan of 2000. They made the “mistake” of making him an official appointee. A mistake because he just wouldn’t act at all like an official power broker (as all too often happens with people in appointed positions). It soon became apparent that Tim was not about to accept the boiler plate pro-car neighborhood plan that the Planners wanted to shove down our throats. But what made this the pinnacle of Tim’s power was not Tim’s POWER. He was more about just getting the ideas out there. Bombastically, YES. But he was about putting the onus on others to follow their own consciences to just do the right thing. Vote their own true consciences. The problem is, most people, once in power, even low level power like a little neighborhood committee, believe that it is their duty to submit to powers above them, to the detriment of ethics, morality, just doing the right thing. In most activist endeavors, victories are scarce. But it was different on this committee. It was made up of others who were dedicated to doing the right thing, powers be damned. And almost all could hear past Tim’s bombast and understand that what he was ultimately pushing for was really just a more civilized community and sustainable environment. Every traffic calming measure was a blow for civilization. Every bikeway, another push for the people. In militating against zoning and parking regulations that strangled our neighborhood business district, Tim and the whole committee made this neighborhood the cool place it is today. But the point was, it was the whole committee. That was where Tim was most comfortable: when ordinary citizens banded together as co-equals to push for the good & the just. If someone had made Tim King of the World, he wouldn’t have liked it. Remember his standard salutation: SLAY A LEADER!!!! If he were designated a leader, he would have just killed himself instead of being boss! The most natural order for a dedicated anarchist like Tim: A united front of co-equal citizens working in the trenches together.

Neighborhood was Tim’s laboratory for doing the right thing, for a more sustainable future, a more just future. He never had that liberal angst about other places being “denied” because of our efforts. His idea was that our neighborhood could serve as an exemplary beacon for doing the right thing. Indeed, once our neighborhood plan started making its way through the city committees, alders started asking the planners why their neighborhoods couldn’t have the same pro-community things. The green eyed monster worked for good! And here is what started happening: the zoning regulations that strangled cool neighborhood business districts started getting suspended. Our older hoods started to flourish (and how many of Tim’s beloved micro-brewpubs sprouted because of it?!!!). Eventually, thanks to the successful example of Tim’s collective efforts with his neighborhood, the entire zoning code was scrapped in favor of zoning that allows neighborhoods to look like our old hoods built before the dominance of the deathmobile. Mayor Pave & his powerful sycophants could never understand what was happening over here, but it was Tim and co-equal cohorts that got the ball rolling and transformed this city from a boring highway to the suburbs into the cool place it is now.

His life’s way was a) read everything there is to read about a subject, b) process it through a moral lense (is it good for lowering our pollution output? Is it good for community? Does it reduce the need for engineered bossiness (or any bossiness)? c) to get the truth out there, d) let people follow their own consciences once they have this information. No bossiness allowed. Bombast, yes, bossiness, no. The problem, of course, was that most people couldn’t hear the truth for the bombast. Some of us loved the bombast as much as the underlying truth. Because the bombast was just a wayfinding sign to the truth.

Tim is perhaps best known for his bike advocacy. But his activism went well beyond. In my google perusals I even found a comment Tim left for the Securities & Exchange Commission, excoriating them for some random de-regulation of the banksters. One of his more memorable fights for me is one that probably only 3 people know about: Water conservation policy.

As Dan Melton, former president of the Schenk-Atwood-Starkweather-Yahara Neighborhood Assn., said in an email around the time of Tim’s death:

Here’s a little “resume” Tim put together, in 2011 (sent at 1:50 AM–one of his favored times to send email).

Of all his many civic activities, one I’d like to call attention to — because not many got to see it — was Tim’s vital involvement in 2011 in the Madison Water Utility’s East Side Water Supply Citizen Advisory Panel (ESWS CAP). It was grueling work, important work — and, frankly, I wasn’t sure Tim was up to it. Boy, WAS he. Former City Engineer Larry Nelson was the eminence grise on the ESWS CAP. Larry knew everything–about everything. If you wanted to challenge Larry, you had to know your stuff–inside-out. Tim did. Tim was the ONLY citizen on the ESWS CAP who would directly challenge Larry. Tim didn’t just spout slogans, he KNEW his printouts. I’m not sure how he did it but Tim would go printout to printout with Larry. Tim made some important points to nudge the City Water Utility towards more conservation–and less willy-nilly well-building. Tim pushed Madison to come up with a water rate structure that would “punish property owners for over-watering their pesticide grass”–(‘their pesticide grass,’ a typical Tim flourish). Tim and Dan Moser (who know lives in NYC) worked hard with Larry to craft a Conservation Advisory statement. Tim suspected the ESWS CAP was “sort of window dressing more than anything” but he was willing to swallow his doubts, and put in the work, work that no one else was willing to do, to help nudge the Water Utility towards more conservation.

From bikes, to water, to people, He was the true Renaissance Man of Activism.

But as with those Renaissance greats of yore, Gallileo, Dante – jailed, run out of town– Tim pissed off just about everyone he came into contact with, most especially the powerful, the sycophants & suckups, the propriety obsessives, the moral peacocks. The snowflakes on every listserv he was on wanted him to drink hemlock. Listmarms were left clutching pearls at Tim’s every e-utterance. For those with a less pinched view of the world, we could listen past his bombast and actually hear the truth of what he was saying. Deathmobile? Well, yeah, it’s the #1 killer of all people ages 4-44. What else you gonna call it? Pesticide grass? Well, why else would suburban lawns look like astroturf?

Tim was very much the community’s moral compass. I will so very much miss him.

To close with another George Bernard Shaw, so channeling Tim:

“I hear you say “Why?” Always “Why?” You see things; and you say “Why?” But I dream things that never were; and I say “Why not?”

 

Vote TODAY! Marilyn Townsend’s Most Excellent Response for Circuit Court Judge

Tuesday, April 4th, 2017

Judge Townsend sent a very prompt reply to my questionnaire. Despite my generally obsessive email monitoring, I somehow missed it (I think it got hung up in the intertubes for a while, then appeared after a couple of days–it’s been known to happen!). My most sincere apologies to Judge Townsend and her campaign. Her response is below. I don’t know either candidate at all. (Still nothing that I can find from Ms. Karofsky.) But for whatever it is worth, in my years of doing candidate questionnaires (20+), I have never gotten such a forthright set of answers. Ever. Notable especially in a judicial race.

I’ll be voting for her.

-Mike

———- Forwarded message ———-
From: Judge Marilyn Townsend <campaign@judgetownsendforcircuitcourt.com>
Date: Thursday, March 30, 2017
Subject: Questions: The First Amendment, Equal Protection, The Criminalization of Bicycling
To: “Michael D. Barrett” 

Mike and Pam:

I had left a voicemail message this afternoon, but this is a follow up email. Before leaving my law office for a couple of events, I want to take a moment to respond in general to your questions.

    I want to be a Circuit Court Judge to continue the work I have done as a Union and Civil Rights Lawyer for 30 years, and as a sitting Municipal Court Judge for five years, and that is help ensure that individuals, including people of color, the underrepresented and the poor get a fair shake in the Court system. The disparity in incarceration rates for African Americans in particular is a disgrace and I am an advocate for alternatives to charging and alternative to incarceration when the situation allows for it.

    We are at a critical juncture in Dane County Circuit Court when rights and liberties are being rolled back by this administration and we have an Attorney General who is criminalizing conduct that used to be treated with civil penalties. Brad Schimel is increasing the conduct for which persons are criminally charged. For example, recently, an African American from Milwaukee was brought to Dane County Criminal Court where Schimel’s office charged him with a crime for allegedly receiving unemployment benefits fraudulently – even though he had already paid the benefits back, with penalties, and had expressed remorse.  Now that man has a criminal record – for the first time. In my opinion, this does not help the community but rather perpetuates the issue of racial disparity, and the challenges faced in being hired by those with criminal records.

    I applaud the efforts of Dane County Board of Supervisors Chair Sharon Corrigan and Paul Rusk, Chair of the Public Protection and Judiciary Committee under whose leadership resulted in studies of the criminal justtice system and detailed recommendations which emphasize alternatives to charging, alternatives to incarceration, and the importance of addressing mental illness and alcoholism which often times is the reason for an individual’s involvement in the Court.

    I am endorsed by both Sharon Corrigan and Paul Rusk who recognize my understanding and commitment to addressing the problems of racial injustice based on my thirty years of work in this area. I would say further that I am the only candidate in this race that has a record of standing up to the government and big agencies. My case pending in front of the Wisconsin Supreme Court deals with a Scott Walker law that  was intentionally written to deny workers unemployment benefits and was never meant to apply to my hard-working, conscientous client after she was discharged from Walgreens for making just 8 cash handling errors out of over 80,000 transactions. (See oral argument on Wisconsin Eye — Nov. 10, 2016, Operton v. LIRC and Walgreens).

    Attached is one of my Decisions as a Municipal Court Judge, in which I ruled that the Defendant’s 4th Amendment Rights were violated. The individual was stopped for a rolling stop at 3:30 in the morning and was held by the officer for 20 minutes while they called in the k-9 unit to sniff for drugs. I ruled that it was an unreasonable search and seizure and 4 months later the U.S. Supreme Court came to a similar conclusion with a much short time of hold.

    I am endorsed by many attorneys who have like me have fought for the rights of individuals under the constitution including Patricia Hammel and Jeff Scott Olson. (see endorsements on my website, judgetownsendforcircuitcourt.com.

    As a practicing lawyer and a municipal court judge I continue to attend seminars which inform me concerning new laws, and other matters of concern to me as a practicing lawyer and a Municipal Court Judge. For example, given your concern regarding bicyclists I would note that upon being elected Municipal Court Judge, I immediately attended a course put on by the City of Madison, and which is taught by Arthur Ross, Pedestrian-Bicycle Coordinator, on the rights and responsibilities of bicyclists. It was a three hour course and I found it to be one of the most informative seminars I have been a part of and I have relied on it many times while on the bench.

Thank you for your questions.  My law office number is [608-XXX-XXXX] if you wish to discuss further.  Marilyn

Dane County Circuit Court Judge Race: Karofsky v Townsend

Thursday, March 30th, 2017

VOTE APRIL 4! 

Below is a questionnaire I recently sent to the judicial candidates on the ballot. 

***

Dear Candidates for Dane County Circuit Court Judge,
We are in the process of making decisions about the upcoming elections for Dane County Circuit Court Judge. In the past we have been quite generous with our work and resources on campaigns for erstwhile good candidates. We vote in every spring election, as do our numerous friends and acquaintances. Unfortunately, most of those we have supported have gone on to betray the very ideals they campaigned for in very fundamental ways, so we hope you might understand that we wish to have your positions stated clearly before you take office.

1. If you become a Dane County judge, do you intend to uphold, defend and interpret the Constitution of the United States of America *as it is written* or will you merely follow the interpretation handed down over recent decades by increasingly reactionary superior court judges?

2.a. In light of the above, what will the following sentence mean to you when peaceable protesters, and ‘petitioners of government for redress of grievance,’ are hauled into your court (as they routinely are in Dane County) for alleged “crimes” of, well, protesting and petitioning for redress of grievance?

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

2. b. Specifically, does “no” mean “no”?

3. Bicycling Outlawed: Through a number of legal perversions, Dane County prosecutors and judges have effectively outlawed bicycling in Dane County. Through routine abuse of the vaguely worded Disorderly Conduct statute, for over 25 years a succession of Dane County prosecutors–rising then to circuit court judgeships and now into the appellate level–have pursued cyclists in a most vindictive manner. Bicycling victims of murderous motorized road rage have been repeatedly prosecuted by current and past Dane County district attorneys for the crime of, well, bicycling. This is happening despite the fact that:

-the offending drivers involved in *all* of these cases have a long history of criminality, violence and reckless driving while the cyclist invariably is a professional (or in training) with no criminal–or even civil– record whatsoever (and are thus easily intimidated into bogus pleas).
-despite the fact that State, Dane County and City of Madison policy is to promote bicycling. See the City of Madison Platinum Bicycle Plan here (PDF): https://www.cityofmadison.com/trafficEngineering/documents/PlatinumAdopted040808sm.pdf).
and,
-despite the fact that the bicycle is defined as a legal vehicle by state statutes.
-For more on the Dane County prosecutor’s routine re-victimization of victims of automotive road violence, Google “Ozanne’s Crackdealer” or “Blanchard’s Beloit Crackdealer” Or just go to:
http://www.urbanthoreau.com/blog/?p=2095

*Will you end the vindictive prosecutions of bicyclists?*

4. Will you educate yourself about the rights and responsibilities of bicyclists in this state by attending a Wisconsin Department of Transportation “Enforcement for Bicycle Safety” seminar within the first six months of your swearing in?Information can be found here:
http://www.dot.wisconsin.gov/safety/vehicle/bicycle/education.htm#law-enforcement
(There is also a version of this course specifically for judges and prosecutors.) Will you properly instruct juries as to the legal standing of bicyclists and, furthermore, instruct that the societal bias–fully infecting local law enforcement and prosecutorial agencies–in favor of the driver/against the cyclist has no role in a court of law? And will you have the courage to throw out cases arising from the current atmosphere of prosecutorial vindictiveness toward cyclists?

5. Equal Protection:

The Dane County “Justice” system routinely charges, prosecutes, and imprisons black men at SIX times the rate of white men with similar prior records, for similar crimes. By allowing these disproportionate numbers of prosecutions to even appear in court, the Dane County judiciary has made Dane County an international embarrassment of injustice. What will you do to ensure that justice is administered in a fair and equitable manner consistent with the 14th Amendment (and by extension the 15th Amendment given the disproportionate disenfranchisement through disproportionate felony convictions) of the United States Constitution?

I have copied this query to several other Dane County residents who are interested in justice in Dane County. This will include a large group of cyclists. And they vote.

If you use the old cop-out of “I don’t address specific cases,” We will call you out on it. Because we are not asking about your opinion on specific cases. We are asking about your intentions to uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States of America, the Constitution of the State of Wisconsin and adherence to state statutes–*as they are written*–as cases come before you.

Thank you for your time and your work in your candidacy.

Sincerely,
Michael D. Barrett and Pamela S. Barrett
XXXX XXXX XX
Madison, WI XXXXX
(XXX)XXX-XXXX

Appellate Judge Brian Blanchard’s Community Wrecking Ways

Monday, April 4th, 2016

Hello All,
Below you will find a letter I sent to every non-profit that asked us for $$$ last fall. I cc’d Judge Blanchard (Brian.Blanchard@wicourts.gov) on every one of them (and there were a lot).

To sum up: Please a) vote Tuesday, and b) consider leaving Appellate Judge Brian Blanchard’s ballot line blank. Yes, even though he is the lone candidate. Don’t vote for him. He took the side of the crack dealer who ran me off the road and nearly killed me. Feel free to forward/facecake/whatever. Maybe this will make it on Whaddya Know, too!

Just don’t vote Blanchard.

-Mike
***

Dear Ms/Mr. XXXX,

First, a big thank you to you all at [Hardworking Non-profit X] for all the great work over the years in advocating for [The Good X]. We are in receipt of your fundraising letter from last fall. Again, thank you. We are proud to have been able to contribute generously in the past (back to the 90s!), because we so very appreciate your work. But we feel that we owe you an explanation as to why the Barrett household’s giving has gone down precipitously.

Unfortunately, in 2010 I (Mike) was run off the road by–now get this!–a crack dealer from Beloit, while riding my bike. Though I survived (barely), it ended up having a terrible impact on our ability to financially contribute to the good causes you so perfectly represent. I was on a bike route, riding in a completely legal manner. I reported the assault to the van’s owner (the state), thinking it was the right thing to do. Instead, the state brought criminal disorderly conduct charges against *me*.

Brian Blanchard, then-DA, brought the charges. During the prosecution, he won an election to Appellate Judge. Now he is running for a second term and is on the ballot Tuesday.

Mr. Blanchard’s prosecution degenerated into a vindictive persecution. Details can be found here: http://www.urbanthoreau.com/blog/?p=2095

The highlights are this:
-The entirety of my alleged crime was caught on government-owned security cameras. Brian Blanchard and his successor suppressed the video despite our immediate demands for it–and his legal obligation to provide it under Wisconsin statutes.
-Through a series of Open Records requests–and witness interviews by a costly investigator we were forced to hire–we found that at least one of the witness statements was fabricated. Either the Capitol Police or Mr. Blanchard’s office just made up a statement. (We have yet to ascertain which because the Capitol Police department continues to deny my Open Records requests.)
-The crack dealer (no dog-whistling here; this person was as white as white gets) had multiple felony drug dealing convictions and a horrific driving record. Just a few months before almost killing me (and admitting to it), this person T-boned another vehicle with another state van totaling both vehicles, and sending a passenger to the emergency room.
-We fought the DA all the way to trial. This is something most people in my situation never do, often for lack of financial resources, not wanting to commit the available resources, or fear of erroneously getting convicted, or all of the above.
-After months of legal time and many, many thousands in legal and other costs, the District Attorney had to admit before a judge, in writing and in open court, that no crime was committed. But the financial carnage was done.
-The DA’s office had to admit that my “offense” was my constitutionally-protected speech: writing a letter. I petitioned my government for a redress of grievances. (You can see the letter at the end of the blog post linked above).
-It is likely the prosecution was vindictively motivated by my very public criticism of his malicious prosecutorial record toward other cyclists back in the 90s.

In sum, the Barrett family had to dig deep into retirement savings to defend against Mr. Blanchard and his crack dealer. We are still playing catch up to ensure a stable financial life in retirement. Moreover, we now realize that we must financially gird ourselves against further vindictive prosecutions. We have had to throttle back our charitable giving commensurately. And we are sorry for this state of affairs, because we so admire your work. Indeed, it is a pity that Mr. Blanchard and his successor see their role as tearing down community.

We are aware that mine is but one tiny case among thousands. Mistakes happen, right? But it is of a pattern. Prior to my criticism when he first ran for DA (late-90s), Mr. Blanchard was #2 in a DA’s office that routinely went after law-abiding cyclists who came under attack from violent motorists (more in the link above).

More saliently, during his time as #1 at the DA’s office (late-90s through late 2000s), he racked up one of the worst race disparities in the prosecutorial history of the country–outpacing even Mississippi. Yes, worse than Mississippi. Mr. Blanchard *is* responsible for the giant run-up in charging and convicting minorities in Dane County, far beyond actual proportion of crime committed. From the Race to Equity Report (http://racetoequity.net/), we know that during his tenure as a prosecutor, a black person was six times more likely to be charged, convicted and imprisoned than a white person arrested for the same alleged crime and with the same previous record.

It is doubtful that he has changed his M.O. as a judge. Indeed, the numbers coming out of Dane County’s court system–all the way through the appellate process–attest to a continued persecution-through-vindictive-prosecution of minorities out of all proportion.

Mr. Blanchard is on tomorrow’s ballot unopposed. Of course, it is important to go to the polls. Nonetheless, for all of the reasons above, we strongly suggest that in tomorrow’s election, justice-minded people leave his ballot line blank. This could create an opening for a more fair-minded judge in the future. Why? Because potential challengers do vet incumbents based on how strong their previous showing was. Blank ballot lines do have power.

Anyway, again thank you so much for your work. I hope this helps explain why our civic financial involvement has–quite sadly–been dampened over the last several years.

And feel free to forward this on to anyone (board members, etc.) who might find this of interest.

Sincerely,

Mike & XXX Barrett
XXX XXX
Madison, WI 537XX

p.s. While we so appreciate your appeal letters, which are a gift in & of themselves, if you need to save money on postage, we won’t feel insulted if we are cut from the mailing list. It will be a good long while before we recover financially.

Isthmus: “Citizen: The Real Reason for Atwood Avenue’s Renaissance”

Saturday, November 1st, 2014
Just published at Isthmus.com….
***
Citizen: The real reason for Atwood Avenue’s renaissance
Eliminating parking requirements for small storefronts buoyed business growth

Michael Barrett on Saturday 11/01/2014 10:23 am

“Destination: Atwood Avenue” was a nice little promo piece inIsthmus that should definitely be featured in the Greater Madison Convention and Visitor’s Bureau pamphlets. It lacked, however, a good investigative question: Why has Atwood seen such a revival?

Yes, yes, we are lucky to have so many creative entrepreneurs who have worked hard to make their businesses successful on this once run-down thoroughfare; good on them, and thanks. And yes, the the transition of the Barrymore Theatre from adult movie theater to hip venue was a signal event. But it is a tired old story, because there it sat for nearly 20 years, a lonely beacon, with neighbors of empty storefronts and no resurgence in sight.

The true linchpin of the revitalization of Atwood: city parking policy. Had it not been for the informed, critical activism of a few people in the neighborhood, not one of the hip enterprises that have grown up on Atwood in the last 14 years — the era of sustainable and rapid resurgence — could have ever happened on Atwood. Why? Because the city prohibited it through parking policy.

Until the early 2000s, suburban parking requirements were imposed on dense, parking-light urban business districts such as Atwood. It was a death warrant.

Creativity and entrepreneurship were throttled. Coffee shops were told to brew in strip malls. Boutique beers, ordered to industrial parks. Eclectic restaurants, stymied.

Here’s how it worked: The city required that there be an off-street parking space for every table for two, no exceptions. This meant no fun. No funky. No creative. No nothing.

This went on for decades. As older enterprises faded, the city parking bosses ensured that no new businesses could move in to keep the district vital. It wasn’t the mall that killed Atwood, it was public policy.

By 1999, a (very) small group of visionary citizens had had quite enough of this. These active alt-transportation agitators worked with verve and persistence, at times getting in the faces of hidebound alders and parking bureaucrats, to put a stop to the desertification of Atwood Avenue. Over the shrill warnings of planners and highwaymen, the citizens who crafted the Schenk-Atwood-Starkweather-Worthington Neighborhood Plan (PDF) of 2000 enshrined a provision that prioritized a walkable business district. To that end, it strongly recommended eliminating parking requirements.

Yes, eliminating parking requirements. Altogether. This was a radical notion up to the mid-aughties, believe it or not.

Once passed, these same citizens started showing up at zoning meetings, plan in hand, demanding that cool businesses be allowed to locate on Atwood sans parking.

Cafe Zoma was the first successful — but hard fought — “exemption” under the new neighborhood plan. It featured zero car parking stalls. That set the precedent for all the coolness that followed. Creative entrepreneurship blossomed, and just keeps blossoming.

Under new city leadership in 2003, Atwood Avenue’s successful elimination of parking requirements was recognized and even incorporated into the new zoning code. There are no longer minimum parking requirements for small storefronts anywhere in the city.
Michael D. Barrett is an energy efficiency and community plan analyst with UrbanThoreau LLC and publishes urbanthoreau.com/blog.

How I Biked. And Walked.

Tuesday, August 5th, 2014

Under Penalty of Death, Bicycling is now a crime in District Attorney Ismael Ozanne’s Dane County. Now He Wants to Take It Statewide.

By Michael D. Barrett

JRA. Just Riding Along. That’s bike shop lingo for what you were doing just before getting creamed by a road rager wielding a car.

And I was all about JRA on a bright sunny summer day in June of 2010, just before being assaulted by a Beloit crack dealer wielding a van: I was just riding along. Down King Street to be exact. Moments before the assault, the routine occurred: I got caught by the light at East Wilson. No worries & no hurry, I was on my bike and it was a beautiful day in Madison, Wisconsin, USA, Planet Earth. But not for long.

The light changed to green. Then it began. Your standard-issue, road-rage-induced tailgating.* Mere inches from my rear wheel. Maybe closer. It was my close encounter with a notorious Beloit crackhead, it turned out, determined to drive me down.

By the time I realized what was happening, I was up to speed (the speed limit), heading down East Wilson Street, a designated bike route. Though there was plenty of passing room, with an entirely open left lane on this four-lane road specially designed for speeders, the crackhead bore down on me and left me with nowhere to go but a) into the rear bumpers of parked cars or b) under the wheels of 5,000 pounds of poorly controlled, maliciously guided, speeding steel. That I continued to survive apparently sent the driver into new heights of rage, gunning the engine, pulling alongside me (in the rightmost lane I traveled in), then simultaneously slowing and slamming into me. I barely escaped going under the van’s wheels. (Having that dorky bike mirror on my helmet allowed me to assess the situation quickly and gave me the milliseconds to brace for the impact and maneuver to the least bad position in this life threatening encounter.)

But the crackhead wasn’t done. This deranged individual then drove off to the giant intersection of Nolen/Wilson/Willy/Blair to wait for me to collect myself off of the ground (with traffic backing up behind the van…). The crack dealer-driver proceeded to hurl epithets, vulgarities and threats—and almost got out of the van to assault me but was held back by passengers. That gave me a chance to get the license plate number. It was a state van. I immediately reported the assault to the authorities. According to the subsequent police report, the actions I described here were by & large accurate and in accord with the crack dealer’s story. In other words, the Beloit crackhead’s very actions were intentional, pre-meditated and fully articulated by the driver in a written statement.

It was an assault.

The driver admitted to the whole thing.

The motorized assault, diagrammed.

The motorized assault, diagrammed.

“He wouldn’t get out of our way”

Open records requests subsequently revealed that the vanpool coordinator in the passenger seat was egging the crackhead on.

The motivation for running me off the road? In the words of the drug dealer behind the wheel, “He ran a red light,” and in the words of both the crack dealer-driver and the van coordinator, “He wouldn’t get out of our way.” If you ride a bike, or walk, or drive cautiously, think hard about that: He. Wouldn’t. Get. Out. Of. Our. Way.

For existing, as a cyclist, on a public roadway, you are marked for death.

King & Wilson streets are a designated bike route. I was traveling in a perfectly legal manner, in the far right hand lane of a road with plenty of passing space. An entire, wide open lane, in fact. That I rode in a manner entirely in accordance with state statutes was attested to by the state’s ped/bike coordinator as well as the city’s ped/bike coordinator.

Nonetheless, for not ‘getting out of the Beloit crackhead’s way,’ I was charged with a crime. A crime that I reported. An assault that the perpetrator attempted to cover up. The alleged crime? Disorderly Conduct. According to the crack dealer-driver I was disorderly as I was driven off the road. Indeed.

District Attorney Ismael Ozanne deputized the crack dealer to sanitize our streets of a bicyclist’s life. My life.

The not-so-bike-friendly bike route. The assault started here.

The not-so-bike-friendly bike route. The assault started here.

2010-08-16 12.12.03

Mr. Ozanne: Which parked car was I supposed to crash into for the Beloit drug dealer’s great big hurry?

 

The crackdealer slammed into me right in front of this sign. What part of "yield" does Ozanne not understand?

The crackdealer tried to finish me off right in front of this sign. What part of “yield” don’t you understand, Mr. Ozanne?

Ozanne Goes to Bat for the Crack Dealer

The crack dealer—Ozanne’s appointed judge, jury, and executioner—had spent a lifetime racking up multiple drug distribution felonies, OWI, license revocation, driving on a revoked license, T-boning another vehicle while driving a state van in a crash which resulted in two totaled vehicles and a passenger with critical injuries sent to the emergency room (just months before having a go at me)….. It was a horrifically violent record that goes on & on.** And this person is now in charge of our roadways.

And the red light? Apparently now an offense punishable by instantaneous death. In Ozanne’s legal mind, that is. And the red light running? It only occurred in the fried brain of the Beloit crack dealer. I didn’t run the light. Had I run it, I would have been long gone and there would have been no opportunity for the drug dealer’s assault. (And now you know why so many cyclists do run reds: Conflict avoidance.) Indeed, in an emailed statement, the van coordinator in the passenger seat confirmed that I waited for the green. Furthermore, the entirety of the scene was captured on government-owned security video. The alleged red light running was just one of the many lies we caught the Beloit crack dealer in.

Indeed, the entirety of my alleged “crime”*** was captured on government owned security cameras. My lawyers demanded it as evidence as soon as I was charged. The Capitol Police (the agency which charged me) and Ismael Ozanne maliciously suppressed it. Why? Because the only crime was that committed by their crack dealer. Certainly not by me. And the suppressed video wouldn’t have looked good before a jury.

Furthermore, through a series of open record requests and a witness interview, we were even able to determine that one of the van passenger’s purported statements was fabricated. We haven’t yet been able to determine whether it was the Capitol Cops or Ozanne who concocted the emailed statement. But it was not written by the person it was purported to have been written by. But both Ozanne and the DOA continue to stonewall, refusing to provide source/header data, or the name of who concocted it, despite legal open records requests to do so. (Remember, these are the same people—Capitol Cops and Ismael Ozanne—who, just a few months later would, respectively, brutalize peaceable protesters—grad students to grannies—at the Capitol and then proudly prosecute & convict them for the “crime” of exercising their First Amendment rights.)

My case was so egregious that even the Capitol cop who originally charged me was too embarrassed to show up for trial. He begged off! Ozanne continued the prosecution anyway. The prosecution was starting to look more like a persecution.

At the opening of the trial, Ozanne’s administration had to admit, before a judge and in writing, that this case was about one & only one thing: words. Words that apparently defamed the tender sensibilities of his Beloit crack dealer. He simply had no crime to prove. So there was no crime to prosecute. (Well, no crime by me anyway. The Beloit crackhead got off scot-free, despite admitting to attacking me with the state-owned vehicle.)

Yes, that’s right. In order to resolve the case, Ozanne had to completely change the charge. I was convicted of Defamation, a civil offense (i.e., not criminal). No fine & no time. Who knew such a law even existed in the Land of the Free, Home of the First Amendment? “Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of speech….”? Apparently “no” does not mean “no” in Ozanne’s Wisconsin, USA. So there it was. Defamation. With no fine & no time, it’s something I’d plead to any and every day. It’s what I do. I routinely denounce people in power who abuse power. Between my blog, editorial & letter writing campaigns and activism on various neighborhood and alt-transportation listservs, I’ve kept the spotlight on abusers of power for many years. From presidents & governors to state-approved drug dealers homicidally wielding 5000 lbs of speeding steel….They all get denounced by my words.

And my words were the last shreds of evidence remaining for Ozanne to cling to as his criminal case crumbled.

According to Ozanne, the letter I wrote to the authorities detailing the assault offended the Beloit crackhead (no matter that I never sent that or any other communication to his dope dealer; no matter that the First Amendment of both the US and Wisconsin constitutions protect “…petition[ing] the Government for a redress of grievances.”). He also said I made a screwy face that upset the drug dealer’s refined social graces. It was an open & shut case.

Whistleblowing is now a prosecutable offense.

It was a vindictive prosecution in the extreme. The prosecution began as an effort to defend the state’s vanpool management from the embarrassment and the liability of their crack dealer-driver. (Conveniently, the DOA is over the vanpool fleet, the state risk managers and the Capitol Cops, all of whom dutifully did their worst; most notably, story coordination, evidence fabrication and suppression.) Eventually, management did come to recognize the continuing danger to the vanpool fleet itself; they removed the Beloit crack dealer as a driver in the lead up to trial. (This was my first major victory in the battle against Ozanne and his Capitol henchmen.) They also admitted that I inflicted no damage to the van, contrary to the Beloit crackhead’s claims.****

The face that defamed the tender sensibilities of the Beloit crack dealer.

The face that defamed the tender sensibilities of Ozanne’s Beloit crack dealer.

A Dumb on Dumber Prosecution: Institutionalized Vindictiveness

The case also played into the Office of the Dane County District Attorney’s long-standing ignorance-based vindictiveness toward Madison cyclists (details below). This antipathy stretches back to the early-90s, under the reign of DA William Foust (now chief judge of the Dane County Circuit Court). Brian Blanchard was Foust’s right-hand-man; now an appellate court judge. Ozanne was Blanchard’s protégé. Thus, the antipathy has been institutionalized through successive administrations, over the course of decades. Worse, with successive DAs routinely being elevated to judge at all levels of the court system, the nastiness toward cyclists is now hard-baked into the entirety of the Dane County justice system. Don’t expect any unjust decisions against cyclists to get reversed on appeal.

In open records requests to both Dane DA and Wisconsin Dept. of Transportation, I came to find out that not one Dane Co. DA or Assistant DA or judge has ever been trained in the state’s Enforcement for Bicycle Safety (or equivalent). EBS is a continuing education course that’s even been specially tailored for prosecutors and judges as well as cops. And yet, in this, one of the top biking cities in the country, ignorance about the rules of the road reigns supreme among our city’s, county’s and state’s law enforcers and judges. During the prosecution, Ozanne and his representatives’ ignorance of state statutes pertaining basic rules of the road was appalling. Not one Capitol Cop has ever been trained either.

It was a dumb on dumber prosecution.

Traffic law was against them; my lawyers obliterated them on that. So Ozanne’s people had to just make it up as they went along. The best law for legislating on the fly is Disorderly Conduct—a catch-all law, no legislature required. It’s an all-purpose work-around of the First Amendment. If you lose on one critical point, you make up another.

And Ozanne’s people worked around our basic legal guarantees quite creatively, if clumsily. Bicycling is clearly legal and well protected under state statutes in Chapter 346 (Rules of the Road). But when JRA offends a cop, a prosecutor, or their favorite drug dealer, bicycling can be made illegal on a whim just by hysterically shrieking ‘disorderly.’ And shriek they did.

Contesting a disorderly conduct charge is nigh on to impossible given its wording. Under the rubric of “otherwise disorderly conduct” contained in the statute [947.01 (1)], the crime of disorderly conduct can include anything—including riding a bike, a scream in the milliseconds before death (if you survive an attempted homicidal assault), even breathing (it’s in the case law!). Anything! Anything that offends anyone, including Beloit crack dealers.*****

Dane County’s DA’s office is notorious for taking up these cases on behalf of violent motorists. Long before the assault on me, several of us had written extensively about Dane County’s vindictiveness toward cyclists. Back in the 1990s the Bikies Listserv and the Spoke’n Word (Bike Transportation Alliance’s newsletter at the time) were hot with several cases on the topic. We even made traffic justice for bicyclists and pedestrians a campaign issue. In 1997 when Brian Blanchard first ran for DA we excoriated him for his office’s vindictiveness toward cyclists (he had been a long time, senior Assistant DA). We even got him to acknowledge the problem. But once in office, despite promising to get his prosecutors trained up in Enforcement for Bicycle Safety, he did nothing. Not one person in the DA’s office has ever been trained in bicycle safety law. In one of his last acts in office as DA (before going on to become an appellate judge) he got his revenge by bringing the case against me. And his legacy continues as one of his protégés, Ismael Ozanne, carried out the spectacularly failed criminal prosecution against me.

Clearly, there won’t be justice for cyclists at any level of court in Dane County.

Manufacturing Criminals Out of Law-Abiding Bicyclists

My case followed the standard progression for these State v. Bicyclist cases which goes something like this: The suburban motorist/perp gets a sympathetic hearing from a cop who lives in the suburbs and who empathizes with the motorist’s plight; the plight of having to share the road with others. (This is the problem with having cops from outside of our community policing our streets: they often do not share our ideals, values or ethics.)

The type behind the wheel is always the same: long record of impaired driving, long lists of moving violations, reckless driving, drug dealing, assaults, etc. Violence—motorized and otherwise—is their norm. And the cops are happy to use them to maximum effect against us evil cityfolk on two wheels.

The cyclist, on the other hand, invariably has a clean record, a professional career (or attending university-level schooling toward that end) and otherwise just a good citizen. The DA then sees an easy mark; a middle class citizen with a good job and a clean record. That is to say, someone who cannot afford a criminal conviction on their record. It’s a formula for an easy disorderly conduct conviction. Scalps as it were. Manufacturing new convictions from the raw material of upstanding citizenry. In the end, the law abiding cyclist ends up thankful for the chance to plead guilty to civil disorderly conduct, knowing that a criminal conviction would be career ending.

The DA and his minions know this weakness; they use it to maximum advantage. Many of our county supervisors have long been critical of the DA’s habitual over-charging (charging as a crime what should be no more than a ticket, or that shouldn’t be charged at all). It is unsurprising that Ozanne couldn’t even get half of the Dane County supervisors–the people who sign his paycheck–on his campaign endorsement list.

Among the cases I have tracked:

  • Circa 1996 a beloved Stoughton teacher (no record whatsoever) went down for the crime of getting run off the road and then blocking punches with his face (yes, as is the usual MO, the motorist is never happy with just having run the cyclist off the road; if the cyclist is still alive, the motorist has got to finish the cyclist off with bare hands.) The peaceable teacher eventually pleaded to civil disorderly. Following the formula, the violent motorist got off scot-free. DA Foust gloated.
  • An MD (no adverse legal record whatsoever) was threatened by an Assistant DA (again, back in the Foust days) with a felony for, yup, having been run off the road, then assaulted (following formula) by the motorist, bodily (formula). The good doctor’s alleged crime? While lying in a ditch after getting run off the road, he took off his bike shoe to ward off the attacking motorist who had gotten out of the car to attack him further (formula). The bike shoe was adjudged to have been a deadly weapon—a felony. The case was ultimately never brought; just threatened. But the message was clear: another green light to motorists that cyclists are fair game and it’s always open season. The motorist, of course, was never charged.
  • Then there was the case of the young professional, a racing cyclist who was run off the road while on a peaceable training ride, and charged with…you guessed it…criminal disorderly conduct. He pleaded to civil disorderly. Motorist got off scot-free. All following formula.
  • Another formulaic attack involved a legislative aide riding down the same roadway I was attacked on (East Wilson). First came the same homicidal tailgating. When the cyclist escaped the rage by taking the bike path, the raging driver sped down parallel neighborhood streets to cut off the cyclist. It happened quickly enough that the cyclist, thinking he had escaped by traveling in the safety of the bike path, became trapped at a cross street. The driver got out of the car and attacked the cyclist. The motorist punched the cyclist several times, causing facial contusions. The cyclist got the license plate number, reported the attack. The cops tracked down the driver who, as per formula, admitted everything. The cops–of the Madison Police Department–then begged the cyclist to not press charges (the motorist was able to elicit sympathy out of the cop by claiming to be sorry for having thrown punches). Needless to say, the homicidal rager got away with it.
  • And on & on.

(I’ll leave aside for the moment the many cyclists three successive DAs have left to rot on the side of the road after getting slaughtered while riding lawfully.)

My case departed from the formula in that I was willing to fight Ozanne and his minions’ ongoing quest to crush cyclists. No other cyclist (that I know of) charged with criminal disorderly conduct has ever taken the case to trial. It was supposed to be a quick & easy case for them. They didn’t expect that I would be willing to commit the resources (apologies to my favorite local non-profits; Ismael Ozanne’s vindictive prosecution sapped the Barrett family’s charitable funds for the next several years), and I have the will to fight vindictive types like Ozanne and his ilk in a court of law. I’ve also got my own business so I don’t have to worry about the threat of The CCAP Reputation Destruction Machine hanging over my head & my career. I was willing to risk going to jail for the three months and whatever else they threw at me. In any case, I wasn’t about to plead to any admission of violence after the drug dealer’s attack on me. Indeed, Ozanne eventually had to admit, in writing and before a judge, that there was no violence (on my part).

Cyclist-Corpse-As-Campaign Prop

Now on to the cyclists Ozanne has left rotting by the side of the road.

Remember the too-tired & too-texting motorist who ran down and killed the woman biking peaceably and lawfully in the bike lane north of Lake Mendota in October of 2012? The driver was going to get away with it, too. And Ozanne was going to just leave the victim dead, by the side of the road. Abandoned by the laws of Wisconsin.

A year & a half passed and no charges were filed.

Then, as an entirely separate matter, and with no mention of that case, I submitted an Open Records Request regarding my old closed case. I also made it clear to Ozanne that my case would be a campaign issue. Very soon thereafter, charges were filed against the texting/tired motorist (my second major victory in the battle against Ozanne). Yay to the charges, but the motivation behind the timing of the prosecution?

Feckless. Venal. Craven. Political ass covering.

Making a dead woman a campaign prop. Disgusting.

A prosecutor truly interested in justice would have filed charges immediately. Immediacy would have sent a crystal clear message to all motorists: that cyclists’ lives will be protected by the law in this county.

And the results of the Open Records Request? In a memo from 2010, Ozanne’s administration admitted that the Beloit crackhead did indeed run me off the road. But no matter, I had to be prosecuted for being—get this!—“King of the Road.”******

Yes. King of the Road. Guilty as charged.

Ozanne, on the other hand? Vindictive. Craven. Venal. Feckless. Next Wisconsin Attorney General?

Smashing Community

On so many fronts Ozanne is militating against our ideals. The entrenched, institutionalized race-disparities carried out by the Dane County District Attorney’s office over the decades have only worsened under Ozanne’s regime. His prosecutorial decisions have made this liberal-minded community an international embarrassment.

He can’t even keep his meager campaign finances in order.

His vindictiveness toward cyclists is yet another affront to a community renowned for its dedication to peaceful, planet-saving ways of getting around.

Do we want Ozanne’s community-crushing mentality to go state-wide?

Think about it next time you are JRA, say, to the polls on August 12.

###

Further explanatory notes:

*Nationally known bike lawyer Bob Mionske has a great article in Bicycling Magazine about the routine-ness of these types of vigilante assaults he calls The BuzzKill. All too often they end up in death. He hypothesizes that many cyclists who get creamed from behind are victims of poorly executed attempts at ‘buzzing’ the cyclist. A game of intimidation gone wrong.

**Before this, my record was unblemished; not so much as a traffic ticket to my name. It is important to note that while the drug dealer pissed away an adulthood frying the brain, partying down in Beloit, I spent the entirety of my college years through my late-twenties getting piss tested routinely, while serving this country, honorably and with distinction, first as a cadet, then in the US Army as a commissioned officer. Afterward, I spent my late-twenties & early-thirties improving my brain in graduate school. Contrast my long-time community involvement with the blackhole that is the crackhead’s repeat offenses against our community. There is a significant amount of research regarding the cocaine brain and its ravaging effects on the pre-frontal cortex, the area of the brain which controls judgment, planning ahead, impulse control, morality and violence inihibition. Once it is gone, it is gone forever.

***Though I was charged with one alleged crime, the list of my alleged criminal actions went on for pages and, by some accounts lasted over 5 days; by another account, over several weeks. They just couldn’t keep their stories straight. One accuser wasn’t even present (on furlough!). Again, the scenes of all of my alleged crimes were under government owned surveillance cameras. Ozanne suppressed all of that video.

****When it became clear that my letter was wending its way through officialdom and the drug dealer’s coverup for the assault would no longer suffice, the Beloit crackhead and van coordinator first denied that there was any damage to the van. When the cops made it clear that the police report would go the drug dealer’s way, the crackhead driver and friends changed their story. Suddenly, there was damage all over the van, allegedly caused by me. Their problem was five-fold: 1) one van rider/witness would not go along with the drug dealer’s story (indeed, left the vanpool shortly thereafter) 2) the drug dealer had been in sole possession of the van for at least one night 3) the entire scene in which I allegedly damaged the van was under government-owned video surveillance, 4) they suppressed the video; and….

5) The prosecution refused to render the van for inspection upon our demand. They also refused to render repair logs. So we tracked down the van ourselves. The “damaged” van was completely undamaged. We took photos of every square inch of it. Ozanne’s people had to admit that there was, in fact, no damage to the van. The vanpool fleet manager (who had helped suppress evidence) even admitted that there was no damage in an email we obtained in a separate open records request. There were no repair logs because there were no repairs to make. The Beloit crackhead lied yet again. Nevertheless, the persecutorial prosecution continued.

*****Remember, Dane County juries are notorious for letting violent motorists off the hook for slaughtering cyclists. Imagine what they would do to a cyclist who survived and stood charged with the crime of bicycling.

******”King of the Road?” Being a man of means by no means, I’ll cop to that any day!

But seriously, after my lawyers crushed Ozanne on the facts (starting with this fact: an 8’6” wide van and a cyclist cannot fit in a 9’6” lane at the same time in the same place), then obliterated his arguments in the law (his representative had no idea bikes were legal users of the road). This prosecutor (a California native, perhaps from Hollywood?) launched into conjecture. Ozanne’s representative told my lawyer that I must be prosecuted because, “He is a likely offender because he is so highly educated.” (That’s some mighty enlightened social science they teach in law school these days! UW professors nota bene: If my measly MS strikes such fear & suspicion into Dane County prosecutors’ hearts, think of what your tenured Ph.D. will do!). Then Ozanne’s representative went deep into Law & Order-esque pop psychology: “Because he knows so much about bicycle safety he is more likely to explode.” Yeah, Ozanne’s rep said that. Why? Because I’m a League of American Bicyclists certified Bike Ed instructor. Learning now forms the nexus of a criminal modus operandi. When my lawyer pointed up how bassackward they have the social science of crime, the representative went all Minority Report on us stating: “We have to prosecute him now because, since he doesn’t have a license plate on his bike, he will get away with it in the future.” Dane County, Wisconsin, where you get prosecuted today for a crime you might commit tomorrow!

Ozanne and his representative could never quite grasp the timeline of the events (that the drug dealer assaulted me, not vice versa), and that I had voluntarily reported the assault. That the crack dealer and van coordinator tried to cover up the entire incident. That they didn’t come forward with the accusations against me until the cops made it clear whose side they would be on. Etc. Was it willful ignorance? Or sheer ignorance?

Below is the original message sent by me…

…immediately after getting run off the road by the Beloit drug dealer; sent June 2, 2010 to Brian Luther (van pool manager) and Sherry Rowin (DOA risk manager):

To Whom It May Concern,

Incident 1. Today at around 4:30 PM I was attacked by one of your state
vanpool drivers driving one of your vans (license plate #1138).

I was bicycling down King St. (eastbound), then stopped at the
Wilson/King/Butler stop light in the far right lane. A state vanpool van
aggressively changed lanes and pulled directly behind me in the far
right hand lane (there was only one car in the left lane), then
proceeded to try to intimidate me by pulling to within inches of my rear
tire. When the light turned green, the
vanpool driver’s aggression intensified as the driver gunned the gas,
and passed within inches of me *in my lane* (the far right hand lane)
and then forced me into the curb. It was only through my quick witted
response that I am alive today. If she had had her way, I would be dead
in the gutter right now.

This behavior is not acceptable; especially since it was so obviously
pre-meditated and–given her reaction afterward–unrepentant.

Here’s what happened next: The driver, a middle aged, short, obese woman got to the stop sign at
the bottom of the hill and proceeded to berate me. So we now know that
murderous behavior is fully justified in her mind.

And she is driving a state van.

Incident #2. On Thursday, 28 May, 2010, at approximately 4:30 PM, a
state vanpool van drives westbound on the 100 block of E. Main,
approaching the King St. intersection. (The driver was a woman, of
similar description as above (but am not certain it was the same
person). State van; didn’t get license.)

The situation I witnessed: Light is red. Another car is already waiting at the light
ahead of vanpool van. The light turns green, the car driver, obviously a
confused, older tourist from Illinois
(IL plates), pulls forward and hesitates a bit. The vanpool van driver
behind her lays on the horn causing yet more confusion all around. This
goes on for 15 or 20 seconds, the horn blaring & blaring… Pedestrian
witnesses yell at the van driver to lay off. Thus, for what had been just a
simple and understandable state of confusion by the Illinois driver (it is
a confusing intersection for first-time visitors), the vanpool driver
lashes out in an act of extreme rage and aggression.

Again, I’m not absolutely sure & couldn’t swear to it, but I think it
was the same woman as in incident #1. In any case, the woman who drove
the van in incident #1 should not be driving the state van.

A human life and peaceable city surroundings are worth infinitely more
than her great big hurry and redneck attitude.

I demand to know the identification of the driver and the result of this
complaint.

Please keep in mind that this sort of anti-bicyclist/pedestrian behavior
used to be routine among bus drivers in Madison.  Things got so bad in
the late 90s that we
cyclists and pedestrians created a huge stink and generated enough
political pressure to entirely revamp Madison Metro’s hiring & training
policies.
The anti-Madison attitude exhibited by the drivers (most from out of town) at the time had led
to extremely dangerous behavior. But stricter hiring and training
procedures has since resulted in much more courteous and safety minded
drivers. Problems have ebbed considerably.

I demand that you to take responsibility for your fleet and insist that
your drivers drop the attitude and behave in a civilized, safe manner.

If you are not the person in charge of training drivers and ensuring
safe driving of state vans, please send me the email of the person who
is in charge.

And for whatever it is worth, I am a Certified League of American
Bicyclists Cycling Instructor
(http://www.bikeleague.org/cogs/programs/education/instructor_detail/18), so I know safe traffic operating procedures and always follow them.

Sincerely,

Michael D. Barrett
[…]
Madison WI […]
[…]

***

Sherry Rowin, Rollie Boeding (Wisconsin Department of Administration risk managers), Brian Luther (Wisconsin State Vanpool Manager) Capitol Police Officers Dave Calhoun, Mitch Steingraeber, Lary Corcoran, Brad Solda and Det. Ed Bardon, then set about concocting & coordinating the crack dealer’s story. Dane County District Attorney Ozanne bought it.

Federal Highwaymen Paving Our Democracy Asunder

Friday, July 19th, 2013

I recently received this notice regarding, in their words:

…the metropolitan transportation planning process carried out by the Madison Area Transportation Planning Board (TPB), the Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WisDOT), Metro Transit, and local units of government in the Madison metropolitan area….

The full notice was even more gobbledygookey cryptic; even a transportation geek like me had a hard time deciphering it. Specifically, they never cited what laws they were referring to.

Flying blind, I submitted comment anyway. You’ll find it below.

I went to the meeting.

There was only one other citizen there. (He had little to say other than moaning about the counter-flow bike lanes displacing parking spaces on campus.) It was a pitiful showing, but I think more indicative of the cryptic public notice than apathy on the part of citizens.

Federal policies are shaping our communities for decades to come. The question is, shaping those communities for whom? The Feds sent a phalanx of gray, middle aged, male bureaucrats. That’s whom. City/MPO did the same. (The lone woman bureaucrat present had nothing to say, so I assume she was on board with the highways.) It was all about building more, bigger highways for, by and of the dozen or so middle aged, white males present. Indeed, it was a cast worthy of the Soviet nomenklatura.

Oh sure, there was a crumb or two here & there to ameliorate a few of the many barriers to biking and walking presented by their megalomaniacal highways. And Bus Rapid Transit is but a pipe dream at the scale they are “planning.” They have no intention of funding it (thus the quotes). The crumbs and the fantastical are out there for window dressing only. Bait. Honeytraps. The stuff of Stockholm Syndrome. If we’re nice to our captors, embrace their manly highways, maybe, just maybe they’ll give us another bike path!

None of the MPO board members were there (except ex officio member, Madison Metro GM Chuck Kamp, who had to be there for job purposes related to the public notice).

Happy reading!

******

Madison Area MPO Comment

07/17/2013

by Michael D. Barrett

I have observed and participated in transportation and land use planning issues in Madison and Dane County for almost 25 years. I am trained as an urban geographer.

Here’s what I think of Federal funding priorities as planned by our MPO and prioritized by USDOT: It stinks. It’s all about highways. And your highways are nothing more than the new Jim Crow with a concrete face. It’s the epitome of Reverse Robin Hood, stealing from cities to promote rich suburbs. It’s about gated communities, but instead of gates you use concrete expanses to wall off the people you deem as undesirable – the carless, the aged, the young, the poor, people who are not white. Yes, I’m calling you racist. I’m calling you age-ist. I’m calling you classist. In other words you build landscapes for well-wheeled middle aged white men. Everyone else be damned. You should be ashamed of yourselves.

Your Federal policies militate against our community’s expressed political will. Over and over again the people of Dane County, Madison and surrounding  communities have elected stellar individuals who want to do the right thing. Witness electoral revolutions with the election of unabashed enviros like Kathleen Falk and Dave Cieslewicz and the very conservation-oriented council and board. In every League of Women Voters questionnaire for elected office virtually every candidate espouses transit, biking and walking over highways. Falk and Cieslewicz had made careers of fighting your highways. Plan after plan for this region, down to the neighborhood level, emphasizes community over cars, a clean environment over sprawl; inclusivity over segregation. The people’s voice is unequivocal: we want clean air, clean water, inclusivity, social justice and a land use/transportation paradigm that supports those goals. Furthermore, our elected officials explicitly ran on platforms promoting community cohesiveness, across race and class lines. Instead, your policies forced our elected leaders into making bad decisions that ultimately got them thrown out of office or blocked from higher office.

In other words your policies are overtly political. They militate against the will of the people.

Your federal highway funds proved to be a gusher, an endless source of cash, while you people constricted funds for transit, bicycling and walking. Everything our elected representatives stood for, your policies militated against.  Your policies backed Falk into a corner on the very unpopular US Highway 12 expansion. Her political base never forgot that, and she paid dearly for it. Without her most ardent supporters, she didn’t stand a chance for higher political office.  Similarly your policies forced road expansion onto us even under the leadership of the most ardent, pro-urban environmentalist ever to lead a city. Your easy highway money and shrinking transit money proved to be an embarrassment that alienated his base. Mayor Dave became Mayor Pave. When federal funds were used to jack up highway spending by 558% over the course of his tenure – 558%!!!!! – while slashing federal support for clean, city-supporting modes, the environmentalist mayor’s political base evaporated.

See this graph of the Madison City Budget? Now look at the top line. The one going straight up is paving, increasing at 558% during Cieslewicz’s tenure. The other lines are social services and parks: Flatlined during the same period. Now look at the debt that has been racked up to service your over-sized roads. Your highways are crushing our city’s budgets.

Your policies are overtly political.

Those elected representatives represented the will of the people. By embarrassing them with these anti-community funding priorities, you negated the will of the people.

You are a politically vindictive organization.

I oppose your anti-democratic policies. I oppose your racism. Your Neo-Jim Crow. Your social-exclusion-by-highway. Get out of our community, leave us alone. Return our taxes free of all strings and get out of the way while we build a sustainable city. We want a city that requires no war for our mobility. We want a city that protects our climate as we get around. We want a city that is protective of children’s lungs. We want a city that promotes healthy, active, neighborhood-friendly ways of getting around.  We want a city that is inclusive and for all people, not just the well-wheeled. We will no longer serve as suburbanites’ doormats.

I notice the MPO board is not present. Had they been here, I would have told them:

As for you people on the MPO, get a spine. Stand up to these highwaymen. Start thinking creatively. Stop blasting ugliness through our neighborhoods. Start joining with the people in building *community* not commuter sprawlways.

Everything about this organization has militated against the expressed will of the people. You should be ashamed of yourselves. I oppose you because you have incompetently executed the will of the people.

I recommend that this body be decertified from receiving federal funds.

The siting of this meeting at this isolated location speaks volumes as to whom the MPO wants to hear from. Bus service is scant at best. Parking is ample. We are located adjacent to a giant highway. It’s a long way to walk anywhere from here. So the assumption must be that only car drivers’ views are wanted.

Regarding your introductory remarks: You speak of congestion as if it were the root of all evil. I disagree: Congestion is good for cities. It is the sign of a healthy city. It is a sign that people want to be there. Slow car traffic is the best friend of pedestrians, bicyclists and transit users.

[I also entered into the record a copy of the latest (2012) League of Women Voters questionnaire of Dane County Supervisor Candidates (showing their support for transit, walking, biking); a copy of the budget graphs in the article linked above; a copy of a 2011~ 1000 Friends of WI newsletter article showing how much money Wisconsinites spend on roads out of their property and income taxes (i.e. only about 50% of the total road budget is paid for by gas taxes and other car user fees; in other words, socialism for cars; rapacious capitalism for the rest of us).]

###

US 51/WIS 19 camera image.

Sen. Mark Miller’s (D-Monona) $40,000,000.00 gift to the Seven. Thousand. Very. Republican. Villagers. of DeForest.

Keep in mind that the USDOT policies I cite here should not be taken as letting the likes of Falk or Cieslewicz or other locals off the hook. Ultimately, though the concrete dope was free, they injected the needle into the arm of the body politic of their own free will. Furthermore, USDOT’s pro-highway/anti-community policies are the products of pavement-friendly votes by other good liberals/progressives such as US Rep. Mark Pocan, US Senator Russ Feingold (ret) and US Senator Tammy Baldwin. Liberals on the state level have similarly taken the needle and the candy. From 2008-2010 Dane County Democrats – State Rep Mark Pocan, State Senator Mark Miller and Governor Jim Doyle –  held total power over the finances of state government as co-chairs of the all-powerful Joint Finance Committee and as the state’s chief executive (respectively). Truly, they were the patrons to the highwaymen clients in the nomenklatura of the Soviet Socialist Party of Pavers. Much like their Republican counterparts, they prioritized paving over people. Indeed, the pavers are of one party regardless of whether an R or D follows their name. I hold Mark Miller in particular contempt given his $40,000,000 (and counting) pork project more than doubling the size of US Highway 51 to serve the seven thousand Very. Special. Villagers. of. DeForest. while slashing state and federal investment in transit for 225,000 not-so-special Madison citizens.

Consider asking your alder why they continue to fund paving at the expense of people. Then ask your county board supervisor. Then ask your state rep. Then your US rep. Then ask your US Senator why she thinks more concrete is healthy. Always, always question. Then denounce. Because they just don’t get it. Because they are loyal party apparatchiks.

Lanford’s Evasiveness, St. John’s Sycophancy: What’s a Voter to Do?

Saturday, March 30th, 2013

T’is election season and I’ve got something questions of the current crop of candidates, starting with the candidates for Dane County Circuit Court Judge.

First, we all know that Rebecca St. John promotes vindictive, groundless prosecutions and relishes throwing away the keys regardless of guilt. (For more on her authoritarian judicial philosophy,  here is a link to her application (PDF) for judgeship to the governor;  here is a ten point analysis of her legal work; here is a journalistic he said/she said take on it and an editorial.) As a Walker sycophant she is immediately disqualified in my book (oh, blog).  So no need to even bother asking her anything.

So I decided to pose some important questions to her opponent:

Dear Ms. Lanford,

We are in the process of making decisions about the upcoming elections for Dane County Circuit Court Judge. Craig Spaulding has been doing great volunteer campaign work for you, and has asked that we put a sign on our very prominent corner lawn (right behind the Harmony Bar). We have, in the past been quite generous with our lawn for good candidates. Unfortunately, most of those went on to betray the very ideals they campaigned for in very fundamental ways, so we hope you might understand that we wish to have your positions stated clearly before we put our own reputations on the line.
1. If you become a judge, do you intend to uphold, defend and interpret the Constitution of the United States of America *as it is written* or will you merely follow the interpretation handed down over recent decades by increasingly reactionary superior court judges?
2.a. In light of the above, what will the following sentence mean to you when peaceable protesters, and ‘petitioners of government for redress of grievance,’ are hauled into your court (as they routinely are in Dane County) for alleged “crimes” of, well, protesting and petitioning?
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
2. b. Specifically, does “no” mean “no,” or something different to you?
3. Through a number of legal stratagems, Dane County prosecutors and judges have effectively outlawed bicycling in Dane County. For over 20 years a succession of Dane County prosecutors–rising then to circuit court judgeships–have pursued cyclists in a most vindictive manner. Victims of murderous motorized road rage have been repeatedly prosecuted by current and past Dane County district attorneys. This is happening despite the fact that:
-the offending drivers involved in *all* of these cases have a long history of criminality, violence and reckless driving while the cyclist invariably is a professional with no criminal–or even civil– record whatsoever (and are thus easily intimidated into bogus pleas).
-despite the fact that State, Dane County and City of Madison policy is to promote bicycling. See the City of Madison Platinum Bicycle Plan here (PDF): https://www.cityofmadison.com/trafficEngineering/documents/PlatinumAdopted040808sm.pdf).
and,
-despite the fact that the bicycle is defined as a legal vehicle by State Statutes.
Will you educate yourself about the rights and responsibilities of bicyclists in this state by attending a Wisconsin Department of Transportation “Enforcement for Bicycle Safety” seminar within the first six months of your swearing in? Information can be found here:
(There is also a version of this course specifically for judges and prosecutors.) Will you properly instruct juries as to the legal standing of bicyclists and, furthermore, instruct that the societal bias in favor of the driver/against the cyclist has no role in a court of law? And will you have the courage to throw out cases arising from the current atmosphere of prosecutorial vindictiveness toward cyclists? 
I have copied this query to several other Dane County residents who are interested in bicycle safety issues in Dane County. I will also forward your answer to a large group of cyclists and others.
Thank you for your time and your work in your candidacy.
Sincerely,
Michael D. Barrett and Pamela S. Barrett

Here’s the response I got:

Dear Michael and Pamela:

Thank you for your thoughtful email about the Dane County Circuit Court Judge election.  It is a very important election, and I am thankful that people are seeking as much information as possible about the race.
The questions you ask in this email relate to specific issues that may come before the court.  While I know it is not a popular answer, I cannot state specifically how I would rule in any case, as I am precluded by the judicial code of conduct from doing so.  I can promise and pledge that I will look at each case individually, considering the rights of everyone involved, and that everyone will be treated fairly and with dignity in my court.  I have known Craig Spaulding for almost 20 years, and I believe he can attest to my character and values that I bring to the bench.
What I bring to this position is over 16 years of trial court experience and an independent judicial philosophy.  This is critical at a time when the trial courts will be hearing important and complex issues.  My opponent, Rebecca St. John, has stated in her application to Governor Walker that she believes one of the best decisions in the Wisconsin Supreme Court in the last 30 years is a decision written by Justice Gableman, joined by Roggensack, Prosser, and Ziegler, which says that the legislature can limit the trial court’s power to act in the interest of justice.  I do not believe the legislature has such power, because I believe the judiciary is an independent, equal branch of government that derives its power from the Constitution and the people.  The role of the court is to do justice, and that role should not be limited by either of the other two branches of government.
There is a real choice in this election between me and my opponent.  I ask that you see visit my website:  www.LanfordForJudge.com for more information on my experience, and my many endorsements including Congressman Mark Pocan, MTI, AFSCME PEOPLE, Wisconsin Progress, SCFL, Citizen Action of Wisconsin, Fair Wisconsin, SEIU and TAA.  Thank you for reaching out.
Rhonda L. Lanford

The lamest non-answer I’ve ever received from an aspiring office-holder. I tried to contain my disgust in my response:

Dear Rhonda,

Thank you for responding.
We get the sense that you didn’t read the questions because they were indeed very *general* constitutional questions, and not about a specific case. Nothing in that hallowed judicial code of conduct prohibits you from expressing a clear defense of the Constitution of the United States of America. If Wisconsin law allows Gableman to race bait and get away with it, you can most certainly mount a philosophical defense of the First Amendment.
We simply wanted to know whether your courtroom will be a place of respect for our Constitution–something Pam & I put our lives on the line for. We didn’t get an answer to that.
We also wanted to know if you will treat bicyclists as citizens or as just so much roadkill. That is a discussion of law and an interest in your further legal formation, not a specific case. We didn’t get an answer to that.
We are sorry, but we won’t–in good conscience–be able to put a sign in our yard.
Sincerely,
Michael and Pamela Barrett
Ask Rhonda Lanford why her opponent can cite specific cases in her campaign for office in that application to Scotty, but she, Lanford, can’t. Ask Rebecca St. John why she wants to put innocent people away, forever.

Lanford’s Evasiveness, St. John’s Sycophancy: What’s a Voter to Do? As per usual in these judicial or district attorney races, I’ll seriously consider writing-in Jefren Olsen, a public defender with a ginormous legal brain and a rock solid moral compass–an exceedingly rare combination.

Why Mark Pocan Fails…

Tuesday, August 14th, 2012

…To interest me….In the least:

From 2008 til 2010, he had it all. The Democrats owned the Governor’s Mansion, the Senate and the Assembly. He was the leader in the Assembly. As such, he co-chaired the all-powerful Joint Finance Committee. He was one of the three most powerful people in the state.

Did he advance education? Nope. Nixed funding for 4-year old kindergarten.

Did he fight for the environment? Nope. Nixed the Clean Energy Jobs Act (an excellent, all-encompassing plan; our one hope to launch a clean energy, hyper-energy efficient economy…).

Did he advance Bicycling? Nope. Slashed funding back to below early ’90s levels.

Did he advance walking? Nope. Ditto.

Did he advance transit? Nope. Ditto. Oh, no, wait. He slashed state support for transit to below levels established by Republican Tommy Thompson.

He sat on his hands.

What did he do with all that money he nixed out of good, people-supporting jobs & services? He accelerated wasteful highway expansions across the state, including the hyper-wasteful US Highway 51 expansion between De Forest and Madison (a route already served by the 8-lane Interstate 90/94/39), the Verona Road interchange, Interstate 94 between Cottage Grove and Madison, and the County Highways S & M (Mineral Pt. Rd & CTH M) intersection. All of these expansions support landscapes of Republicanism and militate against access to good jobs for the poor and working class. Contrary to his claims, Mark Pocan is no friend of the working class.

Let’s face it, we keep advancing lame Democrats like Mark Pocan, who fill the coffers of dirty energy and dirty transportation companies, and then wonder how it is that the Republicans keep beating us in the cash race.

Mark, buddy, I’ve got news for you, it is because you gave them the money!

I’m not exactly thrilled about his opponent Kelda Helen Roys either. I don’t think she exactly gets the money game either. I will cut her some slack about the 2008-2010 time period since she was just a rookie backbencher then. But she should have been raising holy hell about all the subsidies that Pocan & Co. were giving out to the grey economy companies. This past weekend on the Ride the Drive (ok, major plus that she set up campaign operations at that event!), I brought up to her that Tammy Baldwin had been doing the same thing for years, supporting the pavers and polluters (Kipp’s festering filth, anyone? The giant highways she supports now and supported all the way back to her days on the county board?), and that I didn’t want a clone of her in there, she fell silent. No one wants to say anything bad about St. Tammy. After all, Roys seems to be promoting the same old grey stuff Tammy so loves. From Roys’s website: “I support robust transportation investments to build our infrastructure in roads, rail, air, and waterways.” More expansion of the same crap that got us into this hot mess. (Then somewhere way on down there sits bicycling and walking; clearly afterthoughts.)

At the 350.org candidate forum, I felt that the best, most thoughtful candidate performance was by Matt Silverman. As a veteran–an officer who led troops in battle in Iraq–he was the only candidate there who explained–straight up–the ugly connection between our fossil fuel addiction and war. I applaud such honesty. Neither Roys nor Pocan could muster up that courage. I was just sorry to see him cling to the belief that there could be any compromise with Republicans. He made such compromise a highlight of his talk at the forum, and, from his website: “I know that the only way forward is meaningful compromise and cooperation between Democrats and Republicans.” Dude, those days died at the dawn of the Reagan era. I mean, Democrats are so afraid of their own shadows that they can’t even come up with a program within their own caucus–even when they have it all! (I’m talking about, for example, the healthcare debacle which resulted in the adoption of the righ-wing Heritage Foundation’s plan from the early 90s late 80s–and this came out of a congress with a strong Dem majority in both houses and a Dem-owned the presidency!)

Dems need to get their own house in order first.

Why do Democrats insist on being so absolutely gutless? They need to learn that Americans want their leaders to have guts; to be leaders. Pocan and Roys have not shown me that.

I need to see leadership dedicated to defunding the corporate enterprises that would grind us into dust.

Update 08/15/2012: Looks like he-who-sat-on-his-hands won. And decisively. I’m beginning to wonder whether this district, so full of high-IQ types as it is, is really so smart after all. Maybe it is just the reflexive gutlessness, not the brainpower….

 

Downtown Plan: Pave the Lakes! Drive a Stake through Miffland!

Friday, December 9th, 2011
I sent this jeremiad to all of the various commissions reviewing the Downtown Plan. Put on your seatbelts!
-Mike
***
Dear Commissioners,
It is my understanding that the Downtown Plan is scheduled for your consideration on XX/XX/20XX. I have read the Downtown Plan (Legislative File ID 24670) in great detail; below are my comments. Thank you for considering them.
Sincerely,
Michael D. Barrett
Madison, WI
Major Themes:Return our Lakes to Pristine. Please, no fill of any body of water, at all, anywhere. None. If planners feel the need to expand Law Park, that would be fine, as long as the expansion is away from the existing shore. De-paving half of John Nolen Drive for a wider strip of park would be most welcome. Traffic–current & projected–can be accommodated with a combination of efficient intersection engineering (roundabouts, etc.), reversible commuter lanes, aggressive Transportation Demand Management, as well as better use of more appropriate routes (e.g., Beltline).Our lakes should not be sacrificed at the altar of a pompous architect, no matter how heavily marketed the resurrected legacy.

Reduce motor vehicles in the downtown area. You cannot simultaneously call for more cars and greater sustainability. You get one or the other. Not both.

No accommodation of motorized transportation along lakeshore. Parks should be places of relaxation, not speed & fumes. The ski teams, for example, create a lot of havoc across the bike/ped path making life difficult for non-motorized transportation. That must end.

100% on-site stormwater management for all new buildings. That means green roofs, on-site water collection (rooftop rain barrels & water towers/reservoirs, raingardens, drainage swales, structured soils, etc.).

Zero net energy, LEED Platinum, EnergyStar buildings for all new buildings. The technology is there for hyper-efficient “passiv” buildings. Let’s do it.

Preserve our Architectural Heritage. No tear downs, no matter how old or what condition. It seems clear that one of the main goals of the plan is to drive a stake through the heart of Miffland and everything else that makes Madison cool. The planners & developers who cling to the idea of sanitized gentrification are the inheritors of the same ideology that destroyed the Greenbush Neighborhood. Enough with the 1950s Urban-Renewalism!

Furthermore, we can’t afford to waste the embedded energy in our classical structures. Re-invest in these old buildings for extreme energy efficiency. It can be done. It has been done. I’ve done it. And let’s learn to enjoy and cherish the human-scale of these classic old buildings and their environs.

Integrate art, architecture, landscape architecture, sustainability, commerce and basic urban infrastructure to create people-oriented places throughout downtown. This will mean demoting engineering from its current hegemonic status. It will also mean that art won’t just be an afterthought tacked on just because it was on a checkbox somewhere. We should instead elevate creative, artistic, ecologically-minded individuals who understand how to synergistically integrate nature, art, architecture, landscape architecture, commerce and infrastructure–et cetera–into a unique urban fabric, thus creating a place that makes a city a special place the people want to live in, all while using fewer resources.  The key word: Integrate.

Specifics:
p. 22. Economics: The Plan states: “The future of retailing in the Downtown needs to effectively mix the local businesses that make it unique with some of the national chains that can add stability to the retail base and provide an additional degree of familiarity that many shoppers like. ”

I disagree. No more chains. Shoppers who like national chains can get plenty of that back in Oshkosh or Fitchburg. Nobody comes to State Street to go to McDonalds. You see, they are all gone. How many corporate T-shirt shops have come & gone. Failed. Why? Because they couldn’t compete with our cool, local enterprises. Chains suck.

On p 24. Recommendation 12: How can parking be a “recognized constraint” when there is plenty of parking according to the city’s own data?

On p. 27, rec 20: I think I know what they mean, but the sentence is mangled.

Is this the page where green roofs should be discussed? If so, recommend all roofs in the entirety of downtown are GREEN–literally GREEN with vegetation.

Indeed, all buildings must be green, and certifiably so, with EnergyStar,  LEED Platinum, net zero energy.

On p. 28, 2nd sentence missing something at end.

p 31, rec 27.  Why more parking? Especially when there is already more than enough parking. And given trends (more below) that is likely to be the case for generations to come. Perhaps they mean more metering on-street, which could effectively create more parking? That would be good, because: Smart metering (yield management pricing, etc.) on all streets = good. For further information on how to better manage parking, in accordance with basic market principles, study The High Cost of Free Parking by Donald Shoup here (pdf):
http://www.uctc.net/papers/351.pdf

p. 32, Why the focus on drive time?  Does this mean that the greenbacks of downtown residents, bus riders, bicyclists, and pedestrians are worth less than those of suburbanites who drive? It may come as a big surprise to the Chamber of Commerce types, but a lot of us are living without the expense of a car so that we can enjoy life downtown. It is simply no longer the case that no car = poverty.

P. 33, Visitor & Tourist Destination.
Add: Hippies-as-economic-engine.
Specifically: Recommend enhancing, expanding and vigorously marketing the Madison Hostel to put it on the map of world travelers. When Europeans travel, they often follow the Hostelling International map. Here it is, Madison on the world map of hostels:
http://www.hihostels.com/dba/cmap-US.en.htm
We should take full economic advantage. Here’s why:
In the mind of a European, Australian or New Zealand tourist, the mere existence of a hostel in a city signifies that the city has something to offer of interest, no questions asked. Many Americans who traveled the world in their youth have picked up on the same idea.
Chicago’s hostel is one of the Hostelling International-USA’s premium, “gateway” hostels. Chicago, being one of the world’s great cities, is a mandatory stop for international travelers. One of the missions of gateway hostels is to introduce international travelers to regional hostels such as Madison’s. In the past, the Chicago Hostel has been open to displays from hostels throughout the midwest. This should be explored and paid for by the Madison Convention & Visitors Bureau.
Hostels aren’t just for stinky hippies anymore. Over the decades, a lot of those hippies took a shower, got a job, built up a retirement, and now travel the world–hostel to hostel. Why? Because they like to meet other people along the way. And no other lodging type better facilitates the instantaneous intercultural community that springs up every evening in the kitchen of a hostel.
To be sure, Chamber of Commerce-types in charge of this plan will look askance at the concept of budget travelers as an economic engine. I submit that they should expand their notion of tourism to include those who skimp on accommodations so that they can spend on, for instance, cultural experiences, nighttime entertainment and other experiential spending. Furthermore, if it weren’t for the hostel, they wouldn’t be here at all. Some spending is better than no spending, n’est-ce pas?

For more information about how hostelling is moving up in the world, check out this Wall Street Journal article, “In the U.S., Hostels With a Luxe Touch”:
http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970203710704577054220884980872.html
Hippies-as-economic-engine, what a concept! Featured in the Wall Street Journal!
[Disclosure: I was a founding member of the board of the non-profit Madison Hostel (served 2000-2006). I do not now, nor have I ever had, a personal financial interest in this or any other hostelling organization.]
[Update: A reliable source from 1960s Madison informs me that hippies are not now, nor have ever been, stinky. He reminds us, however, that we should “keep on truckin’”.]

Add: downtown historic preservation tour promotion, with special emphasis on the history of citizen action to fight back developer- and city engineering & planning departments’ depredations upon the historic built environment of our beloved city.

Add: downtown urban bike experience promotion. Highlight Madison as the Upper Midwest’s hub of human powered transportation and silent sports. Chamber of Commerce-types Nota Bene: Trek Corp–the second largest bicycle company in the world, based right here in South-Central WI–has already recognized this in their purchase of the Mansion Hill Inn as the center of their Trek Travel enterprise; witness also their significant investment in Madison B-Cycle. Trek has indicated that they want Madison to be the urban bicycling showcase of the world. Note that their model, showcase bike shop, which all of their retailers must visit for training, is right here in Madison. They have also indicated that they want Madison, the city, to be just such a showcase for all things bike on an urban level. If ever there were a corporate conspiracy for the good, this is it.

Bicycling is a billion & a half dollar industry in Wisconsin. Madison is home to the lion’s share of that industry. 20% of the nation’s bike industry is located within a half-day’s bike ride of the square. Not coincidentally, some of the very best bicycling–in the world–can be found in Madison’s rural hinterlands. It is no accident that cross-country tour planners usually choose routes through this region, and quite often, the city itself. Our region is the choice of Olympic road race planners! Let’s go with this major strength!

[Disclosure: I was on the board of the Bicycle Federation of Wisconsin from 1995-2000 and was instrumental in bringing about the organization’s period of most rapid growth: from all-volunteer to a half-dozen professional staffers; from a budget near zero to a quarter of a million dollars. I am currently no longer affiliated with the organization in any way.]

p. 34, “…improved transportation and destination accessibility” invariably means bigger roads and more parking, both of which militate against the stated ideas (in the same sentence) of, “environmental stewardship… increased lake and lakefront activity, increased emphasis on outdoor recreation, strong cultural tourism, creation of distinctive visitor districts…” You get one or the other: environmental sustainability or more cars. Not both.

Note also that, according to your own stats, the UW Memorial Union has the highest draw of any other attraction in Madison, and yet–and yet–it has virtually no parking available. What little parking exists nearby is minimal in relation to the scale of its attendance. Little parking, high attractiveness…coincidence? Me thinks not.

p. 39, rec 42. Look to Ann Arbor’s Main Street for better building<–>street interactivity. Too many of our downtown streets choke pedestrian traffic while over-providing for the automobile. That needs to be reversed. Examples of measures include lots of bulb-outs at crosswalks, an enhanced outdoor cafe experience (expanded & enhanced mid-block curb terrace areas), as well as for more street-side greenspace. This necessarily means roads that constrict car speeds. High speed car access is anathema to a lively urban street scene.

Add: On the necessity of awnings. Look at old photos of Madison. Plenty of examples can be found in the the lower level corridor of the Madison Municipal Building; also here,
http://www.wisconsinhistory.org/whi/fullimage.asp?id=30695 (Fairchild Block)
and here,
http://www.wisconsinhistory.org/whi/fullimage.asp?id=23469 (Capitol Square)
Note the extensive use of large, massively overhanging awnings (I’m not talking about those stunted little decorative appendages in current use). Quality awnings improve urban life and commerce in several ways. Awnings:

  • Provide shade for the pedestrians in summer (commerce & green transportation promotion)
  • Prevent overheating of interior spaces in summer (sustainability)
  • Provide tasteful advertising (commerce)
  • Shelter pedestrians during rain & snow (sustainability & commerce)
  • Provide an overall feeling of pedestrian comfort & accommodation, encouraging, for instance more window shopping, and, eventually, actual expenditures (commerce)
  • Better building-street connectivity (placemaking, historic preservation)
  • Being retractable (see first photo for examples of both retracted & unretracted), are able to allow solar heat gain during winter months; something fancy window glazing can’t accomplish (sustainability)
  • Provide some measure of protection for expensive plate glass windows against thrown objects (safety).

Awnings are a key component of the lost art of urban placemaking. We need to bring them back.

Add: Look to State Street’s late-19th & early-20th century storefronts to understand principles of building-sidewalk interplay. A major principle is that of the prototypical sidewalk-entry neutral zone; a.k.a., the window-shopping friendly entryway. The trapezoidal entryway is essentially a large indention into the building that doesn’t breach the actual building envelope. It acts as a transitional extension of the sidewalk into the adjacent storefront/building. The key function: to allow a pedestrian to shop, lingeringly, from outside, while not blocking the flow of pedestrian traffic on the sidewalk. This is important, since entering a store creates a sort of commitment. The sort of commitment that, in the mind of a good Midwesterner (i.e., constantly feeling obligated to everyone they come across, to a guilt-ridden fault), means purchase is mandatory. Thus, many a  passersby won’t stop to window shop when presented with a sheer, flat, storefront without a neutral zone. The best example of such terrible urban design is the entire frontage of the Overture Center. One doesn’t even notice the museum gift shop while walking by its sheer glass frontage. Nothing draws one in. Nor is there an out-of-traffic spot to stop & shop the wares from outside. The merchants of yore understood the conundrum of how best to get people to slow down & stop at their store even as things bustled around them. They thus built their shops to allow the neutral, no-obligation zone, typically the entryway. Unfortunately, this was not something taught in planner school or developer school of the mid-late 20th century. In fact, I can imagine the perplexed look on the face of any professional planner or developer who reads this now.

p. 45, Urban Forest: All new street reconstruct projects must use maximum on-site stormwater management that maximizes street tree health. Structured soils across & underneath large areas under sidewalk & streets, designed to collect and infiltrate stormwater for street tree health, must be standard. [See Madison resident expert, Anne Walker, for further technical details.] The perpetual sickly stick tree practices of Madison’s forestry department should end. We must establish practices which bring about healthy, large and robust street trees. It is about creating an inviting pedestrian environment (the importance of street trees is very much emphasized in Madison’s adopted Pedestrian Plan) as well as reducing the urban heat island effect, and reducing emissions due to over-use of air conditioning. It is also about better management of stormwater for aquifer and lake health. Your plan makes claims to sustainability; these measures make it real.

State Street needs pedestrian-scale signage to expand the “State Street Experience” to off-State; e.g., down Gilman, up Henry, etc. This can be achieved with proper signage & wayfinding. The signs should be tasteful, yes, artful. For examples of successful ped-scaled signs, see State Street Brats’s signs (in their beer garden) directing tourists to the Kohl Center. They get it. The city, meanwhile….Well, it is just silly to not take advantage of the walkability of the rest of downtown.

[Update: I just noticed that Brats’s wayfinding signage is gone…Let me guess: It offended the city’s sign ordinance…. Alas.]

p. 51, Mifflin: I am against all tear downs. There is a lot of embedded energy in these classic old houses & buildings. Furthermore, the art of the human-scaled neighborhood has been lost in modern architecture, landscape architecture, planning and commercial development practice. Much as the knowledge of concrete disappeared during the Dark Ages, people have been engineered out of the development/urban planning practices of our age. Thus, anything that replaces our old structures will be a downgrade from the perspective of the the human experience (i.e., those moving about at a walking pace). The City of Madison’s Traffic Engineers and Fire Dept. will see to that. They will always demand maximal access standards for cars and gigantic firetrucks which inevitably militates against pedestrians.
Most importantly, we enjoy the connection with our past.

Boost building code enforcement to end the deterioration of Mifflin’s classic houses. Use micro-TIF and other means to promote rehab of existing buildings. Do the same throughout the downtown area.

I am against the “urban lane” thing; it is just a fancy term for ugly parking garage entrance. I guarantee that the traffic engineer will allow no “lane”-scaled anything. It will be required to be to full, fire-engine accessible widths (i.e., very wide) and huge turning radii to accommodate speed. This means, pedestrian unfriendly. Please, if people want to live downtown, they live with fewer/no cars, or, the hassle of owning one in a downtown area. That is to say, welcome to the big city. And finally, backyards should be returned to green.

General Comment:
The term “infill” has gotten severely bastardized. Its original meaning was exactly that: take an empty space and put something in it. Now, they’ve expanded it to mean tear down something cool (i.e., something old), and replace it with something new, ugly, car-friendly and obscenely tall. In typical fashion, our planners and local developers have usurped the goodwill the word used to have. I am against all “infill” that involves tearing down old buildings, no matter what shape they are in. As someone who has invested a lot of his family’s financial resources into three 100-year old buildings very close to downtown, I believe that we’ve got to stop subsidizing the scumlords who are essentially strip mining their buildings by not keeping them up. Along those lines….

p. 59, recs 86-89 are awful. It is all about tearing down entire neighborhoods and plunking down Fitchburg. Hideous. If they want Fitchburg, let them move to Fitchburg. Cool places like our downtown just aren’t made anymore. Let’s not let them take this one vestige of a human- & humane-scaled place away from us.

p. 71. Why is this being presented from the perspective of the well-wheeled suburbanite? Why not highlight the fact that, of residents who live in the downtown area from Blair Street to Highland Avenue, over 65% get to work by means other than driving alone?

p. 72, “An efficient network of arterial, collector and local streets”? Sounds like fast streets, something that militates against walking, biking, and most especially, old people and children; the very people the plan claimed it wanted to promote in the last chapter. Worst of all, it militates against our ENVIRONMENT; sustainability. Again, you get more cars or you get sustainability. Not both.

In fact, this plan does nothing to rein in the vast and excessive expanses of paving at key intersections and gateways to downtown. An example among many: The John Nolen/Blair/E. Wilson/Williamson St. intersection is way over-built for current and projected traffic. It is extremely–and unnecessarily–dangerous for pedestrians & bicycles. Same for the major intersections the entire length of Broom from John Nolen to W. Gorham. Flying right/left turn lanes are always inappropriate in an urban environment. These and other giant intersections militate against the plan’s pretensions to be elderly & child friendly, much less bike & ped friendly. And by promoting cars, it damages our air, promotes more water-destructive paving.

and,

“On street, structured, and underground parking facilities to meet anticipated needs….”

…More? Really? Why not promote downtown as the preferred place to live the car-free life? It is a strength now, and increasingly will be as fuel costs skyrocket (at least in relation to incomes). Don’t undermine that strength with more, wasteful car facilities. Parking is already overprovided. Much of it has already become “stranded capital,” so why not end the misallocation of public investment and instead invest in the future: pedestrians/transit/bicycles? How about investing in Beautiful Places?! Artful landscapes, plazas, expanded al fresco dining, rooftop nightlife?! Places for people!?

Update, 12/21/2011: Madison Trust for Historic Preservation has done a marvelous job of illustrating and explaining how to develop in harmony with our historic built environment, maintaining people-friendliness and bustling commerce. It is difficult, I might add, to ‘bustle’ in a speeding car. At least I’ve never seen it happen.

p. 74, Transit,
“Park and ride lots strategically located throughout the region”: P& R lots are an extreme waste of money; failed planning relics of the 1970s energy crisis–palliatives for sprawl–that just won’t leave the minds of planners. The money would be much better used to boost actual transit service. The assumption behind P&R is that everyone owns a car (or at least of the class sought by the creators of this document). That simply is not true any longer. The trends of car ownership are very much against the 1950s ideology that invented P&Rs. More here at AdAge Digital: “Is Digital Revolution Driving Decline in U.S. Car Culture?”
http://adage.com/article/digital/digital-revolution-driving-decline-u-s-car-culture/144155/

Time to catch up with the times…..!

p. 75, Bus Transit: As a growing city, and as a major medical center, Madison is increasingly a 24 hour city. As such, we need 24 hour bus service. A Skeletal system would be appropriate for late night hours, but at least that needs to get going.

78-79 Complete Streets: 2-way streets are the only kind of streets that are compatible with a truly urban environment.

p. 80 Parking:
“There is, however, at least the perception that there
continues to be a lack of sufficient parking for short term users and
commuters in certain areas. ”

…Why do the planners feel the need to repeat this old canard? Aside from Gov’t East, there is no ramp that fills up during regular business hours. None. If you want to fix the “perception” why not just use the technology currently available to you and actually post a real time number, visible to the street, available on the ‘net, showing the number of spaces available in each lot? Enough with the voodoo parking analysis.

[Update: It has come to my attention from a former Transit & Parking Commissioner that the Gov’t East Ramp has not exceeded 90% capacity in over five years. So the “perception” is wrong on all counts.]

p. 83 rec 142 B-Cycle: This is not the only bicycle sharing/rental arrangement available downtown. I don’t think it is appropriate to promote one private company over another in a public plan. It would be more appropriate to keep it generic and say “promote and expand bike sharing, bike lending and bike rental programs in the downtown area.” Budget Bicycles, Yellow Jersey and Machinery Row all rent bikes; Budget has a bike lending program. Point being, Trek Bicycles’ B-Cycle should not be given preferential positioning in this public document. Indeed, it appears to be the only private enterprise given mention in this document.

p. 85-6 Langdon Mid-block Path. Why are there cars illustrated on the rendering of this “path?” Giving it this name, but putting cars on it, is a bait-and-switch. Why not just call it what it is, a parking expansion zone? I mean, really, do you think the testosterone buzzed frat boys will be able to resist running all those strollers off the road? Really? Please….! I oppose any new motor vehicle routes in this area.

p. 89 TDM: “subsidies for transit riders,” should include subsidies for biking, walking as well. There is so much more that could be done to monetize & incentivize getting downtown by other than a car, alone. Better yet, remove all subsidies to driving. Again, see Shoup.

Summary
The plan has a very long way to go. It contradicts itself throughout, especially in its insistence on more cars and more speed for cars while pretending to promote sustainability. There is little to nothing promoting truly sustainable buildings (net-zero energy, Platinum LEED), preserving historic buildings through energy efficiency retrofits, or 100% on-site stormwater management. The commerce promoted here reeks of mall planning ca. 1965. The two overriding goals seem to be, fill the lake and kill Miffland. In sum, it is vision-less planning rooted in the urban-renewalist dogma of a half century ago.

I oppose the Downtown Plan as currently written. Please do not approve the Downtown Plan.