Archive for the ‘Food’ Category

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.

It’s Not Funny Anymore: VOTE. TODAY.

Tuesday, April 5th, 2011

Really folks, you’ve got to just do it. It’s not funny anymore. Polls open til 8. Where to vote?

And besides, my favorite barista, the Brooklyn Curmudgeon, is in high dudgeon:

Victory Bitch

Victory Coffee Shop Has a Brooklyn Message for Mr. Prosser

It is, after all, (more…)

Grassroutes Caravan: Madtown 2 Motown, a Mobile Village of Resilience

Friday, January 22nd, 2010

Sounds like a fun & wacky bike ride! — A caravan traveling by bike to the United States Social Forum from June 10th-20th of 2010.

The Route
The Route

Willy Street Grocery Coop: Values, Sustainability, Community…Questions

Wednesday, November 18th, 2009

Being a Willy Street Grocery Coop member/owner/shopper, I receive the monthly newsletter which I dutifully peruse. It’s good to try to keep up to date, but to be honest, most of the time the content is pretty bland.

October’s newsletter was diffferent. I was, as the kids say, totally blown away by the board report written by outgoing board member, Fae Dremock. It was the most insightful and thoughtful analysis I’ve ever seen regarding the state of the coop, its direction, its potential and its role in the community.

The whole piece was infused with a strong moral imperative and really hammered on the importance of maintaining coop values through & through. But the part that really struck a chord with me was on the topic of environmental sustainability:

Any new site can offer green alternatives, but rehabbing can offer design that fits into the existing neighborhood in ways that reflect the history of the neighborhood. As we examine traffic and parking lot issues at both stores, we also need to ensure that any traffic study we commission looks at all forms of motor and non-motor traffic equally. Pedestrians, bikes, wheelchairs, unleashed children, and aging Owners must be considered part of traffic, or else we move toward cars-trump-design values.

Amen, sister.

The scuttlebutt is that this most recent board election was orchestrated to either a) throw off or b) fend off people with these wacky ideas. Why? Because coop management continues to push for yet another car access point; this time onto peaceful, easy Jenny St. — the current, preferred, and only safe route for pedestrians and bikes. Fae and other candidates stood in the way of this eventuality.

The problem with the Jenny St. egress: we’ve already seen how the bad behavior by motorists has terrified away peds & bikes from entering on the Williamson St entrance. The same would happen with a Jenny St egress. And a pliant coop board could ease this into reality.

The problem is, they are likely to shoot themselves in the foot, several times over….

The most cogent, technically precise, and analytical argument against the egress was submitted to Coop management by Chuck Strawser back in June of this year. Chuck is a planner by profession, with a specialty in transportation planning. The following is reprinted with permission from the author.

Hello Lynn,

I’ve heard that the co-op is planning to add a right-turn-only egress for cars between the parking lot and Jenifer St.

I am adamantly opposed to motor vehicle ingress or egress between Jenifer St and the parking lot, and I know many other members and many more neighbors are as well, having been part of the discussions about this proposal both before the Co-op moved to it’s current site and later when the connection for bikes was discussed.

One of the many reasons why many members choose to go by bike (or on foot) to the co-op is that they can avoid the congestion caused by cars trying to get in and out of the lot.

And a reason why so many of those who arrive at the Co-op by bike or on foot choose to approach the Co-op from Jenifer St is because it is so much safer for vulnerable road users to be able to approach the co-op without confronting cars being driven in and out of the co-op. This is an especially important consideration for those who come with children, who often want to play by the cob wall and rain garden in the back of the lot.

If the Co-op chooses to accommodate those who not only insist on driving to the co-op (for whatever reason, many of them valid), but are also unhappy about the difficulty of ingress/egress that is, IN PART CAUSED BY THEIR OWN DECISION TO DRIVE,  then it should be acknowledged that the conflicts and potential danger at the back of the lot will discourage many of those members who are not currently adding to the car congestion to start driving themselves (and often their children).

It is very likely that this accommodation for motorists is NOT GOING TO ALLEVIATE CONGESTION BECAUSE IT WILL RESULT IN EVEN MORE MOTOR VEHICLE TRAFFIC ARRIVING AT, AND TRYING TO LEAVE, the Co-op. What we will all end up with is the same amount of congestion that we have now, only we will have more car traffic, and fewer bicyclists and pedestrians. In other words, THE PROPOSED SOLUTION IS NOT GOING TO SOLVE THE PROBLEM. And all of this so that people in cars who want to head west don’t have to turn right on Williamson Street, and then right on Baldwin and right on Jenifer St (or left on Baldwin and left on E Wilson St.)?

HERE ARE SOME ALTERNATIVE WAYS TO SOLVE SOME (though admittedly not all) of the complaints of drivers in and around the Co-op parking lot:

1) ask member leaving the co-op in their cars to turn right on Williamson and go around the block (either block) if they want to head west.

2) ask the City to prohibit parking in front of Blue Bird services at all times, so that there is room for westbound traffic to go around a car driver waiting in the lefthand westbound lane of Williamson St to turn left into the Co-op. (of course that strategy is not going to be viewed especially favorably by the landowner or tenant of that building, but the Co-op could choose to allow patrons of that business to use the co-op parking lot to mitgate the loss of one space on the street in front of their store).

3) in the long term, reconfigure the parking lot with the curb cut on Williamson Street in another location. Perhaps relocating it as far west as possible could improve the situation, as the no parking zone in front of the fire station would insure that sight lines in that direction are never obstructed (this might also result in the same improvement as in 2 above without eliminating any parking on the street because there is already a no parking zone across Williamson Street from the fire station). Moving the ingress/egress on Williamson St would also mitigate much of the current conflicts between cars and pedestrians in the front of the store, as well as the defacto three way intersection in front of the store created when cars coming from the east and west sides of the parking lot try to exit simultaneously or incoming cars head to the east side of the parking lot simultaneously with cars coming from the west side of the parking lot trying to exit.

I am aware that the Co-op has paid a planning consultant to undertake a study of the current situation, and the consultant may have different opinions about the relative effectiveness of some of the strategies above. Having aced “Traffic Impact Analysis and Site Planning through UW’s School of Engineering as part of my graduate degree in Urban and Regional Planning, I can say with some authority that  current practice in traffic planning is woefully inadequate when it comes to assessing probable outcomes in walkable urban places like the Isthmus (after all, half of all the travel to work in the central part of Madison is undertaken by some mode OTHER THAN driving alone in one’s car). It was made very clear to me in that class that everything about the methods used to predict traffic, from the data used to estimate trip generation rates based on conventional development in which commercial and residential land uses are completely segregated, to the traffic flow models themselves that treat pedestrians, bicyclists, and transit riders as an afterthought (if they are accounted for at all), is fundamentally flawed.

There are other considerations, such as:

1)the fact that an egress big enough for motor vehicles will add to the impervious surface/decrease the effectives of the swale off the parking lot, or

2)the fact accommodating one group who choose an environmentally damaging and unsustainable form of transport to the clear detriment to other groups whose mode chose is environmentally benign and sustainable (which is in opposition to part of the Co-op’s purpose – namely, 2.2(6)educating the public about the politics of food, which necessarily must include the fact that trucking food from factory farms long distances over public roads that mostly only accommodate motor vehicles, and are themselves heavily subsidized; and 2.2(10)participation in the movement for fundamental progressive social change -what can be more fundamental socially than subsidizing a national transport system that kills 40-50,000 people and maims ~500,000 people annually whilst requiring a nearly 50% public subsidy), or

3)the fact that the Co-op DID agree, as part of the discussions with the neighborhood over the Co-op’s conditional use of the land, not to put an ingress/egress on Jenifer St, at least with those who participated in the discussion, but

4) THE MOST COMPELLING ARGUMENT AGAINST THE PROPOSED EGRESS ONTO JENIFER ST IS THAT IT WON’T ACCOMPLISH ITS PURPOSE, for all the reasons stated above.

Thank you for your time.

Sincerely,

chuck strawser

member (and neighborhood resident) since 1997

I last communicated with WSGC management about this issue in +/- August of 2009. At that point in time, management claimed that no decision had been made about whether the coop would pursue the 2nd entrance onto Jenifer St. There was much defensiveness, however.

Members might want to consider contacting management to encourage them to value their walking and biking members and employees at least as much as they do their driving members & employees.

Health Farce: Why Places that Don’t Suck Are Necessary for Health

Wednesday, September 23rd, 2009

So why would a blog dedicated to Places for People concern itself with health care? Well, let’s start from the beginning with a few basic questions:

Q1: What is the # 1 cause of  death for all people ages four to forty-four?

A: Das Deathmobile

Q2: How many people are permanently maimed each year due to car crashes?

A) 10,000

B) 50,000

C) 120,000

D) 400,000

(Hint: If you chose D, you would be correct! DING! DING! DING! DING!)

Q3: What are the # 1 and #2 causes of chronic disease for all people of all ages in the United States?

A: Sedentary lifestyle (enabled by–you guessed it!–das deathmobile, and enforced by poor land use & transportation policies),

and,

B: Poor food choices (again, enforced by bad federal agriculture/food policies)

(In no particular order, btw, since the two seem to mutually reinforce one another.)

Unfortunately, our decisionmakers have yet to make these connections. For instance, I’m represented by a congresswoman who has made health care the top issue of her tenure as a politician. Over the years (going back to when she was my county supervisor in the early 90s) I have tried to communicate to her that the priority should be health. That access to health care is a component of health, but it should not be the overriding goal. That it is a means to an end: the goal being health. Unfortunately, she confuses means with ends and continues to equate health care with health. Frankly, I’d rather not have to go see a doctor. Routine check ups are fine, but in the end, the best way toward a healthful life is access to good food, safe public spaces & places for those of us who get around under our own power (i.e., exercise as part of our daily lives), clean air and clean water. But she continues to deny the link between these environmental factors and health.  She continually votes for more pavement (paving under prime farmland, trashing our air & water, creating unsafe conditions for pedestrians & bicyclists, etc.) and does nothing to re-orient our current government health care programs (Medi-care/aid) & subsidies (tax-free employer health benefits) away from fee-for-service; i.e., fee-for-service resulting in force feeding more procedures to the detriment of good health. (A good discussion of the problem of this over-doctored approach can be found here).

Fortunately, there are some synapses firing elsewhere.

Indeed, there has been some great thinking to come out of all of the Sturm und Drang regarding Obama’s health care push. Yes, finally, we have some insightful thinkers who have written eloquently, thoughtfully, logically and systematically about the difference between health and health care.

The best I’ve found appeared in September’s Atlantic Monthly

This eminently just & logical solution is the only way out of our current bind of crushing health care costs–costs imposed on all of us by poor food policies (Q3 Answer B) and militantly car-oriented transportation policies, both of which are forced upon us by the federal government (with plenty of local collaborators, to be sure!) (Q3 Answer A).

Re: Q3 Answer B (above), Michael Pollan does a fantastic job of exposing how, if a universal health coverage mandate is imposed, we’ll likely see a positive domino effect on our nation’s food policies.* Why? Because the health insurance companies, being forced to take all comers, and no longer able to deny coverage, will have an extreme profit motive to get people to eat better foods for lifetime health. Health! It will be in the insurance companies’ best interest to see us living healthy lives–throughout our lives–rather than simply not caring about long term health under the current system because, hey, right now, if you get sick, you’re kicked off the plan! Under the current system, why should they care? With universal coverage, they will have no choice but to care. Maybe we can finally use the profit motive to the good. Better access to better foods, and major changes in our nation’s agricultural/food policies, what’s not to like? But first, as Pollan points out, there is likely to be an epic battle between the insurers and the food producers. I’ll be at the 50 yard line to watch this one!

Re: Q3 Answer A, I’ll add a prognostication that complements and follows along the lines of Pollan’s argument: We’ll also likely see insurance companies showing up to city council meetings and militating against car-oriented development policies. They’ll also turn their lobbyists loose in DC (and state capitals across the country) to reform  transportation funding away from highways-only and toward creating really cool places that draw people out to walk, bike or use public transit–in a safe environment. A place that doesn’t suck. Health care for all might turn out to be a boon for really cool places! The insurance companies might even see it in their best interest to offer rebates for living in walkable neighborhoods!

And now you see why a blog that is all about places for people is concerned with getting health care for all.

*Pollan is speaking this weekend (starting Thursday at the Kohl Center at 7 PM) at several venues around town.

Study: Bad Diet & Stupidity Linked

Friday, August 14th, 2009

And now we know why all of those fast food-eating, deathmobile-bound, violence-prone slobs who rail against ‘dem bikers’ are as dumb as they can be.

John McNamara 4 Willy Street Coop Board!

Sunday, August 2nd, 2009

This just in on the Willy St. Grocery Coop board election:

Envelope-to: mikeb@urbanthoreau.com
From: John McNamara
To: John McNamara
Subject: Willy St. Coop Board Elections
Date: Sun, 2 Aug 2009 13:34:15 -0500

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

As you might know, I am running for the Willy St. Coop Board of Directors. The Cooperative faces a challenging year. In addition to the continued efforts to manage the explosive growth that has swelled the membership to 16,000 members, the coop will also be dealing the the slagging economy and road construction which promises to reduce sales by 30%!

I am one of 13 candidates running for 5 seats. I will be graduating Beta Gamma Sigma from the St. Mary’s University Masters of Management: Cooperative and Credit Union program in April of 2010. In addition, I have over 20 years of experience in the cooperative world including 8 years on the Union Cab board of directors, 6 years as a manager for Union Cab and 7 years on its strategic planning committee. I believe that my education and experience make me a great choice to serve on the Willy St. Board.

I promise to follow the values and principles of the cooperative movement: solidarity, equity, equality, caring for others, openness, honesty to name but a few.

Part of the difficulty with the unplanned growth of Willy St. is that we don’t know who the members are and have limited means to contact them. Last year, barely 2% of the membership voted in the election of a board that oversees an $18 million budget and has a constituency 25% larger than a Madison aldermanic district. This year, electronic voting is being introduced without any advances in educating voters on the candidates or the issues. It means that every vote counts.

I hope that I can count on your vote. If you are not a member (and even if you are), please forward this email to your friends who are members of the co-operative and support my candidacy. It is a very crucial year for the co-operative and they need directors who have a proven record of managing a social enterprise to make it both financially and socially sustainable. I believe that I am that candidate and I hope that you do too! Please feel free to email me with any questions, check out my blog (http://rochdale.livejournal.com), my Facebook group (http://www.facebook.com/groups.php?ref=sb#/group.php?gid=88605497313) and even my 12 second tv account (http://12seconds.tv/channel/johnamc/215917). If elected, I will continue to use these tools to keep the membership updated and informed on what their board is doing.

Thank you for your time,

John

John’s a good egg, and is very well-versed in all things coop management given his experience in helping make Union Cab a local favorite. In my mind (and only my mind!), he’s a member of a club I invented, the Crown Jewels of Madison–the folks who provide the intellectual and energetic heft to make Madison Madison, and not Rockford. They are the folks who tend to piss off the powers-that-be, whoever they may be, on behalf of the good & just. John and his family are recently–happily–carless. That is another club I’m starting in my mind: The Carless & Carefree by Choice! It is a club that keeps growing by the day.

Accordingly, he supports that the Jenifer Street entrance be reserved for safe bicycle and pedestrian access. His reasoning, especially in point #2, is sound. The my-hurry-is-more-important-than-your-neighborhood people have already created a disaster in front of the store. They shouldn’t be allowed to create yet another disaster where peds & bikes currently have the only safe and unblocked access to the store. The deathmobilers will just have to live with their own mess between the lot and Willy St.

Wooo-Hooo! Vote John!

Book: Urban Pioneers in Oakland

Tuesday, July 7th, 2009

This looks to be a fun read about more urban pioneers!

Madison Fish Fry Website

Monday, July 6th, 2009

I know we aren’t supposed to embrace gluttony here, but look, this is Wisconsin, and fish fries are important. Very important. See them ranked & reviewed here. [Thanks, Barb, for sending it along!]

Mermaid Cafè, a Crown Jewel of the Eastside; Nay, of Madison; Better Yet, of Wisconsin

Saturday, June 27th, 2009

Eastsiders are loving their Mermaid Cafè, and this just in from the Schenk-Atwood-Starkweather-Yahara Neighborhood Ass’n President, Dan Melton, proves it:

Lisa, owner of The Mermaid, on Winnebago, guarantees her Sunday Special this Sunday will ‘knock your socks off’.  A regular at the counter asks, ‘Any kind of socks?  Even wool socks?’. ‘Yes, Lisa assured him, even winter socks. I ask, ‘On Sunday do you have to wear socks?’ ‘Only if you want ‘m knocked off,’ Lisa said.

This sock-off-knocking special, apparently, will be a Singapore Curry, involving local potatoes, mint, and a mango pickle on the side. Atwood area restaurant owners are taking their food creations to a sublime, whole nuther[*] level.

Yaaaaaaa, the sandwiches are supreme. But the espresso drinkies ascend to otherworldly. My über-finicky friend from Milan declared their cappuccino to be superior to any he had ever had anywhere in Italy. Mind you, nothing ever pleases him. So the fact that he’s been singing the praises of Mermaid’s cappuccino ever since should say something about their espresso eminence!

Oh, and, btw, there is no free parking available. Yet the place is packed 7 days a week. Hmmmm. City planners, Transit & Parking Commissioners, Zoning Administrators, Economic Development Gurus, are you taking note? The number one means of access to the shop? Walking. #2? Bike. #3? Probably a tie between bus & deathmobile. Time to wake up to the new possibilities O Ye Powerbrokers of Madison.

*I always wondered how to spell “whole nuther”!!!!!!!!!!!!