Archive for the ‘Traffic Justice’ 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?”

 

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.

And the Paving Goes On….

Thursday, December 15th, 2011
Just sent this to the Long Range Transportation Planning Committee:
Dear Commissioners,
How can any of these highway expansion options be acceptable in light of the budget squeeze caused by all of the over-paving that has been approved by this commission?
The following article details the destruction your transportation planning has wrought upon our city’s finances:

TheDailyPage.com: “Madison is paving itself into oblivion,” by Michael Barrett 

http://www.thedailypage.com/daily/article.php?article=35022


Don’t you think you’ve done quite enough to wreck our city’s finances as well as its livability?

Cease all further paving expansion until:

a) the budget is back on track and,
b) City Engineering is put on a road diet that allows expansion only in line with population growth starting from a 1990 baseline *minus* 10 % (to be Kyoto Protocol-compliant). 
c) The entire city bureaucracy learns how to work together, synergistically, to promote a vibrant economy with a whole lot less driving and a whole heck of a lot less paving.

I have heard from several commissioners here and on other commissions that you have no choice but to expand paving because all of the developments surrounding these roads are built to car-oriented standards. 

Funny that. When I was on Urban Design Commission, we would routinely press the developers to rein in the car-orientation of the very developments surrounding the segments of CTH M in question. Their response? “While we support New Urbanist principles, we can’t apply them here because the city engineer has designed the roads so large as to make these principles unworkable. We have to design them for cars, not people.” The city’s planners would nod their heads and testify to reinforce car supremacy.

UDC would sometimes even go so far as to nix some of these developments, but in most cases they would make it through, since many commissioners had sympathy for the bind the developers claimed they were in (or Plan Commission would override us, in the case of the rejected plans.) (Disclosure: I was thrown off of UDC for refusing to approve such anti-human landscapes.)

So then I discover, from conversations with individual commissioners on LRTPC, Plan Commission, Board of Public Works and PBMVC that you believe that you aren’t responsible, because–get this–the development surrounding these roadways is so car-oriented!

The developers say the highwaymen made them do it, the highwaymen say the developers made them do it, and everyone blames the planners. The planners blame everyone else. If you corner any one of these parties in this blame-game, they’ll then deflect further and blame the individuals on their respective commissions. The commissioners blame their staff, or the alder. Or the mayor. The alder blames the commissions. The mayor blames the alder. 

And the devil made you all do it.

At some point, don’t you think you should brain up and take responsibility for your own conscience and just vote no?

After all, the nasty landscapes you are creating out there just keep sinking in value, thanks to their auto-centricity. No one wants to live in such ugly places. They suck. And they are not sustainable from any perspective–economic or ecologic. Meanwhile, places built with people in mind keep holding their value, and even increasing, through the worst economic downturn since the Depression. 

I see from the commission roster that many of you should know better. Are you asleep? Are you afraid? If so, it may be time to submit your resignation. These are times for bold leadership, not cowering before megalomaniacal engineers.

Your charge is to make this city better, not worse. But making it worse seems to be all that comes out of this committee and your home committees.

A 558% 11-year growth rate for paving is obscene. End it.

Sincerely,

Michael D. Barrett
2137 Sommers Avenue
Madison, WI 53704

Trains, Planes & Automobiles: Bikes Emerge Victorious in Carmageddon

Sunday, July 17th, 2011

It just doesn’t get any better than this.

LA’s main vein shuts down….and….and….people celebrate by biking, rollerblading, using transit, and outrunning airplanes!

This reminds me of the old commuter race we used to run every year during bike to work week right here in MSN. The race would run between either Hill Farms (WisDOT/Borg) & the capitol or Olbrich Gardens & the capitol. With everyone following all the rules of the road, bikes invariably won, with buses a close 2nd, and driving deathmobiles a distant 3d.

Bikes win.

Entropy & Engineering

Tuesday, August 24th, 2010

I love Hans Noeldner’s take on our deathmobiling culture. His latest post brings the perspective of a hydraulic engineer to bear on the issue.

Put on your metaphorical thinking cap before clicking over there!