Archive for the ‘Places that Suck’ 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?”

 

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.

Never Leave Home Without Your Geographer: Krugman, Gruber

Friday, January 27th, 2012

In my daily dose of Krugman I really enjoyed this:

China also derives big advantages from the fact that so much of the supply chain is already there. A former Apple executive explained: “You need a thousand rubber gaskets? That’s the factory next door. You need a million screws? That factory is a block away.”

This is familiar territory to students of economic geography: the advantages of industrial clusters — in which producers, specialized suppliers, and workers huddle together to their mutual benefit — have been a running theme since the 19th century.

And Chinese manufacturing isn’t the only conspicuous example of these advantages in the modern world.”

Growth Pole Theory! Aggregation Economies! & Bears! Oh My!

Space & Place actually matter! To an economist no less! Halleluja!

And never EVER leave home without your geographer. Obviously Krugman remembered his!

But seriously, all of these concepts can be applied, really to any economy, not just industrial. Clustering of mutually supportive enterprises is also a concept I’ve been hammering on in my comment on the Madison Downtown Plan as well as on the 100 Block of State Street debâcle. It just isn’t something the current planner-mindset can grasp.

Happily, former Madison Alder Tim Gruber, just wrote an interesting post that kind of gets at the notion of clustering of activities, not necessarily even similar activities, to make urban spaces real places. At least 10 different activities in the same place. They call it ‘Placemaking’ in the biz.

Or as I like to say, Places for People.

Pleasant’s Wrecking Ball

Thursday, January 12th, 2012
As predicted by many of us, the Overture Center would not be the end of the suburbanization of State Street. Take a look at this rendering of  the Overture Foundation’s plans for the State-Fairchild-W. Mifflin block:

A suburban office park developer's dreamscape

Exhibit A in how to kill a downtown.
Luckily, we have a newly re-invigorated preservation community, and the Madison Trust for Historic Preservation is leading the way. For a brief look at what the Trust proposes, go here. The highlight is this rendering, from about the same perspective, of the same block:

Character, not sleekiness....

Note the re-imagining of a tired block. The block does indeed need work, but it doesn’t need to be torn down. It is a classic urban block, and needs to be rehabbed as such. The ugly fire escapes can, and should go away. With appropriate internal revisions it can be done, and according to code. Roofs can be re-inforced for rooftop festivities. Spaces can be aggregated/divided as needed. It just takes a little imagination. (And many thanks to Elizabeth Cwik–civic architect extraordinaire–for having exactly that imagination in formulating the Trust’s tasteful alternative.)
Embracing the quirkiness of old buildings is truly an art.
The Overture wants office park. In their view, the quirkiness of history-in-the-landscape must be obliterated! Their design is one of sleeky exteriors suitable for viewing at 35 mph, and giant floor plates offering interior expanses that only an insurance company could love. Cubeland.
The Madison Trust for Historic Preservation and other downtown civic leaders, on the other hand, want the old buildings retro-fitted with edgy interiors, maintaining the pedestrian-scaled historic exteriors–the kind of places that bleeding edge tech companies, architects, creative agencies and design firms would gravitate to.
Madison economic development know-it-alls are always going on & on about how we should be attracting just these sorts of leading-edge firms. Well, if we don’t hold on to the very places that nourish creativity (and it ain’t happening out in suburban office parks), we won’t be attracting them. And believe me, the actuaries inhabiting insurance co.-cubeland won’t be adding much life to downtown. They’ll brownbag it for lunch, and at 5 PM they’ll be hightailing it to their Blu-Rays in Fitchburg. The employees of creative firms on the other hand, dependent as much on networking as on their brainpower for success, will most certainly see & be seen at State Street’s lunch places. After hours they are more likely than your standard insurance co. drone to hang out at downtown’s restaurants and to take in some nightlife with colleagues & friends. It’s what we call economic development in the biz.
If you want to Keep State Street Real, see  the Capitol Neighborhoods’s presentation on this very topic (info below).
***
CAPITOL NEIGHBORHOODS INC.For immediate release
Contact: Michael Bridgeman, 608-334-8051“HISTORY AND ALTERNATIVE VISION FOR THE 100 BLOCK OF STATE STREET”
Capitol Neighborhoods Inc. to Present Free Public ProgramMADISON, Jan. 3, 2012 – As redevelopment plans for the 100 block of State Street continue to make news, Madison residents can learn about an alternate vision for the historic block across from the Overture Center.Capitol Neighborhoods will present a special program at 7 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 26 at the Downtown Campus of Madison College at 211 N. Carroll Street. The event is free and open to everyone.– Local historian Gary Tipler will show vintage images and describe the history of the block bounded by State, Fairchild and Mifflin Streets. People with old photos of the area are encouraged to bring them to share.
— Jason Tish, executive director of the Madison Trust for Historic Preservation, will describe how an imaginative approach to re-using the existing buildings can add vibrancy to the area.
— Architect Elizabeth Cwik will show illustrations to suggest how historic buildings on the block can be re-used and enhanced.The Block 100 Foundation, created by Overture Center benefactors Jerome Frautschi and Pleasant Rowland, has advanced a proposal that would demolish all or parts of six buildings on the block including two local landmarks. Their proposal calls for reconstructing facades on State Street and creating a small  private plaza at Mifflin and Fairchild Streets across from the Overture Center.Capitol Neighborhoods Inc. is dedicated to improving the experience of residing in Madison’s vibrant downtown and represents people who live in the five districts that surround the state capitol building. The website is at capitolneighborhoods.org

– end –

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

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.

Surprise! Surprise! Budgetary Surprise! (Not!)

Thursday, May 19th, 2011

Wow, what a budget surprise!

Not.

I love these told-ya-so moments. Actually, I don’t. I just wish our elected leaders weren’t so easily intimidated by engineers who demand giant highways. I wish instead that they would listen to their constituents who have researched this stuff so that we can move forward to a better, less paved, place.

It’ll be interesting to see if our new crop of alders are alert to the wastefulness of creating places that suck through highway expansion. Brenda has an interesting take on it (make sure to read down through the comments as well).

The big question is, will the tough-guy engineers be able to stare down & intimidate the elected officials into compliance as they traditionally have. Judging from our last neighborhood council meeting, that ugly history will likely repeat itself. I asked my alder, Marsha Rummel point blank what questions she asked when the capital paving budget was presented to the city council a couple of weeks ago. Her reply: “We weren’t allowed to ask questions. It was an informational presentation.” We know who is boss, when city councillors are intimidated from asking questions — at a city council meeting — about the biggest item in the city budget.

 

 

Pave, Baby, Pave!

Sunday, May 1st, 2011

Do I hear four dollars?!!!

Tee-hee!

And it is all the more laughable because the lessons that should have been learned  30 & 40 years ago

….Seem to have gone unlearned.

Consider the upcoming couple of weeks at city council & commissions (thanks to a well-informed neighbor for these insights):

1. Tuesday May 3 5:30 PM City Council Discussion of Transportation Improvement Plan 2012-2017.(Actual TIP schedule here in pdf.) Why should a government body use the word ‘Transportation’ as cover for Road Building? It’s one thing for the Road Builders to use it. It’s clever, actually. To change your name from the “Road Builders” to the “Transportation Builders” it appears to furnish much broader cover for your interests. But if 99.4% of what will be discussed Tuesday is paving, shouldn’t it be listed as Council Discussion of Paving?

[And let’s not forget the loaded term “Improvement.” Um, improvement for whom? The paving expansions are certainly not improvements for people who breathe. Or who don’t like wars. Or who like clean drinking water. Or who like neighborly communities.]

2. City Streets Division says, First give us new pavement, too.
Board of Public Works Wednesday May 4 Agenda Item 29.
Here’s a top City priority! In this time of tight dollars ~ ‘We have no money’ ~ we apparently have money for the Streets Division to repave its 1501 West Badger Road asphalt parking lot and pavement area. There’s some kind of twisted irony in having Streets Division pavement be a top City priority. Here’s an opportunity for the City to demonstrate how Sustainable it is by installing permeable pavers as a demo project. Show the New Urbanism Conference people how thoughtful, progressive we are.

[Ditto the proposed expansion of the death zone known as Dutch Mill Park & Ride (Agenda Item 14). In fact, why expand it at all? Park & Rides are so 1973. The right thing would be to simply allow it to become more of a “kiss & ride” (drop off spot for inter-city bus passengers) rather than an isolated, “free” parking lot attracting crime (and it is a hot spot). Add to that, all of the ills associated with over-pavement: sealing off our aquifer, magnifying water quality problems, heat island generator, etc.]

3. Coming Attractions! MORE PAVEMENT AT MATC!!
MAY 16 Plan Commission set to consider tons more pavement at MATC – Yah! More impermeable surface! That’s what we need! There’s Education in Action!, heh? There’s educators setting a model. Add to Free Parking. Pave more of the earth. Tell kids (single-occupancy vehicles) to drive ever farther to get an ‘Education’. Drive, Kids. Don’t Worry! Plenty of Free Parking!

[Downstream from MATC’s planned flood generator? Emerson-East-Eken Park, Darbo-Worthington, Schenk-Atwood-Starkweather-Yahara neighborhoods. Throw-away places, trashy people in the eyes of MATC administrators. The physical safety of your neighborhoods are not their concern. For those residents, le deluge.]

So there you have it: A city hardwiring itself for mandatory driving, mandatory energy gluttony, mandatory dirty water, mandatory flooding. Pave, Baby, PAVE!

But I would like to keep hope….

La Speranza

I really would.

‘Sleeper’ items on Tuesday Council Agenda: Before the Pave, the Pipe

Tuesday, June 1st, 2010
Below is an excellent little analysis of a couple of items destined to be rubber stamped by our paving council this evening. This comes from a small local listserv*:
On just about every City Council Agenda you’ll find ‘sleeper’ items — seemingly innocuous — but which have huge implications in future.
Twenty-or forty-years from now, if someone asks, How did this happen? How did it get this way? What were they thinking?, these are the kinds of items that caused ‘it’ to ‘get this way’.
These items will almost certainly get little or no discussion Tuesday — yet they deserve thought and discussion as surely as The Edgewater did.
66. Felland Road Sanitary Sewer Phase 2 — This is what opens up an area to development — the sanitary sewer. So, here we are, along Felland Road, out in the Town of Burke [far east fringes of Madison], spreading further and further out. I’d love to see a list of names on the Front Page of the State Journal, above the fold, of individuals who will benefit from thi$.
80. MATC Parking – Look at the disaster MATC surface parking is already. When Plan Commission questioned MATC about their paving plans, a while back, we suddenly — coincidence? — saw a flurry of “news” stories about how MATC kids can’t find a place to put their cars. Has this item been thoroughly aired? — and discussed? Will someone pull this item off the Consent Agenda — and challenge MATC on what they’re doing out there?
On the Felland Rd water & sewer: I’d add something that this particular quoted author has said before: “No water, no development.” I’d also add that the city is making a huge mistake in not making bottom-line sustainability demands before approving the water system. For starters, that would include, the most rigorous sustainability, inclusivity and accessibility standards possible (net zero energy homes, walking-oriented, completely interconnected with the rest of the city on a neighborhood street grid, 95% car-free, frequent public transportation, housing affordability levels fully mixed in, and that match the city’s current demographics, etc.).

On the MATC issue: in this age of straitened budgets, high unemployment, and environmental destruction (thanks to our car-oriented lifestyle), the parking lot whiners at MATC deserve no taxpayer funded bailout for their wasteful campus design. And the people who live downstream from the proposed paved acreage should not have to pay by having to suffer from the increased flooding that will result. More paving = more flooding.

In both cases, we are hardwiring our city for waste, unsustainability and economic & ecologic rigormortis forevermore.

It is very, very unfortunate that we have a council that is so uniformly unable to analyze, anticipate and reflect on the long term implications of their votes. The mayor is, of course, a lost cause. Corporate. Bought & paid for. A mindless cash-seeking robot.  But one would think that at least the nominal progressives would question the stupidity.

Instead, we’ll have to duck as they wield their well-worn rubber stamps.

*The author usually likes to fly beneath the radar, thus, the post shall be left unattributed, unless author requests otherwise.

CARPC Comes Through for Clean Water

Sunday, May 16th, 2010

Capitol Area Regional Plan Commission really came through for clean water in Dane County. (See message below from Stefi Harris.)

Many thanks to Western Dane County Coalition for Smart Growth & Environment and CRANES for all of their advocacy & research on this. And it even looks like Falk even kind of stuck her neck out on the issue!

-Mike

Mike,
Last Thursday 5-13-10 in a vote of 6 to 6, with one abstention, CARPC denied the City of Verona urban service request for 265 acres near the Sugar River and Badger Mill Creek, southwest of the city. Verona intended to eventually develop over 1500 acres in that area. Verona’s case has a long history. It asked the old Regional Planning Commission about six years ago for an urban sewer extension. Verona was told then that it would be problematic because of the sensitivity of the area to any kind of development. They were advised to get a study of environmental resources and impact of development on those resources for the entire 1700 acres north/northeast of the confluence of the Sugar River and Badger Mill completed before they apply again. That study was completed sometime in early 2009. It was done by Montgomery Associates. Verona paid them $90,000 for the work. I read it and actually studied it. In many places the authors minimize the value and importance of natural resources. They only talk about how environmental impacts can be mitigated by stormwater control structures. They do not discuss what could be done in case of failure of such structures.  They also refuse to discuss impacts of municipal groundwater withdrawals on streams and wetlands as well as the impacts of development on coldwater aquatic communities such as live in the Sugar river and Badger Mill Creek.
Kathleen Falk and her assistant Topf Wells came to talk to the Commission on Thursday. ( A copy of her speech to CARPC is below.)
The deliberations lasted three hours. CRANES and ourselves worked on Verona, on and off, for about 10 months from our two ends. On the way in we knew we had four sure votes. We needed six to prevail. But that was the best we could do.  It was sheer suspense from the beginning to the end. We just got lucky. We could have very easily  lost if deliberations took a slightly different course. But that is another story.
I thought you might be interested.
All the best.
Stefi
—– Original Message —–
Sent: Friday, May 14, 2010 9:20 AM
Subject: Memo below

5/14/10

The County Executive presented the testimony below to the CARPC Commission last night.

DATE:   May 13, 2010

TO:             Members, CARPC Commission

FROM:   Kathleen M. Falk
Dane County Executive

RE:             Verona USA Expansion Request
I respectfully ask that you vote to deny or substantially modify Verona’s request for an Urban Service Area expansion in the Upper Sugar and Badger Mill Creek corridors and watershed.

CARPC’s first and foremost responsibility is to protect water quality.  The more valuable, rare, and precious the resource, the higher degree of protection – that’s a common sense principle that just about everyone can agree to and CARPC should follow.

Other points of agreement are also, I think, clear.  The Upper Sugar River and Badger Mill Creek are valuable, rare, and precious resources.  Badger Mill Creek is a productive trout stream (and yes, I have fished it and even caught trout there) with wild and stocked populations of brown trout, located within a few minutes of rapidly growing neighborhoods in a major metropolitan area.  It also has great opportunities for further restoration and public use.  Public and private resources, lots of time and lots of money, have been devoted to Badger Mill Creek, (for example, dozens of volunteers from the Dane County Conservation League and Trout Unlimited, the extraordinary aeration system installed by MMSD, the inclusion of much of this area in the County’s Parks & Open Spaces Plan).  All of this has produced results.  As my staff reminded your staff, the latest information on Badger Mill that arrived in our offices in the last two weeks show that the trout population is now at a 15 year high.

In the extensive questioning concerning this request that occurred at the last meeting, it also became clear that we cannot be reasonably sure that the recommended conditions will adequately protect these resources.  I also believe this is one of only two USA expansions of all the many you have reviewed for which CARPC staff has not recommended approval.

The course CARPC should follow if it is to remain true to its mission is to deny this USA request or to reduce it in size so that it poses less of a threat to these resources.  As an example of the latter, CARPC could approve a much smaller USA in order to accommodate the Dean Clinic facility, which is in the area furthest from some of the most valuable resources. Either denial or partial denial would be the careful, cautious, conservative, conservation-oriented course these resources deserve from you.

You are a water quality planning and protection agency.  You should and must be champions of valuable water resources.  Approving this USA expansion will be a fatal mistake for CARPC.  In a very candid exchange with the Chair, whose hard work and good intentions I acknowledge and respect, he made it clear that he thought CARPC rejection of this request would cause the City of Verona to reject the FUDA process.  He, and I think in this discussion he represents the views of some other Commissioners, believes FUDA to be an absolutely voluntary process; that communities can wholly decide whether to participate or not.  Both beliefs are, however well intentioned, wrong and will make it impossible for CARPC to function.  With the precedent of this decision, should you grant this USA, any and every community will demand approval of USA expansions as a condition of participating in FUDA. What then is the point of FUDA?  Secondly, every community that formally voted to create CARPC knows that, by the charter approved by them and the Governor, FUDA is the process by which CARPC will pursue its water quality planning responsibilities and that those FUDA’s will form the basis of future USA recommendations.  That is why, by the way, there are eleven “shall’s” used in the charter’s description of CARPC and communities’ participation in FUDA.  Participation in FUDA’s can and should be a prerequisite, not a reward, for approval of USA requests.

No one else in this County but me has taxed citizens to preserve the RPC staff when that agency was destroyed and to then create the CARPC you are today a part of.  Specifically, I have levied almost $4 million in property taxes since 2004 for those purposes.  I did so willingly, publicly, and enthusiastically because I believed this agency and the FUDA process could be the means by which the protection of key natural resources and urban development could mutually proceed via a fair, well informed, and public process.  I have come to question my belief as I have witnessed CARPC approval of thousands of acres of new development approved in 27 USA’s with no discernable progress on FUDA.

CARPC has moved too far from its clearly stated mission.  The FUDA requirements and schedules are clearly stated in the charter document that was reviewed and approved by almost every Dane County municipal government.  That document laid out the priority area and committed CARPC to

    • “provide the [environmental] information described in Item a. to areas with the highest environmental sensitivity and growth pressure within three years of the date the CARPC commences operations.  g.  Communities shall submit their proposed Future Urban Development Area within 24 months of the date they receive the data from CARPC.  If a community does not meet this timeline, the CARPC shall not act on any individual USA expansion requests until the proposed plan is submitted.  CARPC may grant one six-month extension to this timeline.”  (ll. 170-179 of the charter)  (emphasis added)

CARPC is now in its fourth year of existence, with no FUDA’s created.

Approval of this USA will, in my judgment, ruin any prospect of FUDA succeeding.  At that point, County taxpayers are wasting their money ($700,000 a year on CARPC) on functions that can be handled by the DNR.  I cannot, in good conscience, continue to support CARPC if you make that unfortunate decision.

You have before you a rare, important, and difficult intersection of several issues joined in this USA decision:  the protection of some valuable public resources and the continuation of what could be a key planning process for our orderly, sustainable growth.  To have both, please vote to deny or modify this USA expansion.