Archive for the ‘Energy Efficient Places’ Category

LOS-A for People: Willy/Blair/E. Wilson/John NoLane*

Wednesday, September 20th, 2017

The Giant Hairball Intersection is up for review & reconstruction. Here is my take:

A Diagram for People: Willy/E Wilson/Blair/John Nolane

Key to the Diagram for People

First principles first:

-Streets are ‘readable.’ Urban neighborhood streets should look & feel and ‘read’ like urban neighborhood streets, not on-ramps to expressways. Both Willy and E. Wilson look like on-ramps as they go off from the hairball intersection. Thus, they are inviting for through-traffic rather than neighborhood business destination traffic. This problem remains with the Design Professionals plan.

-Road capacity is defined at intersections. Left turns at intersections bollix everything up in such a constrained area, and for the benefit of very, very few people.

-Parks should be for people, not machinery. Eliminate the boat ramp and all parking entirely. A Boat ramp at this location is a legacy from when Madison was much smaller, and John NoLane was much smaller (i.e., park was bigger), and boat motors were much smaller, boats a lot slower. Now people towing boats can much more easily access much larger and more appropriate boat landings anywhere on the Yahara Chain of Lakes and arrive anywhere on those lakes within minutes by boat. Faster than a car towing a boat even (no stop lights on the lake!). Today, we have significant population growth in the immediate area. Huge apartment towers are going up constantly. These people access the lakes by foot & bike. Park space should prioritize them above the motor people. The city has changed, park use has changed. Time to acknowledge this and adapt appropriately.

-Scale is of paramount importance, for this intersection and its environs, for pedestrian & bicyclist safety in particular. The tighter the lanes, the narrower the total road width and the smaller the intersections are, the better for people on foot & on bike.

-LOS = Level of Service in Traffic Engineering jargon. It is usually used to justify gigantic roads through neighborhoods. Traffic engineers never apply this schema to pedestrian and cycling traffic. This is a first. Nobody wants an ‘F’, right?

Specifics (#s as coded on Diagram for People):

1 – Willy St. returned to it’s typical width and configuration as found at Paterson or Baldwin. On-street parking (no rush hour restrictions) the entire length, up to the intersection itself.  All dedicated right turns–especially flying rights–are eliminated. It is inviting only insofar as one might have actual *business* to conduct on the street. Definitely not attractive as a commuter route.

2 – Similar to above, E. Wilson returned to a neighborhood-scaled business district street. On-street parking. All dedicated flying rights eliminated.

3 – Blair St remains similar to current configuration with these improvements for efficiency without widening:    

-No left turns for its entire length from any direction.     

-Northeast/outbound onto E. Wash has one single *dedicated* right turn lane becoming a dedicated lane onto E Wash that is protected from other E-bound traffic. This can be done without any widening. This allows a constant green arrow, except when triggered by a pedestrian. This will keep Blair flowing its entire length, taking pressure off of the hairball intersection (it routinely backs up from E. Wash all the way to the Hairball during rush hour).     

-Do “no left turn” signs work? Well, from my experience, they do. The no-rights in the Atwood hood (Division & Atwood; Dunning & Atwood) are working wonderfully to protect cyclists & peds. I have yet to see anyone violate them in the years they’ve been there. And I use those intersections daily, often multiple times a day. They were the site of many a crash, before the no-rights.     

-These measures will make Blair->E. Wash so efficient that there will no longer be a need for all the traffic onto Willy St.

1, 2 & 3 – Scramble cycle: Entire intersection goes green for pedestrians, bikes, rollerblades *only*, all directions, including diagonally across the intersection. All stop for all motor vehicles, no right on red. It is time to recognize that this is a site of intense pedestrian/bike density (has anyone noticed the many towering apartments that are going up like mushrooms within a block of this intersection?). It is time to bring ped/bike LOS up from its current F status to LOS A.

4 – Bike path ever-so-subtly swerves away from JN. No sharp turns. A) It makes for a more pleasant ride, B) it brings the bike path away from JN enough to allow right turning cars to/from the new driveway (Point 5 below) to have some stack room after turning right off of JN, or as they attempt to re-enter JN. Bike path should be raised in relation to the driveway to slow traffic using the driveway.

5 – New driveway accessing parking behind Machinery Row. (See 4. above). Must go over the significantly tabled bike path after yielding to bike path cross traffic. Driveway is very narrow–+/- 18′. Stack room for 2 cars between JN and bike path.

6 – Eliminate lake fill marina feature. Even using a world-famous architect’s cachet should not allow for this travesty. Put the feature over the highway itself, if need be.

7 – Eliminate the left from SW-bound (toward Monona Terr) onto Law Park boat ramp parking. It is a disaster in the making for everyone involved. Plus, the legacy boat ramp is eliminated (as explained above). Permit U-turns at the Monona Terrace stop light for “jug handle”* access back to Machinery Row. (*Oh yes, this is a term of art in the traffic engineering world; there is a “jug handle” way out on Mineral Pt Rd, near the westside Menards/Target area.) This will require traffic waiting to exit the ramp and enter JN to wait for a specific green arrow, no right on red (to avoid crashes with U-turners on JN).

8 – Significantly expanded greenspace by eliminating the anachronistic boat ramp, and returning Williamson St and E. Wilson St to neighborhood scale.

In the face of a cooking climate, I’m not interested in nibbling around the edges. It is time to stop the denialism rampant in the pro-car power structure (it’s across the spectrum; it ain’t just a certain president) and do what needs to be done to prioritize sustainable neighborhoods and sustainable transportation.

-Mike

*John Nolen was given the moniker, John Nolane by the inimitable Tim Wong during the mega-battles over the bike lane closure during the construction of what he called “The Enemy Citadel,” a.k.a., the Monona Terrace back in the early-90s. I’ll generally refer to John Nolen as NoLane as a perma-tribute to Tim.

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.

Like Water for Oil

Friday, September 13th, 2013

Though it is about energy, this article is highly relevant to managing our water resources as well:

Just substitute the word water for “energy”/”natural gas”/”electricity” wherever they appear in the article. The following tract gets at the conundrum the Madison Water Utility seems particularly stymied by:

“In addition, state regulators should reward utilities for helping residential, business and industrial customers use energy more efficiently, and stop the widespread practice of penalizing utilities when their sales level off or decline because customers are using less energy. When regulators set rates, they establish targets for utilities’ allowable revenues, and this unintentionally links the companies’ financial health to robust sales of electricity and natural gas. The problem can be solved if regulators allow modest annual rate adjustments that correct for any unexpected changes in utility sales.

“Half the states have instituted such “decoupling” systems for at least some of their investor-owned natural gas and electric utilities, but the process is taking too long and only one publicly owned utility, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, has adopted these reforms. The rest should step up.”

Indeed. And this a model for conservation that has been promoted by citizens in the past. Unfortunately, this is an economic model (Econ 101-level) that seems to be alien to MWU management. Instead, they perform their incantation rituals for more drought to fill the utility’s coffers:

It will be more than three years since water rates have gone up for Madison Water Utility customers. The Water Utility had planned to file for a 12% increase in 2013, but officials say it was not needed because of high water use during last summer’s drought.

A forward-looking lot over at Olin Ave…..

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.

Why Mark Pocan Fails…

Tuesday, August 14th, 2012

…To interest me….In the least:

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

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

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

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

Did he advance walking? Nope. Ditto.

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

He sat on his hands.

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

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

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

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

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

Dems need to get their own house in order first.

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

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

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

 

Nicole Foss: “The Great Recession, Energy Depletion, and Political Turmoil,” at Goodman TONIGHT

Tuesday, January 3rd, 2012

Nicole Foss will be speaking tonight at 7 at the Goodman Center (details below). She is quite a speaker. I went to see her when she was here back in 2010. Her thinking is amazing–bringing together economics, social relations, and the natural/physical world in one very all-encompassing view. She is very good at demonstrating–jargon-free–the physical/energy resource limits we are up against on this earth. As the son of a geologist, and being a geographer myself, her thesis rings true. She then illustrates how we are papering over the inevitable energy crunch with debt–personal, corporate and government. (Think Wile E. Coyote right after running off the edge of the cliff, but just before falling into the canyon; that’s where we are now!) Being a fan of Krugman, her economics ring true as well. But it isn’t all doom & gloom. She has a somewhat hopeful outlook for those willing to move away from the world of consumerism & consumption. (Heads up permaculturists & local community-builders!)

And for whatever it is worth, this talk will go a very long way toward explaining why some of us have been fighting for decades for sustainable ways of getting around, land use patterns that are amenable to walking, biking and transit (i.e., community) and hyper-energy efficiency in our buildings. Given all of the paving, parking & inefficient buildings going in all over the place right now, we’re going to be seeing a lot of what they call “stranded capital” in the not-too-distant future.
You’ll be calling up your friendly neighborhood energy auditor right after this talk, I guarantee it!
-Mike

———- Forwarded message ———-
From: Hans Noeldner <hans_noeldner@charter.net>
Date: Fri, Dec 30, 2011 at 9:04 PM
Subject: Tue Jan 3 – Don’t Miss!
To: Hans Noeldner <hans_noeldner@charter.net>

Please join us this Tuesday evening for a special repeat appearance in Madison: Nicole Foss: futurist, international lecturer, and co-author ofthe top-rated financial blog  www.TheAutomaticEarth.blogspot.com The Great Recession, Energy Depletion, and Political TurmoilFree and open to the public Date/Time: Tuesday, January 3rd, 7:00 PM Location: The Goodman Community Center149 Waubesa StreetMadison, WI 53704Map:     http://tinyurl.com/7r2u3f4 Sponsors: WORT, Madison Peak Oil Group, UW Madison Energy Hub, Transition Madison Area, RENEW Wisconsin Pre-event Publicity:  Nicole Foss will be interviewed live on WORT during an hour-long program starting at noon on Monday, January 2nd.  Richard Heinberg, James Howard Kunstler, and Dmitry Orlov – leading luminaries in the Peak Oil/Post-Carbon world – will be calling in as guests.Matt Rothschild of Progressive Radio will also be interviewing Nicole on Wednesday Jan 4th.  It will be available here:     https://www.progressive.org/radioweekly For more information please contact Hans Noeldner     hans_noeldner@charter.net     608-444-6190 Intention:During the past year, tremendous political and economic turmoil has rocked the United States and the world.  Wisconsin – the center of the developing storm last February – has witnessed an unprecedented resurgence of citizen interest and engagement.  In this midst of this upheaval we find ourselves challenged to re-imagine politics, economics, and government itself. Meanwhile the aftershocks of the Financial Meltdown of 2008 continue to shake the world.  With the Great Recession showing no signs of abatement, and with the Euro on the verge of collapse, events are unfolding very much as futurist Nicole Foss predicted several years ago.  With 1000 postings and counting at the website www.TheAutomaticEarth.blogspot.com , Nicole and her writing partners have provided readers with many insights into the interplay between “Peak Oil”, finance, and monetary policy.  Not only did Nicole warn that a Financial Meltdown was imminent well before it occurred (a prediction which eluded leading economists like Nobel-prize-winning Paul Krugman and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke), she foresaw the NATURE of the violent oscillations in energy and commodity prices that would ensue. Having lectured widely in North America and Europe during the past few years (including Madison appearances in September and October 2010), Nicole Foss is returning for another presentation – one which is generating widespread interest and excitement. How do these forces and trends intersect?  What might be our vision for the future – one which combines a sober recognition of Earth’s biophysical limits…with a human-centric economic system…financial and government reforms…and an engaged, informed electorate?  It is our hope that events like this will inspire Wisconsin citizens to engage in vigorous, respectful, and open-minded debate.

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.

Why I’m Voting for Twink

Monday, April 4th, 2011

I’ve gotten several queries about the various campaigns in the offing. Here is an adaptation of an email I just sent out to a neighbor regarding the 6th District race with Twink Jan-McMahon bravely going up against Progressive Dane icon Marsha Rummel.

Hi [name withheld],

Thanks for asking. Before I launch into this, I just kind of want to lay out where I’m at in terms of the two biggest issues facing us as Madisonians as well as civilization as a whole:

  • Energy — A future with a lot less of it (not necessarily a bad thing if we manage it right, which our current alder is not).
  • Drinking Water — There will be a lot less of it, and it will be a lot dirtier, thanks to bad policy decisions by the incumbent alder and mayor. It doesn’t have to be this way.

So I should also warn that,

a) Most of the world — even among my more liberal/progressive friends —  is still in denial about the importance of energy and water issues and their integral nature with our land use and transportation decisions, and,

b) Though there has been much teeth gnashing amongst neighbors regarding perceived personality flaws of each of the candidates, the personality stuff means about zilch for me. That said, I pretty much agree that both Jan-McMahon and Rummel can come across exactly as you described them (and after some cajoling, Jan-McMahon has come some ways in working out many of those issues). But I just don’t care about personality quirks. I only care about results. And, personality quirks or no, Jan-McMahon has done quite a lot for the neighborhood (certainly more than the incumbent) even while wielding no formal political power, and while active in a political environment that is hostile to activism. Rummel, on the other hand, continues to block citizen-led initiatives at every turn.

A brief synopsis of Jan-McMahon’s accomplishments & vision are summarized here and here.

And she knows how to give heartburn to very powerful people; witness this little hissy fit from Isthmus. It reads like a Rummel press release, being quite redolent of conventional wisdom. How dare she run against Marsha! it screams. (The dig about Eastwood Drive was likely fed to the author, Joe Tarr, directly from his employer’s associate publisher. The latter threw a tantrum back in 2009  at our neighborhood meeting about plans to re-invigorate the Schenk’s Corners business district through returning our neighborhood’s public land to civilized uses. Many in the neighborhood, including yours truly, looked forward to reconnecting our residential neighborhoods to the business district by eliminating the expressway slashing them in two. There were publisher claimsed that it would have increased traffic in front of her lakefront homes. She That is mistaken. It ain’t 1970 anymore. We know how to keep traffic off of neighborhood streets now; we didn’t then. [See: Update 2.])

Anyone who can irritate powerful people whom are in favor of blasting giant highways through our cherished neighborhoods gets my vote.

I absolutely understand the confusion about all the back & forth on the Schenk-Atwood-Starkweather-Yahara listserv (SASYNA-Discussions@yahoogroups.com) about the two candidates. The discussion, though lively, doesn’t include a lot of people who are still quietly holding back what they really feel. Even Rummel supporters are disappointed in her lack of dynamism. Thus, we have yet another example of why it is so hard to go up against an incumbent. In this case, a 1970s icon who enjoys, as the political philosopher Max Weber put it, “the authority of the eternal yesterday” (i.e., historical prestige, an iconic reminder of the good ol’ days, an enduring symbol of life back in the day).

So here are a few reasons why the Jan-McMahon campaign happened at all:

  • Cars before people. Before Rummel ran the first time (’07), I had considered running. Before the campaigns even started, she approached me, we discussed, and, based on my stated concerns, she assured me that she would rein in the wasteful highway expansions. Why was that my priority? Energy, economic/fiscal prudence, drinking water supply damage, unhealthy air, etc. are directly related to Madison’s road expansion mania. (More information below in a little capital budget analysis I ran; also here, here and here.) Instead of reining in highway spending, she ended up voting again & again for highway budgets that expanded roads at ten times the rate of population growth. Over the course of her four years in office, Rummel boosted total highway spending by 46%, road debt by 50%, & on & on. Meanwhile, she voted to either flatline or slash most everything else in the budget.
  • A green Williamson Street denied. The big one was this, right in our hood: Anne Walker, Jo Schilling, John Coleman and several other neighborhood activists have been vigorously engaged in making Willy Street a truly green project. They researched, analyzed and found successful examples of strategies to promote:
    • good water infiltration
    • less pavement
    • buried utilities to protect our trees
    • keeping the existing trees, and,
    • ways of bringing it all together in a synergistic whole.

Very little of this civic work made it through the process. Yet, Rummel brags about the meager accomplishments as if they are major. While there was a little progress, what little was accomplished happened in spite of Rummel, not because of her. She tried to stymie the neighborhood activists at every turn. Finally, when she heard footsteps on the campaign trail, she decided she would allow a couple of tiny “pilot projects” using the green measures. Too little, too late, as far as I’m concerned. We could have had a much better project if Rummel hadn’t stood in the way.

  • Overpumping and Overpaving. Why is green street infrastructure important? I don’t know if you’ve been following the water saga or not, but the crux of the matter is this: we must re-establish a healthy hydrologic cycle with better infiltration replenishing our aquifer, the source of our drinking water. Most of the chemical contamination emerging in our drinking water (predicted to get worse) can be attributed to two processes set in motion by city policy: Overpumping & Overpaving. Rummel has done nothing on either front. (Ok, except to make things worse.)
  • Edgewater debacle: She voted for it before she voted against it. The March 17, 2010 minutes of the Urban Design Commission (pdf) show that she voted in favor of the project when a vote against could have killed the project.  (Rummel’s comments start on page 6.) Although she may have fought long and hard against the project later on (maybe after her constituents reminded her that the 6th district doesn’t look kindly upon taxpayer-funded corporate boondoggles), the fact remains that, when it really mattered, she voted in favor. (H/t Tim Wong for some of these insights).
  • Trashing our civic values. And while it is true that Edgewater needed to be redeveloped, it should have been carried out,
    • within the existing development processes (i.e., respectful of neighborhoods, our shared heritage, and existing urban scale), and,
    • with no public funding. The developer, Hammes Co., is headed by one of the largest donors to the Walker campaign. So by giving public treasure to the likes of Hammes, we are digging our own grave.

In sum, someone was going to run. If Jan-McMahon had not stepped up, there were several others who were going to. In other words, this isn’t a personality contest, it is about the issues, pure & simple.

As you read the analysis of Madison’s road building budget below, keep in mind that the roadbuilders are also among the biggest donors to Governor Walker and the rest of the Republicans. (More information about how the roadbuilders are rewarding the Republicans here.)

************************************

CAR-FRIENDLY BUDGETS ARE BROKEN BUDGETS: A Budget Analysis of the Road Expansion Budgets Approved by Ald. Marsha Rummel

Road building is the #1 budget buster. The city’s looming budget crisis isn’t due to city workers. It isn’t citizens demanding more services. It isn’t wasteful government agencies. The budget problem can, in a large part, be attributed to wasteful, robotically planned, road expansions, all approved by Marsha Rummel. Most of the road expansions are occurring at the extreme periphery of the city. The expansions do not benefit city residents; they benefit exurbanites who don’t even pay taxes here. Worse yet, the city has undertaken a risky borrowing scheme to pay for these extravagant acres of paving, putting our fiscal house in jeopardy.

Specifically:

*In the year alder Rummel took office the road building budget (major streets) was $46m.

*By 2011 she voted for a whopping $66m road building spree.

*In each year of her tenure (except 2009), she voted for road expansions at *more than 10 times* the rate of population growth.

*The total: an outrageous 46% increase in road spending in her 4 years in office.

*By far the single largest capital budget item is road building (major streets); that hasn’t always been the case. In 2001:

*The road construction budget was only $12m. Now it is $66m.

*Road construction was only 17% of the total capital budget

*Now it is a whopping 27% of the total capital budget, with Ald. Rummel’s support

*Borrowing for roads has increased by 50% under Ald. Rummel’s tenure (from $25m in 2007 to $37m in 2011.

*This isn’t for fixing existing roads, these budgets are all about road expansions; 17% of each of her roadbuilding budgets is dedicated to road expansion, in a time of population growth at only 0.8%, inflation is nonexistent, and more people than ever are using alternatives to driving.

*Debt service for roads is now squeezing the operating budget, resulting in cuts for Madison Metro and other essential city services.

In sum, the Rummel/Cieslewicz paving spree is occurring at a time when more Madisonians than ever are taking the bus, carpooling, walking and biking. Now is not the time to be spending so much on gilded highways. The city’s total debt burden, driven by Ald. Rummel’s suburban paving spree, has reached historic highs. The debt squeeze is already on. Debt — much of it due to over-building roads — is predicted to gobble up nearly one in every six dollars in our operating budgetby 2015, according to our city comptroller, Dean Brasser. A squeezed operating budget means lower quality services. As we have seen with the current mayor, the first to take a hit will be Madison Metro. We’ve got to protect the essentials: our basic services, our programs that protect the weakest in our community, our lakes, our aquifer, our air and everything that makes quality of life so great in this city.

***************

By building roads far beyond that which is necessary, we are simply making the Republicans stronger. It is time to start connecting the dots, folks. When: Voters support-> Liberal/progressive politicians who support->big highways which support->roadbuilders who support->Republicans…we get FitzWalkerstan.

Please think about those relationships on April 5.

So there you have it, the world according to Mike. And thanks very much for asking.

See you around the hood if the weather ever gets nice again!

-Mike

Update 1: More on how roadbuilders use public monies to subvert the public good.

Update 2: Isthmus reporter, Joe Tarr, informs me that he got the information about Eastwood Drive from other council members, not the Associate Publisher as I had mistakenly suspected. Apologies for the error.