Posts Tagged ‘bicycle’

THE Unreasonable Man: Tim Wong

Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Tuesday, April 4th, 2017

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

I’ll be voting for her.

-Mike

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

Mike and Pam:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How I Biked. And Walked.

Tuesday, August 5th, 2014

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

By Michael D. Barrett

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

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

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

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

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

It was an assault.

The driver admitted to the whole thing.

The motorized assault, diagrammed.

The motorized assault, diagrammed.

“He wouldn’t get out of our way”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2010-08-16 12.12.03

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

 

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

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

Ozanne Goes to Bat for the Crack Dealer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Whistleblowing is now a prosecutable offense.

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

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

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

A Dumb on Dumber Prosecution: Institutionalized Vindictiveness

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

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

It was a dumb on dumber prosecution.

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

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

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

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

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

Manufacturing Criminals Out of Law-Abiding Bicyclists

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

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

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

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

Among the cases I have tracked:

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

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

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

Cyclist-Corpse-As-Campaign Prop

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

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

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

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

Feckless. Venal. Craven. Political ass covering.

Making a dead woman a campaign prop. Disgusting.

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

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

Yes. King of the Road. Guilty as charged.

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

Smashing Community

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

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

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

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

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

###

Further explanatory notes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Below is the original message sent by me…

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

To Whom It May Concern,

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

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

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

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

And she is driving a state van.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sincerely,

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

***

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

Federal Highwaymen Paving Our Democracy Asunder

Friday, July 19th, 2013

I recently received this notice regarding, in their words:

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

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

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

I went to the meeting.

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

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

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

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

Happy reading!

******

Madison Area MPO Comment

07/17/2013

by Michael D. Barrett

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

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

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

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

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

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

Your policies are overtly political.

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

You are a politically vindictive organization.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

###

US 51/WIS 19 camera image.

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

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

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

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

Saturday, March 30th, 2013

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

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

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

Dear Ms. Lanford,

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

Here’s the response I got:

Dear Michael and Pamela:

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

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

Dear Rhonda,

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

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

A Sad Day for Madison Bicycling. A Sadder Day for Good Governance

Friday, November 19th, 2010

It’s budget season, and it gotten ugly. Here’s Traffic Engineering’s personnel budget.

Go down to “Pedestrian Bike Coordinator” (Arthur Ross). Note that it is zeroed out in the Executive Budget.

Now look one line below it and you’ll see — magically — “Bicycle and Ped. Prog. Mgr.” with a salary approximately 10% less than Arthur’s current salary. Apparently this is Mayor Pave’s sneaky way of dumping Arthur. And saving a few bucks at the expense of quality bicycle & pedestrian planning. As I say in my letter below to my alder, Marsha Rummel, there are issues to be dealt with regarding pedestrian & bicycle planning in this city, but this thing stinks to high heaven. There are better ways of getting to where we need to get to (as I discuss below….) than an underhanded, passive aggressive canning. (And it is exactly these sorts of mayoral shenanigans that potential *quality* candidates steer clear from, as we’ve seen in the repeated failures of the planning director searches.)

But had this been even discussed on the local bikies listserv? Nope.

Any cyclist opposition voiced at the budget hearings? Nope.

Did any leading local bike advocates & professionals know about this? Yup. Apparently several.

Did they say anything to the broader cycling community in a timely manner? Nope.

I didn’t find out about this situation until the day before the hearings (completely by chance), and tried my best to mount some opposition (emailing alders, alerting other cyclists, etc.), and we might have gotten a couple of votes from that effort, but it was all too little, too late. The Maniaci/Cnare amendment to restore the funding for the ped/bike coordinator was defeated in a 10-10 tie, broken by Mayor Pave himself. Arthur is soon to be out of a job.  (Brenda has some sketchy details on the testimony Arthur gave at the public hearings on the budget (see at the bottom of the post).)

What we have here is a case of Human Resources Management run amok. Personnel Management by passive-aggressive fiat. A return to the cronyism, sinecures, and  patronage of the Gilded Age. A trip in the Way Back Machine to the 19th century when civil service was routinely ransacked on political whims.

Mayor Pave, Der Über-Decider.

The episode also speaks to the sorry state of local bike advocacy right now.

The moral failures all around sadden me greatly.

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

From an email sent 11/15/2010

Hi Marsha,
It has just come to my attention that Arthur’s job is slated for slashing. If I understand correctly, it is being replaced by a bike coordinator of a different description. This is dirty pool by any measure. It is the worst of passive-aggressive personnel management.

Look, I’ve had many a disagreement with Arthur over the years. Possibly more than just about anyone in the entire city. But I know that the root of the problem resides echelons above him. The engineers define his job as toeing their line and being their PR flak when things get politically rough on the bike front. His job has depended on him toeing that line, he’s toed it, and now that the bike movement has heated up beyond their intellectual capacity to comprehend, they want to pitch him to show that they are doing something. Anything. And from what I’ve seen, even the engineers’ misbehavior can be laid at the feet of policy makers above them.

Thus, I think the reason that Arthur is being pitched is failure at levels far above him. He’s the fall guy, pure & simple.

Yet, there is no one in the country who is more knowledgeable than Arthur on things bicycle and pedestrian. For years we have had the opportunity to engage that knowledge but have chosen not to. For example, I credit Arthur with first coming up the idea of the pedestrian-bicycle grid. He has tried to get other staffers and policy makers to understand it [to no avail]. I listened though. I tried (usually in vain) to get the ped/bike grid notion implemented on the ground while I served on UDC. I’ve researched it in depth and the concept is still valid, and still unimplemented in Madison in the 21st century. The lack of the ped/bike grid is the #1 reason bicycling & walking lags so miserably out beyond the beltline. But Brad Murphy & Larry Nelson don’t care, so it doesn’t happen.

Ok, so we pitch Arthur and get a bright-eyed, bushy-tailed, twenty-something in there. Then what? Set them to the wolves at City Engineering & Traffic Engineering and cheer & jeer as they get mauled? I’m hoping that whatever the outcome, this issue of bullying engineers gets resolved.

It is my understanding that Alds. Maniaci & Cnare are sponsoring an amendment to restore Arthur’s current position. I support their amendment.

Thanks for considering this.

Sincerely,
Mike Barrett

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

Wednesday, November 18th, 2009

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

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

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

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

Amen, sister.

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

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

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

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

Hello Lynn,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There are other considerations, such as:

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

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

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

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

Thank you for your time.

Sincerely,

chuck strawser

member (and neighborhood resident) since 1997

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

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

Sustainable Sheep Herding

Tuesday, November 17th, 2009

The city has held a series of “Sustainable Madison Community Forums.” I went to the first one on Thursday, October 22, 2009.

It wasn’t promising.

The foremost problem: we got talked at. The entire meeting was structured to shut up and shut out thoughtful community input. And in the Atwood neighborhood, where you’ve got the highest concentration of environmental activists & practitioners in the country (enviro organization EDs, the Geo/Enviro Professoriate, sustainable design professionals, enviro rabble rousers of every stripe, etc.), shutting up & shutting out is just bad public policy. The city has a lot to learn from these folks. To shut them up is just unacceptable.

Madison’s environmental brain trust turned out in droves to this meeting. We had the leading lights of Sustainable Architecture, Alt-trans, Hydrogeology, Renewable energy, etc., et cetera, et cetera. Unfortunately, not only was the forum designed to minimize citizen input, when people tried to break through the input-stifling format, the Chair of the Sustainable Design and Energy Committee actually shouted them down. Sherrie Gruder is a problem. More on that in a moment.

At least 2/3 of the meeting time was scheduled for dog & pony shows.  City staff & the UW Planning Dept’s Doogie Howsers laid out state of the art sustainability, ca. 1979. That is to say, the “presentations” consisted of nibbling-around-the-edges sustainability initiatives undertaken by the city to date. It was a laundry list of 1970s-era ideas such as solar panels & LEED design criteria. (There was no mention of what level of LEED was attained; my guess is that they are all at the Silver Level, something that you can attain by just following the state building code plus a green gew-gaw here & there. In other words, nothing to brag about here.)

The URPL students regurgitated their planning 101 textbooks. Again, nothing new for the brains getting talked at.

The people doing the talking at were in their little boxes and had little in the way of imaginative, low/no-cost green measures that could get right to the heart of sustainability. And the heart of the sustainability issue is energy. 80% of sustainability is energy. There simply is no getting around it. Energy use is entropy.* That is to say, our energy gluttony is the root cause of the vast majority of our environmental destruction, lack of sustainability.

And the sustainability issue at the heart of the matter: Paving for the Deathmobile.

Practically every aspect of sustainability comes back to this.

Water quality? Guess what caps off aquifer recharge more than any other impervious surface? Paving for the deathmobile.

Guess what the #1 use of land in Madison is? Paving for the deathmobile.

Guess what the #1 use of paving is? Moving & storing deathmobiles (roads, storage, a.k.a. parking).

Urban heat island effect’s #1 contributor? Paving for the deathmobile. (See the above #1 use of land.)

Energy use city wide? #1 consumer of energy is transportation. The #1 consumer of transportation energy? The deathmobile.

Guess what the # 1 mode of transportation in Madison is? The most inefficient form of transportation ever devised: the deathmobile.

CO2 emissions? #1 source in Madison: deathmobile.

Madison risks becoming an EPA designated dirty air zone (‘non-attainment’ as they say in bureau-speak). Where are these smog forming compounds coming from? #1 source: deathmobile. (Yes, including that deathmobile that you ‘never’ drive. How so? Fuel evaporating from fuel injectors & the fuel line creates volatile organic compounds (precursors to smog); this process is responsible for upwards of 20% of smog forming compounds.)

Budget constraints preventing implementation of green ideas? Guess what the #1 single item on the city budget is? Supporting the deathmobile. From road paving, repair, maintenance, street sweeping & snow plowing to police & fire & ambulance services dedicated to cleaning up after car crashes, there is no other single item in the city budget that costs more than, yup, the deathmobile. Furthermore, every budget during the green mayor’s tenure has included double digit increases in paving budgets.

Why not boost alternatives to the deathmobile? Well, the most obvious transportation alternative is transit. Rail transit is 8X more efficient than the deathmobile. Bus service is 4X more efficient. When you factor in the land use efficiencies of transit-oriented-development (i.e., density, mixed-use, all scaled to walking & biking), the efficiencies become incalculably large. Priceless as it were. But this mayor has repeatedly slashed bus service and jacked fares to the point that he is leaving people — literally — at the bus stop. His pro-sprawl policies undermine any hope for a transit/walking/biking future.

The budget squeeze brought on by the deathmobile. The 2009 budget included a whopping 60% increase in paving. Mayor Pave calls paving his “capital” budget, and claims that it is distinct from the operating budget (from which transit draws the funds it needs to run). But every year, as the mayor piles on debt to build bigger highways, the service on that “capital” debt becomes more & more burdensome on the operating budget. Yes, debt service on capital expenditures is put onto the operating budget. So yes, he commingles capital and operating funds. The effect: When the mayor was elected, debt service was in the single digits as a percentage of the operating budget; by 2009, that had risen to 11%. The recently passed 2010 budget is 12%. The comptroller predicts that by 2013 it will be 17%. That means a squeezed operating budget for decades. That means more cuts & fare jackings to the bus system forevermore.

Paving. Deathmobility. The Siamese twin elephants in the room the Sustainable Design and Energy Committee fails to look at.

Instead, all we get is braggadocio for all that nibbling around the edges.

Those nibbled edges.

Every ounce of carbon prevented by each solar panel ever installed by the mayor has been cancelled out by orders of magnitude thanks to his decision to jack up bus fares to pay for his paving debt service. Why? Because, in his years of jacking fares and cutting bus service he has decimated bus ridership. That ridership often shifts to cars.

Furthermore, it is likely that every watt generated by his groovey-green gizmo solar panels has been canceled out by the increase demands for air conditioning thanks to the increased ‘heat island’ effect of the paved area of Madison he has increased. And whatever emissions reductions are achieved by those groovey-green hot water panels will have been canceled out by the increase in smog forming compounds emitted from parked cars on hot paved parking lots baking in the sun. (Yes, Virginia, some 20% of volatile organic compounds — i.e., smog forming compounds — come from parked cars.)

So until the city takes the paving/deathmobile complex seriously, there will be no sustainability.

Yet in all of the city’s discussion of sustainability, there is no mention of the paving/deathmobile complex as a root problem.

City’s spending on sustainability, is being overwhelmed by the negative effects of paving & other deathmobile promotion. Instead of spending more on complicated technical solutions toward sustainability, the city could be spending less while promoting sustainability to a much greater degree. Indeed SDEC, the mayor, our alders, are all missing the obvious, Occam’s Razor-esque approach: Obviate the need for yet more energy.

The Great Energy Obviation: A Kyoto Paving Protocol.

The idea: Set the city on a glide path down from automobility and upward toward cool place making. That is, immediately set the city on a paving limit which, on a per capita basis would amount to the same paving per capita as Madison had as of 1990, then subtract 10%. That should be the goal of the next budget or two. Then, set city policies to achieve the same numbers for driving: per capita ‘vehicle miles traveled” (VMT) as of 1990, minus 10%. For budgets 3-5 years out, subtract another 25%. Continue on that trajectory until we are on target to reduce carbon emissions to achieve an atmospheric CO2 composition of 350 ppm.

Some salient measures to achieve these goals:

  • Increase bus service, decrease fares.
  • Plan for the grid for all new developments. The only pattern of development which has been conclusively shown to actually increase walking and biking is grid-patterned development. Transit also needs the grid to be effective. The grid. Boring? If you let it be (take a trip to Manhattan or the fun ‘hoods of Chicago for examples of a non-boring grid development!). Effective at providing access for all, regardless of mode of transportation? Definitely.
  • TWLTLs. Convert all 4-lane city highways to two-way-left-turn roads (one lane each direction, center turn lane) with bike lanes.
  • Bus transit lanes. Convert one lane to dedicated bus lanes on all existing 6+ lane highways in the city.
  • The high cost of free parking. Expand smart parking meters to more parts of the city, and implement yield-managment algorithms to increase prices at peak times and reduce prices at off-peak times, and reduce, overall car usage.
  • Pro-neighborhood business districts. Return all neighborhood arterials (such as Williamson St., Gorham, Johnson, Monroe St. etc.) to neighborhood business use at all times (i.e., end the rush hour parking restrictions).
  • Bicycle Boulevards. Begin designing key streets for reduced through-automobile traffic, and optimize for convenient and enjoyable bicycle traffic.
  • Emphasize Placemaking. Use the savings from reduced paving to create places people want to be a part of. Why placemaking instead of paving for speed? If we begin to create places people don’t want to run away from, then there will be less inducement to run away. As fast as possible. Preferably sealed up in a speeding steel & glass cage. Because right now, we are creating urban spaces so ugly, so scary, that all anyone can think to do is get away. Instead, make places that are cool, fun, interesting, beautiful and people will be more likely to relax where they are, rather than constantly running away from one ugly place to another.
  • Rein in the Engineers. The first step in the placemaking process would be to put competent, committed (to creating cool places) design professionals (place planners, architects, landscape architects, etc.) in charge of the engineers. Portland, OR never got anywhere in terms of sustainable transportation until they did this. For too long this city has been dominated by engineers lording over design professionals. That must be reversed. Places must be for people first. The machinery (cars) so fetishized by engineers must be made subservient to this prime directive: People first.

The Problem with Sustainability in the Public Process.

Prior rounds of input have been largely ignored by SDEC as well as city government at large. In 2003-4 there was a similar sustainability public process. Input from the general public was openly disdained by the chair of SDEC  (again, Sherrie Gruder).

Then, when the city opened the public process for the City Comprehensive Plan (2005?), staff’s boilerplate language predominated, and public input was largely shunted aside. This was a major opportunity to codify sustainability into every aspect of city policy — from transportation to planning to water & sewer policy. Many of us submitted detailed comment that, if implemented would have set us on a sustainability path.

This round of ‘public participation’ is looking to be similarly pro-forma. Indeed, it was so clear that the chair of the SDEC, Sherrie Gruder was so adamant about excluding public input, that I decided early on to submit my comment online, as suggested by the coversheet handed out at the October 22 forum. Here is what it said:

“To partake in providing input if you can’t attend in person and to learn more about Sustainability[sic], go to www.cityofmadison/sustainability/community “

I did. There is no medium for providing input. None. Once again, public input faces a dead end.

At some point, city leadership should mature into “idea input machines.” Even criticism should be seriously considered. If, under scrutiny of a rigorous energy/sustainability cost-benefit analysis, it proves beneficial, then it should be assimilated into policy. Neither the personality of the messenger, nor the personality of the receiver of the message nor the style of delivery of the message should have any bearing on the validity of any idea in the final analysis.

To understand how successful this new attitude toward governing could be, consider this quote from Bill Gates: “Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning.” Plug that quote into Google and you’ll find a million & one management gurus riffing off of it. The City of Madison in its quest to become more “customer friendly” might take a hint here.

*Entropy, for those who forgot their 7th grade earth science, is destruction of matter. E = MC2. The 2nd Law of Thermodynamics. Or, as the Talking Heads put it, “Things fall apart, it’s scientific.”

Note: I have more sustainability ideas that I will post on this blog as time permits.

Mayor Pave on the March: Massive Paving Budget Passes

Thursday, November 12th, 2009

They passed it. On a voice vote (for all intents & purposes, unanimously).

Mayor Pave is on the march.

And the zombies on the council are following.

Meanwhile, Dean Mosiman, ‘dean’ of the local Dying Mainstream Media completely missed the record borrowing for paving in the budget he ‘covered.’ He could only focus on Ald. Jed Sanborn’s tantrums against projects that actually improve our quality of life. (What is it about fiscal conservatives and their hatred of fun?)

The fact that not one “progressive” member of the council stood up to the massive paving spree is continuing proof that there are no friends of the enivronment, our health, or fiscal prudence at the political level in Madison, Wisconsin. Indeed, I’d agree with Mikhail Gorbachev’s recent assessment that

There is the wall between those who cause climate change and those who suffer the consequences. There is the wall between those who heed the scientific evidence and those who pander to vested interests. And there is the wall between the citizens who are changing their own behavior and want strong global action, and the leaders who are so far letting them down.

By passing this pro-car budget, our local leaders ignored the scientific evidence regarding car emissions and global climate catastrophe; instead they pandered to the shrinking-but-still-powerful motoring interests. They ignored the fact that their own constituents are indeed “changing their own behavior” and consciously driving less than they have in a generation. (Yes, driving has been down year-over-year for three years in a row in Madison, Wisconsin. The only mode of transportation to increase? Bicycling.) They are ignoring the local calls to action (and here, and here, and here, etc., et cetera, Et Cetera).

Our local leaders have, as Gorby said, let us down. Gorby was a brave leader who had the guts to open up his Stalinist system to the light of day and let it wither and die a relatively peaceful death. Our leaders, unfortunately, cling to a failed ideology; an ideology of car-worship that rivals Stalinism in its brutal results. The evidence is all around us: the carnage on our streets; the destruction of our climate; the cascading fiscal catastrophes emanating from the automobile industry out to the cul-de-sacs; and then the obvious — our recent oil-wars in Iraq & Afghanistan (and those are just appetizers for more oil wars to come).

Mayor Pave, Tear Down That Wall of Paving!

Mayor’s Budget Puts Madison on War Footing

Wednesday, November 11th, 2009

Last night the mayor made a perfunctory resolution honoring veterans in commemoration of Veterans Day (Kristin Czubkowski live blogged it here; see 5:45 PM). It was sponsored by him and him alone.

How magnanimous.

As a veteran, here’s something I’d like to see him and his pliant council read as they wield their rubber stamps for a budget bloated with paving, automobile promotion, energy gluttony and thus more war forevermore.

Instead of doing something about the repercussions of our automobile addiction (i.e., war), the “green” mayor has budgeted for:

  • Doubling overall spending on paving since taking office ($33M in 2003 -> $68M in 2009).
  • Doubling the overall paving debt of the city (from an already bloated $47M in 2003 to $96M in the 2010 budget).
  • Trebling the annual increase in the paving contribution to the city’s debt ($11.5M in 2003 -> $35.3M in 2010).
  • Bloating debt service by 33% as a percentage of the operating budget (from 9% of the city budget to 12%).
  • An explosion of debt service to a whopping 17% of the operating budget by 2013.

Where does this fit into the big picture of the city budget? Well, guess what the single largest item in the capital budget is? Paving. The fastest growing component (ongoing) of the capital budget? Paving.

And the mayor’s passion for paving isn’t just a fiscal disaster. The capital budget is one of the major determinants of the look and feel of our city for generations to come. The budgets put together by this mayor have been highway heavy in the extreme. So he is creating places that promote automobilism to the exclusion of sustainable ways of getting around. His highwayscapes endanger pedestrians, terrify bicyclists and make transit untenable. Every tool we have to help pull us out of the climate/energy/fiscal tailspin is nixed by his highwayscapes.

Moreover, the ever tightening squeeze on the operations budget will mean budget difficulties for our quality of life, social & basic services. Saliently, Madison Metro bus service, considered an “operating” expense, will forevermore be in a vise between anti-transit/highwayscaped land use patterns (which cost more to serve) and an eternally squeezed operating budget (that is, a squeeze induced by debt service on those selfsame highways.)

Indeed, at this year’s “Neighborhood Roundtable” the mayor declared his intention of completely cutting all city funds to Madison Metro.

Yet he brags that this is a “reasonable budget for hard times.”

I call it a warmongering budget, Mayor Pave.