Posts Tagged ‘Williamson Street’

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


Thank you for your time.


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.

John McNamara 4 Willy Street Coop Board!

Sunday, August 2nd, 2009

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

From: John McNamara
To: John McNamara
Subject: Willy St. Coop Board Elections
Date: Sun, 2 Aug 2009 13:34:15 -0500

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you for your time,


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

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

Wooo-Hooo! Vote John!