Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Mayor Dave - stop using Edgewater as an example

Note: I wrote this entry back in mid-June, right after the Mayor's State of the City address, and his announcement that he wanted to "fix the development process." I never posted it, because I wanted to add some links, and never got around to looking them up. 

Now Bob Dunn has threatened a counter suit to the one questioning the approval process. He's acting like a spoiled kid (again), and that just brought all this Edgewater stuff back. The Cap Times ran an editorial titled, "Coming to a neighborhood near you: less influence."  And Marsha Rummel has organized a neighborhood summit this Saturday to talk about the proposals to "fix the process."

So once again, the Edgewater rears its ugly head as example one of "what's wrong with the development process." Well, I think that should stop. Read what I initially wrote back on June 16. I was mad, and still am. 

The Mayor wants to "fix the development process." He said this immediately after the Landmarks Commission rejected the Edgewater plan for the first time, and now he has brought it back up in his State of the City speech and at the Economic Development Commission.

He should stop using the Edgewater as an example of a typical Madison process for a development, because it isn't typical, and it just reminds people how that project split the city. The Edgewater process was long and painful for two reasons. It was an expensive, controversial project that had some very good arguments against it (principally breaking just about every TIF rule and rejection twice by the Landmarks Commission), and the process was bungled by the developer and many of his allies.

And let me say right up front that I had no strong feelings about the Edgewater development as a building. My main objection was the TIF process, which violated almost every rule the Council and the Planning Department had put in place to safeguard the Madison taxpayers and make the TIF allocations fair to all applicants. It took a lot of bad faith and arrogance to anger me to the point of disgust about how the public process was being handled.

In my six years as alder and the time since, I have never seen a development handled so poorly. The list of missteps is far too long to enumerate here, but starts with the public involvement. It was clear from the start that the developer had no respect for public opinion, and he resorted to astroturf support when people spoke out against him. When the developer presented his plans to the public, he was sure that he would prevail, because he had lined up all the correct supporters behind the scenes, as is common in large cities where he is accustomed to operating.

The problem is that most of the Madison decision makers actually have respect for the public process, and they rebelled at the back room dealings that were going on. The citizens that volunteer their time on city commissions, city staff, and the immediate neighbors were disrespected and dismissed. City staff won't complain in public, because they have too much professionalism, but I was appalled by what I heard "off the record."

The Edgewater process amounted to dragging an unhappy, sick kid, kicking and screaming, to a folk or classical concert you want to see. You got the kid to the physical location you wanted, and you are there to see the concert, but  the kid is going to disturb everyone else at the event, make them sick, make them hate you for bringing the kid, and piss off the kid as well. Then you complain that you didn't enjoy the concert, and the sound wasn't very good.

At some point you have to say, "Is this really a good idea?" Perhaps the Edgewater had so many problems, not because the Madison development process is broken, but because it isn't a good project, and the developers screwed up the process themselves.

Mayor Dave - stop using the Edgewater as an example. How about looking at how smoothly the Target and the moderate-income housing next to it created barely a ripple. What about all the projects that were passed in your first six years? Even in this economy, there is construction almost everywhere you look (except the periphery, and I don't mind seeing sprawl stall a bit.)

If you want to reform the development process, look a bit beyond the last time someone stood up and said, "No." Look at all the times they said, "Yes," and see what made those projects so easy.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Free food on Fridays - delivered by bike

Yummy fresh produce, courtesy of the folks at the F.H. King Student Farm, is delivered by bike and given away each Friday at 1 PM on Library Mall.

I think I heard about this, and then forgot until today. There I was, enjoying a little lunch from the food kiosks, and here comes a woman on a bike, with a long bed trailer and eight 18-gallon plastic totes full of fresh produce.

Within a couple of minutes, more people come by with more veggies, a table and banner.

I had just stopped to take a few photos of how much stuff can be carried by bike, and asked what was up. "Oh, we give away produce every Friday."

I grabbed some great big bulbs of garlic, since mine's not ready yet. And fennel, which in now making my backpack smell like anise.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Of course you can bike with luggage!

On my neighborhood listserv, there has been a debate raging about the best location for the new intercity rail station. (This despite the fact that that decision has already been made.)

One person said she was very happy with the downtown location, because she could easily get there by bike. Another person scoffed at the idea of people carrying their suitcase to the train via bike.

That's when I had to jump in.

I wrote:
OK, I have to defend getting to other modes of travel via bike.

I have biked to the airport with a small backpack or set of panniers. You know, about the size of an airline carry-on. No sweat. I have also taken the bus to the airport many times with a suitcase. Ditto for taking the bus to downtown to catch the Van Galder (to O'Hare.)

Carrying the stuff by bike is really not a big deal, especially if you have a trailer or rack on the back of your bike. However, the bus or bike to the airport is a lesson in inconvenience. Two buses to get from campus to the airport, less than 10 miles away? Insanity! And biking there takes self-confidence on the roads and a knowledge of the back ways that most bicyclists don't have. (Cabs from my house are well over $20 with tip, and for that price, I might as well take the bus to Chicago and avoid one connection.)

However, getting to downtown by bike or bus is definitely easier and less stressful. Obviously, the farther you get into a car-dependent environment, farther from regular bus routes and nice bike options, the less convenient the downtown looks.

But I will gladly trade a bit longer on the bus or train for being stuck on the Beltline or any major arterial during peak hour. One advantage of rail - either within the city or between cities - is that they don't get stuck in traffic. On one memorable Badger Bus trip, I was walking distance from my destination - 84th St in West Allis - but could reach it because we were stuck in Brewers traffic.

What many people forget is that there are already many people traveling from Milwaukee on a semi-regular basis just for day-trips. You would be amazed at the number of people that commute to or from Milwaukee EVERY DAY. Those people aren't carrying anything more than a shoulder bag or laptop. State workers, lobbyists, researchers at the University, private business people, etc. head both ways 2-5 times per week.

I was fine with the station being either downtown or at Yahara Station. As long as it wasn't at the airport, we could have made it work. There were advantages and disadvantages to both urban locations. DOT picked downtown, likely because they already owned the property, which obviously makes moving forward faster and easier.

Whether you agree with the location or not, the decision has been made. If you want rail to succeed - and I think most people in this neighborhood do want it to succeed - our energies can best be spent now in making the location chosen as attractive and accessible as possible.

Go to the public meetings. Ask the DOT questions. Tell them what you think. And keep up with when and how further decisions will be made, because yes, things are going to happen pretty fast. Although I will be the first to criticize the DOT "public input process" in most cases, and I think they could be doing a far better job with this one, I have seen evidence that public input is being considered and incorporated into the plans.

By the way, the Long Range Transportation Plan Committee meets the third Thursday each month, and the DOT has committed to coming and giving us an update on this project each month. This is also an opportunity for public comment, as is true with all city meetings. 5:00 PM in the Municipal Bldg. Rooms may change in the fall, so check the city's web site.

The Council will be getting updates for 1/2 hour before their first meeting of the month: First Tuesday in Aug, Sept, Oct, Nov. At only 1/2 hour, I don't think they are taking public comments, but you can go and listen in. 6:00 PM in the Council Chambers - 2nd floor of the City/County Bldg.

Thanks to John Luton for photos (and for travel advice in Victoria, BC) 

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Women's bike safety class - July 14 & 17

As someone who has been a bicycle advocate and educator for over ten years now, and as a year-round bike commuter, I often talk to people that say some variation on, "I'd ride to work/shopping/downtown, but I don't feel comfortable on the routes I'd have to take." They wish there was a path the whole way, or there is a particular street or intersection that keeps them from feeling safe.

Photo courtesy of the Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center

I know that I can teach these people to ride in almost any traffic condition or to any destination, because I've been teaching people to do it for years. But I can't get those people into the classes I teach. Or they don't find out about the classes. Or they can't make the dates I've set up.

So they don't bike. Or they only bike on paths or quiet streets, and miss the joy and freedom of feeling confident going anywhere by bike that people driving cars can and do go. 

So here is my plea, in my blog, which I'm going to spread far and wide. If you already feel great biking all over town, please pass this on to a friend, neighbor, family member, or someone you work with. Or maybe you are one of those people yourself. You wish you felt OK about biking to work, or you want to bike to events, but the traffic scares you. Or the cars feel like they are passing so close, it just makes the whole idea less than fun. 

We can fix that! Below is information from an email I sent out a couple weeks ago. This time the class is a women-only class, but if you want to be informed of future classes, let me know. Or if you want me to each a class for your group, neighbors, or work site, we can talk about that too. 

Have you ever wanted to ride you bike somewhere, but didn't feel comfortable on the streets? Want to feel more confident riding to any destination? Want to know the real info on what's both safe and legal? Know someone else who has said, "I would bike to _____, but....?"

Have we got a class for you! And this time, it's women only.

This is a 9-hour class, and will be held Wednesdays, July 14, 6:30-9:30 PM and Saturday, July 17 9:30 AM - 4:30 PM at the Trek Store West, 8108 Mineral Point Rd (next to Target, off junction Rd.)*

Cost is $50/person for the 9-hour class.

Take this nationally-recognized class, and learn to ride anywhere, even if there's no bike lane, path, or quiet street. Feel more comfortable on your bike by making sure that it fits, works correctly, and you know how t ride it efficiently.

From the League of American Bicyclists web site:
"Gives cyclists the confidence they need to ride safely and legally in traffic or on the trail. The course covers bicycle safety checks, fixing a flat, on-bike skills and crash avoidance techniques and includes a student manual. Recommended for adults and children above age fourteen, this fast-paced, nine-hour course prepares cyclists for a full understanding of vehicular cycling.
Please let me know directly if you would like to register, and I will send you the materials.

If you have any questions, or would like more information, feel free to email or call me.

(This class is for adults, but students under 14-15 may take it if taking the class with a parent. Students 16-17 must have parental permission.)

Robbie Webber, League Cycling Instructor # 701
Over 10 years experience as a nationally certified bicycle safety instructor.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Bicycling changed Dave's life. What about yours?

Today I  want to link to another friend's great blog post on how a mountain bike saved his life. Dave Schlabowske is the "bike czar" of Milwaukee, and someone I consider a friend. We worked together back when we were both at Bicycle Federation of Wisconsin, and I always found Dave an interesting guy and fun to be around.

He's one of those people that has had several careers that don't seem linked at all. I'm like that a bit myself, but that's another blog post.

What I love about this his story, laid out in the link above, is that owning and riding a bicycle transformed his life, physically, professionally, and mentally. He found his calling, or maybe his second calling, changed career paths, and made some changes in his life that he feels literally saved his life.

We never know what decision today will take our lives in a different direction or have deep meaning years down the road. Bicycling has certainly led me to where I am now, and I have heard many stories from others about how it has changed their lives as well. That's why I love to help others learn to ride their bikes comfortably, safely, confidently.

Later today or tomorrow I'll have a link to a class I'm teaching in mid-July. It's a class I've taught many times before, but this time it's a women-only class. If you want to feel better riding your bike; if you want to be able to bike around town without worrying if there is a path; if you want to be able to enjoy your bike more, let me know.

But for now, I'm just going to link to Dave's great post. I have a bad cold (how is that possible when the weather is so nice?), and can only manage short bursts of productiveness.