Tuesday, March 23, 2010

OWIs - When will we have enough?

It seems like almost every day there is another article about someone being arrested for their fourth or fifth OWI. Every time I read such an article, I am sickened that Wisconsin refuses to crack down on this dangerous behavior. These people are a danger to others on the road, and they are a danger to themselves.

Oh, and by the way, OWIs when boating and snowmobiling don't currently show upon your driver's license and aren't counted towards your auto-driving convictions. Legislators are working to change that, backed by the Snowmobile Association. (Thanks to them for that sane stance.)

When I tell friends from other states how lax our laws are, their mouths drop open. We are the only state in the US to not criminalize a first OWI. We only recently tightened laws on multiple OWIs, but we are still far behind other states. And everyone knows it, and accepts it. The Tavern League decries tightening OWI laws as an assault on our Wisconsin  culture. Even lawmakers have a "there but for the grace of god go I" attitude. The argument over whether Jeff Woods should be expelled from the Legislature should not even be happening, because Rep Woods, or any other legislator caught multiple times driving after drinking should have the decency to resign.

Now don't get me wrong, I have no problem with people enjoying a few fermented or malted beverages, but everyone should know when to say when, and no one should be stupid enough to get caught twice, much less five times. Either stop drinking while you are still able to drive, or don't drive, take your pick.

Of course, part of the problem is the fact that we don't have ways of getting home from the bars without driving, but lack of transportation alternatives, our reliance on cars, and our attitudes that driving is a constitutional right is another story and blog post.

My solution, in order to not fill our jails with non-violent offenders: First offense - mandatory interlock device on your car, and restriction on driving for six months. To and from work only. Second offense - lose your license for a year and a big fine (or community service if you don't have money.) Can't get to work? Maybe that possibility would make people think before drinking and driving. Also, mandatory alcohol treatment program. Third offense - lose your license forever. You are never able to drive again legal, for the rest of your life. Your car is auctioned off by the state as a seizure in the commission of a crime. Every offense after the third entails seizure of the car used, even if it belongs to someone else. Anyone that gets caught three times isn't unlucky, they have a serious problem, and should not be on the road.

A friend just returned from Sweden. The acceptable blood alcohol level when driving? 0.0. Absolute sobriety. And alcohol is very expensive as well. They used to have a very serious alcohol problem, but now people are careful and simply don't drink and drive on the same night. Other European countries have similar laws.

I'm not suggesting absolute sobriety, but when are we going to get serious about multiple offenses? When am I going to not open the paper every day to another headline about another 5-time offender?

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Chicago's green river - even more so on St Patrick's Day

Every year, when the national news inevitably has an item about Chicago turning its river green for St Patrick's Day, I chuckle a little.

A couple of decades ago, when I was just out of college, my brother worked in an office that overlooked the Chicago River, and he had invited me to watch as they dyed the river green before we headed to the parade. When I arrived at his office and looked out the window, I was disappointed. I thought I'd missed the big event.

"They already put the dye in the river. I missed it." I said.

My brother came over and looked out.

"No, that's the normal color of the river." he laughed. "I assure you, you will know when they put the dye in."

And indeed, although the Chicago River normally has a sort of sick green, reminding everyone not to get too close, and certainly not to think about taking a swim, the St Patrick's Day green is a color not found in nature, or even polluted rivers.

Thanks to the NBC affiliate in Chicago for the photo.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Washington DC - House of Cars - an exhibit at the National Building Museum

Every year I take a trip to Washington, DC for business. It's a great city to visit and explore, a wonderful place to walk, and a real treat for those who love to learn. Most of the museums are free, and even office buildings are worth a peak inside. There are public spaces everywhere, both indoors and outdoors, and  that is a good thing, because a trip to DC is often exhausting, and a place to sit down is welcome. In the next few days I'm going to try to write a little about some of my favorite sites and experiences.

Today I went to the National Building Museum, which I recommend to anyone that is interested in urban design, cities, and land use in general. The building itself is spectacular, originally built for the US Pension Bureau after the Civil War. Even if you just love beautiful, grand architecture, you should stop by if you are in Washington.

The museum is currently hosting an exhibit about the history of the parking garage. It really makes you think about the way we accommodate car “at rest,” as the entrance to the exhibit phrases it.We think about cars as something that gives us freedom and mobility, a thing devoted to motion. But most of the time, our cars are not moving. They aren't even on the street, but in a lot or parking garage. We as individuals, business owners, urban designers and civic leaders have had to decide how to store cars at home, work, and all the other locations we take our cars. And the evolution of the parking garage has reflected our attitudes towards both cars and urban design. It has even reflected our attitudes towards cities. We have to decide how much land we want to devote towards housing cars. And we have to decide what those structures should look like.

At the link above are some other interesting links to more contemplation of the car, parking garages, and how parking reflects our social values.