Thursday, December 29, 2011

An entrepreneurial idea: We need a coffee shop without the coffee

No, not really. And I love all our local coffee shops, each with their own, slightly different feel, clientele, music, snacks, and vibe. But often I go to the coffee shop just to use the internet and the chairs, and buy the beverages or snacks to justify using the facilities. What I really want is a place to work besides my house.

So I'm going to again do something that people hate, and say, "Someone should...." It's true, I'm not going to do it myself, for a multitude of reasons, but I think it's a great business idea waiting to happen. And I'm not the only one.

Madison has tons of people that work from home, or more precisely work from the coffee shop, library, or anywhere else they can get an internet connection. Until recently, I was one of them. (I now have a real office, but that's another story.) Like many people, I have trouble getting work done at my house. I'm distracted by housework, cooking, bills, or something else in easy reach. Besides, I get a little squirrelly working at my house with no other humans around.

Other people can't work at home because there are too many people around: roommates, kids, spouses or neighbors.

Having a little separation between home and work - literal and figurative - is necessary for many people.

The problem with working in a coffee shop is that you have to carry your stuff around in a bag or backpack. You have to pack it all up if you need to use the bathroom, make a phone call, or run an errand. And maybe you aren't in the mood for anything to eat or drink. Maybe the music just doesn't suit you, a bunch of people just came in an started talking loudly just when you needed to concentrate, or all the good chairs are taken.

What many of us really need is a place to work that isn't home, and doesn't require a separate purchase each time you come in (or every hour or two, depending on the location.) And it would be nice to be able to leave a few things there, so you don't have to drag it around all day, every day. I could do just fine with one drawer, or even a little cube locker. But we don't really need, and can't afford, a full-on office. We just want a place to work.

My ideal would be a shared office with tables/desks, some comfortable chairs (I prefer to type sitting in a chair, with my laptop on my knees), and some locking file cabinets or small lockers. Maybe a small conference room and/or a separate room where you can take a phone call without bothering other people. Internet service would be provided, but no mail or phone service. The conference room would be available on a sign-up basis, and any other meetings would have to take place off-site. A fridge and microwave would be useful, if only to save a few bucks - now that we are paying rent, don't need to buy that sandwich at the coffee shop to justify sitting there, and in case we are hungry but want to keep working.

As to cost, maybe $100 or less per month. I have no idea what office space goes for, but there has to be some underutilized offices around. Hell, even a big loft/warehouse area could be fixed up to make it usable. Many people are probably spending $100/month at coffee shops as the price they pay for sitting there.

Somewhere in the downtown/campus area would seem the best location, because that seems to be where people are already working. Besides, a successful shared office would need to be close to other businesses, food, coffee shops, bars, etc.

There would need to be some sort of agreement among those using the office as to noise, acceptable uses of the internet - so no one hogs the bandwidth, food/beverage rules, and cleaning. Ideally, each renter would be given a key fob that would open a door to the office, so there would be no set hours. You could rent access monthly or yearly, and when your rental period or membership was over, the owner/manager would simply deactivate your access.

I just mentioned this idea to an acquaintance, who also works from home. This person is very well connected and successful, but said he would definitely utilize something like that. And he told me that another person had just expressed an interest in the same type of facility.

Apparently, these arrangements are pretty common in larger cities. Someone should open one in Madison. Not me, but "someone."

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Don't make people pay for parking they don't need

Below is an email I wrote a year ago regarding a development in our neighborhood. I happened to find a printed copy while cleaning out some files, and decided to post it. While this was written about one particular project, it summarizes a problem that is common to many residential developments: Parking is included in the cost of more expensive apartments, and if a resident doesn't need the parking, they have no way of recovering the cost of the parking they are paying for.

Despite what some people think, not everyone owns a car. Especially in urban areas, parking can be quite costly, and no one should be forced to pay for it if they don't want it.

So below is the letter I wrote to city commissions when our neighborhood association wanted to force the developer guarantee a parking spot as part of the rent for all residents. They wanted to avoid more people parking on the streets in the neighborhood, but I thought their concerns were misplaced.

I know I may be in the minority among the people you hear from, but I will reiterate what I said at the meeting Monday night. Requiring all tenants to pay for a parking spot, whether they own a car or not, is both unfair, and bad for the neighborhood. If [the project] includes a parking spot with every apartment, you are forcing people to pay for something they don't need, don't want, and won't use. And it's not a community asset, like a green roof, patio, or work out room, that tenants may or may not use. A parking spot adds significantly to the cost of an apartment, so makes the apartment less affordable.

It also makes the apartment only attractive to those who own cars. Is that what [the neighborhood] wants? Is that good for the neighborhood? Do we want to only have drivers and car owners moving into an already crowded area? I don't think so.

To make sure I had my facts straight, I checked with [a representative of the developer.] They do not want to allow tenants to reassign the spot - the one they are required to pay for - to a friend, work colleague, or other party. Tenants would not be able to resell or rent the spot to someone else. [The building owners] considers that too much of a security risk.

So the expensive parking spot included with the apartment will not only be unused by the tenant, but will not be able to be used to get one more car off the neighborhood streets during the day. Again, is this in the interest of the neighborhood?

So, my request to you is: Do not ask that a parking spot be included with each apartment. It is bad public policy and bad for the neighborhood. If you are determined to require a parking spot be paid for by each tenant, then ask that [the building owners] allow the spots to be reassigned to outside parties. This will be more fair to tenants that do not own cars, and it will also get cars off our neighborhood streets.

As to commercial and visitor parking - i.e. short term parking - as a neighbor that lives one block from the site, I can tell you that there IS parking available on our neighborhood streets, although one might have to walk a block or two. Despite what some think, we live in an urban area, and one cannot expect to park directly in front of one's destination. The streets are a public area, and anyone can use them, including for parking. We have two hour limits during the day, and that's appropriate. I have no problem with commercial customers parking on my block, nor do I think that a lack of commercial or visitor parking will doom the project.

When we visit the Monroe, Atwood, or Williamson St areas, whether to visit friends, shop, or enjoy dinner or a drink, we often have to park on the street, and possibly several blocks away. (OK, Monroe has a parking garage at Trader Joes, but the east side areas do not.) That does not keep us from visiting these areas, nor does it seem to impede the success of businesses. Just as with our neighborhood, these areas were built for and continue to be accessible by foot, bike, and transit. People who live and visit these area expect that parking may be less convenient, but they also enjoy a wonderful neighborhood experience, highlighted by easy, pleasant walking. 
Please don't let a few loud voices push you to make suggestions to the city committees that are in opposition to the interests of the neighborhood and the best practices of urban design. Several people have contacted me since the meeting to tell me they agree with me, so I am not alone. We all know that those opposed are often the loudest and most strident, but maybe not the majority.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Black Friday recall efforts: Midnight at Hilldale Target

Earlier this week, I tried to find any group organizing for the Hilldale Black Friday midnight sale. Although I couldn't find any official efforts, after a little emailing in the neighborhood, I found some other folks that were already planning on going down Thanksgiving night around 11 PM. I was glad to know I wouldn't be alone. It's more fun with others, and it's safer too. You never know what you are going to run into out there.

At first we were on the curb across from Target, just south of the University Ave entrance to Hilldale. When the line to go in the door grew to where it reached the University Ave sidewalk,  decided to go over there to walk up and down the line. I knew that the sidewalk on University Ave was public, so it was OK to stand there.

Unfortunately, one of the Target employees was not so knowledgeable about the public right of way, and she came over to tell me that the sidewalk was private property, and I couldn't be there with the petitions.

Hmmm... I hate to act like a know-it-all, or pull out my past service on the City Council, but I was definitely not moving. I tried to be polite and point out that the sidewalk was legally part of the "street," and so was public. The employee kept saying, "This isn't the street, it's the sidewalk. We paid for this sidewalk." Yes, Target was required to pay to have the sidewalk installed as part of the development, but they do not own it. It's City property.

Ms Target Employee finally told me that if I didn't leave, she would call the police. I responded that she was free to do so, but I could guarantee that the police would agree with me about my right to be there. In order to not waste the time of the police, I did point out to her that I had been on the Council when the Target development was approved, and I was quite aware of the public right of way. She still thought I was on private property.

Of course, when the police arrived, they said I was completely within my rights to be on the sidewalk, and as long as I was not harassing the customers, I and the rest of the volunteers could stay. We had been very polite, and as a matter of fact, had mostly not even talked to people unless they approached us first.

I think the employee was completely shocked that, not only was I not intimidated by her, but I was willing to risk dealing with the police. Of course, since I knew I was within my rights, I wasn't bothered at all.

So not only did I collect a bunch of signatures, but I struck a blow for our civil liberties.

So to all you recall volunteers: Know where the public/private line is, and don't let anyone tell you you can't be on the public sidewalk. (We actually moved to the terrace so we wouldn't block people walking or standing in line, but that was being polite, not a matter of our rights.)

And if you go to Hilldale, Frey St, which runs on the other side of the Target parking lot from University Ave, and the bus stop across from Sundance Theater are also public right of way.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Recall rally and petition circulation - notes and pics - Nov 19, 201

Just some random thoughts and photos from the rally yesterday.

Even though I am recovering from a cold, and being out in the cold and shouting in the street probably isn't the best thing for my health, I couldn't pass up the opportunity to attend the kick-off rally at the Capitol today. Besides, you can only stand so much "recovery" inside before you come down with another ailment: cabin fever.

So off I went, first to a pre-rally caffeination session at Barriques with some other lefties, and then up to the main rally. After walking around for a bit, I found a booth where you could grab supplies to circulate recall petitions. I had brought my own clipboard and pens, so all I needed was the paperwork: one recall petition for Walker, and  a second one for Kleefish.

We can't forget the recall for Kleefish, because if we get rid of Walker without getting rid of her, she'd become Governor. Hard to believe there would be anyone worse than Walker, but I think she would fit that role.

The organizers told me to stand at the top of State Street, on the Capitol side, but there were already so many volunteers there that I went down State Street a bit. We also had stickers to give people once they signed so that other people wouldn't bug them. I think I gave out ten times as many stickers as the number of signatures I got, but that's OK. People were glad to get a sticker, partly in support of the cause, and partly so they wouldn't keep being asked to sign. I gave stickers to little kids, teens too young to vote, out of state supporters, and citizens of other countries. It was wonderful to see so many people wanting to do anything they could to support the recall.

I finally filled all the sheets I had for both candidates and gave out all the stickers I had. I was feeling like it was time to get out of the cold, but I walked around a bit to see some of the signs. It all had a bit of a deja vu feeling, since we were all out in the cold, rain, and snow just 8-9 months ago. 

There were the creative signs; the Madison Fire Dept bagpipes and kilts; parades and signs from AFSCME, MTI, ATF, and other unions; even the Teamsters truck was back. Everyone was back in the street, shouting, chanting, marching, organizing, and being supportive of each other. There were smiles all around, but also that same frustration and anger, the feeling that our progressive state had been taken from us. 

 One thing I thought, as I walked around, was, "Well, it seems that Walker is good for a certain category of small business: Those in Madison selling food near the Square, and those printing and selling t-shirts, bumper stickers, and pins." The business was brisk at the food carts, bars, and coffee shops. You could hardly get in anywhere within two blocks of the Square. And there was a healthy selection of ways to express your feelings by wearing, pinning something on yourself, or sticking something on your car (or bike.)

I had a few errands to do, and as I entered one business, well away from downtown, one of the employees smiled and said, "I bet  know where you were today." She offered to sign my petition (I had picked up some extra sheets) without me saying anything, and another employee quickly came over as well. They both implied that they could only sign because the boss wasn't around, but they were very eager. (I don't want to get them in trouble, so I won't say where I was.) 

Everyone I know seems to be passing around petitions, volunteering to stand in the street, or knock on doors. I was worried that the energy would be gone by now, that people would be resigned to the regime, but it seems they were just waiting for the signal to rush back into action. I hope the action and momentum is as good in other parts of the state as it is here in Madison, because we are going to need it to get all the signatures in time.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Stop the bike vs car wars - we're all at fault

No matter what mode of transportation you name: cars, bikes, feet, bus, trains, airplanes, or rollerblade, someone is going to gripe about people that use that form of transportation. With a background in bicycle advocacy, I have heard more than my share of gripes about the way bicyclists and motorists operate.

Instead of arguing who's right or wrong, or what road users break the law more often, I try to diffuse the tension and give people a little perspective with a couple of thoughts.

First, my personal opinion is that all road users should obey all traffic laws all the time. That includes signalling turns, not speeding, yielding to pedestrians, not going through an "orange" light, full stop at stop signs, etc. But we all know that everyone breaks at least some laws every time they take to the road. Yes, even you. Let's try to concentrate on stopping people from doing things that are going to endanger other people.

And before all my biking friends jump down my throat, and if anyone else is interested in a perspective on why bicyclists blow stop signs, here's a little article from Toronto to give the other side.

My second approach, to try to get people off the "who's worse" train, is that it's not the vehicle that causes bad behavior. It's the person using the vehicle. And most bicyclists are also drivers. They are probably scofflaws when they drive as well. You may see them, or only pay attention when they are on their bikes, but they probably get behind the wheel and break the law there too. If someone is in a hurry or is reckless when riding their bike, then they are likely in a  hurry and reckless in a car as well.

And finally, people ask me what they can do to improve the driving (or biking) of others. As an elected official, people constantly asked me how to get people to stop speeding, or how to get people to yield to pedestrians. Well, it's not easy, and we all have a part. We have to speak up, and it may be speaking up to those we love.

How often do each of us ride in a car with someone else, and notice that person speeding, blowing a red, not coming to a full stop before making a turn, or not yielding to a pedestrians? And how many of us say something to our spouse, friend, co-worker, neighbor, parent or sibling? If we see our neighbor blow the stop sign at the end of the block every day, and don't say anything about it, how can we expect anyone else to get through to that person?

So yes, the police can run around ticketing people for every little thing, but that is going to cost you, the taxpayer a ton of money. Contrary to what some people think, it costs the city money to enforce those laws. The time required to stop someone, do a license check, write the ticket, file the paperwork, and then possibly go to court when the person contests the ticket, is far more in staff time and resources than the money coming in from that ticket. That's not to say that we shouldn't enforce traffic laws, but we are never going to get perfect compliance by using law enforcement only.

Why do people yield to pedestrians in California and many other parts of the US? Because that's just the way things are done, and you learn that from the time you start to walk. It's cultural, like being stoic about cold weather in Wisconsin. (Or a more negative cultural tradition, drunk driving.)

We all have to start being responsible for our own behavior and also speaking up when we get the chance. Don't sit silent if you see someone speeding, and you are sitting in the car next to him. Say something. And let's all watch our own behavior as well. none of us is perfect, regardless of whether we walk, bike, drive, roll, or run.

We can make the streets safer for everyone, but we all have to be part of that change.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Survey on interest in downtown bike center

I'm using this blog as a way to have a link I can post elsewhere, so excuse the fact that this looks like an email. It was an email. 

There has been much discussion over the last few years about building a "bike station" in either the downtown or on campus. Because Bike Station is a company, the generic term "bike center" is used below and in the survey. Now there is a real possibility of having a bike center built downtown, just blocks from the Capitol, the GEF buildings, Farmers' Market, Capital Square activities, city/county government, and thousands of other downtown workers. 

Consultants are interested in seeing what the interest is in a bike center and what amenities people would like to see. Please pass on this link, distribute it in emails, or post it in whatever method you can to get responses to the survey.

This is NOT just for current bicycle commuters! We want to hear from others at your workplace, friends, clubs, Facebook, listservs, etc. The city is trying to get as much input from the public as possible, from many different groups and areas of the city.

The city would like your input on interest in a bike center (aka "bike station") for a the redevelopment of the area that is currently occupied by the parking ramp next to the Great Dane downtown. 

More information is in the email copied below from the consultant. 

If you don't want to read the whole thing, the survey link is:

[start forwarded message from consultant]
The City of Madison has recently initiated a planning process for the future redevelopment of the Government East Parking Ramp, which is located on Pinckney Street.  The site is part of the recently named Judge Doyle Square, which is bounded by Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, East Doty Street, East Wilson Street, and the parcel containing the parking ramp (i.e., Block 88 and Block 105). The planning for Judge Doyle Square is part of a larger effort to form a bold vision for the South-East area of the Central Business District, which will place an emphasis on transit-oriented development.  The master planning process for Block 105, which is being coordinated by a consultant team that includes Kimley-Horn, Potter Lawson, and Urban Assets, will be completed over the course of the next four months. 
The redevelopment of Block 105 will include the construction of an underground parking ramp as well as public improvements to Pinckney Street.  One of the proposed uses for the redevelopment is a bicycle Center.  Mobis Transportation Alternatives ( has been engaged to analyze the feasibility of including a bicycle center in the redevelopment and to develop a concept plan for its size, amenities, and operations.
We need your input in order to determine the potential demand for a bicycle center in Downtown Madison, what amenities it should include, and how it might be used by the greater Madison community.  Please take a few minutes to fill out the survey.  It can be accessed by clicking the link below.  If you are not taken directly to the survey, please copy the address and paste it into your browser.

For more information on the Judge Doyle Square Master Plan process, please go to:

Thank you for your participation!  Your input is very important.
[end forwarded message]

Friday, August 5, 2011

Is the gas tax the next Tea Party target?

That's the question asked by this article from yesterday. There's something for everyone to hate hate in some of the comments from Grover Norquist and other anti-tax people.

Gas taxes shouldn't be used for transit or bicycle/pedestrian projects. (Despite the fact that these projects actually take pressure off many roads, and are a far cheaper way of moving people than single occupancy vehicles.)

Federal regulations require union labor, which of course is a waste of money. We can have unskilled labor with no negotiating power build our roads, bridges, and tunnels.

The states can do things much more efficiently, and can decide if they want to raise their own taxes to pay for transportation. Where to start on that one? I'm sure the Wisconsin governor and legislators will be glad to raise taxes and fees.... And of course, the interstate system is a federal highway system. There is a reason it is fairly predictable; you pretty much know what it's going to look and feel like regardless of what state you are in. That's because it has federal standards.

Note also that there is actually a teaser headline/link in the middle of the article that says the GM CEO wants to RAISE the gas tax $1.00 per gallon. I didn't click on that link, but it's sort of an interesting juxtaposition. That position is reiterated at the end of the article, where it notes that the US Chamber of Commerce also supports a hike in the gas tax.

This is all coming to a head, because the multi-year federal transportation bill - which is somewhere between $200 - $500 billion (yes, that's a B), is on what is known as a continuing resolution. It was supposed to be written, debated, argued over, and somehow passed in a year and a half ago. (You can go here to see the clock on how long overdue it is.) Since we can't just stop building, maintaining, and operating our roads, bridges, tunnels, transit systems, non-motorized trails, and every other surface transportation system, Congress keeps extending the current bill, with all it's current policies and programs by six months at a time to keep the money flowing and the system working. The most recent continuing resolution will run out at the end of September.

Cue the scary music.

Downtown Bicycle Parking: Issues and Solutions

Below is a document that I wrote in 2005, and recently edited as part of a discussion at several city committees on downtown bicycle parking. It was presented at the Pedestrian/Bicycle/Motor Vehicle Commission in July, and has been sent to the State Street Design Oversight Committee as well. (It's long, but I wanted to get all my thoughts on the subject out in one place.)

At the July PBMVC, we also saw a draft proposal from Rebecca Cnare of the City Planning Department, which outlines some ways to increase bicycle parking in the downtown.

This topic is an ongoing discussion at city committees as well as among downtown business groups. I will point out that several of the suggestions in my report have already been or are about to be implemented, such as bike corrals - adding racks in the street where a car parking spot is currently located - and valet bike parking at Concerts on the Square, organized by Bicycle Federation of Wisconsin.

In a few days - or whenever I finish it - I will post another document I wrote about bike stations. As part of the rebuilding/redevelopment of the Government East Parking Ramp, a bike station has been proposed, and the UW has also discussed adding one to Union South.


(and parts of the Capital Square.)

Issues and Solutions
Written by Robbie Webber
originally in approx. 2005, later revised and expanded summer 2011

The problem – inadequate bicycle parking

It is clear there is a lack of adequate bicycle parking on State Street. One only needs to walk up and down the street to see that there are many more bicycles than there are spots to park them. Even existing racks contain many more bikes than they were designed to accommodate.

Why it matters

If anyone thinks that this is just an inconvenience to bicyclists, I must point out that it is not. With nowhere appropriate to park bicycles, they are locked to benches, sign poles, parking meters, trees, fences, or other objects. They lean against buildings or other vertical surfaces. They then become pedestrian hazards or damage street furniture.

Appropriately accommodating bicycle parking makes business sense – and cents. A few years back we were proposing to build a band new car parking ramp for $11 million (the Mid-State St Ramp.) The yet-to-be-designed ramp to replace the Government East Ramp has an unknown, but likely very high price tag. We added 27 auto spots on the Square. We hear constantly about the need for auto parking in downtown. Many, many bikes can be parked in the space needed for just one car, and the cost is pennies compared to even one underground auto spot. Yet we have no plan to accommodate the thousands of visitors to State Street that arrive by bicycle.

Just as with car parking, businesses with convenient bike parking gain customers. Those without spots lose the impulse buyers or convenience diners. One reason people bike to downtown is because they can ride up to their destination. But if there is nowhere to park in front of the building, they may bypass that location for another.

The barriers to more bicycle parking

Whenever I have asked about increased bicycle parking, city staff points out all the locations on the sidewalk where a standard 3-4 space racks cannot be placed. There is only a limited amount of sidewalk, and many uses compete for the space. Besides a place to walk, the sidewalk on State Street is a place to serve food and beverages, sell merchandise, or sit on a bench. There are also street trees, delivery zones, bus stops, trash containers, street lights, and other street amenities. These are all fine uses, but each use competes with the others.

In addition to lack of space on the sidewalk, some merchants and property owners do not wish to have a bike rack placed in front of their building. I have heard comments that bike racks are “unsightly.” This is sad, because each bike means a potential customer for that business or an employee that does not need a car parking spot. I am also struggling with the resistance to placing bike racks on the south side of the 200 block (the Overture side.) According to our 1988 zoning code amendment, all new developments need to include bicycle parking in their plans. Yet the Planning Department has indicated none were included in the plans for Overture. This is direct violation of our zoning code. Further, the Overture Board has indicated they do not wish any racks placed on their side of the 200 block of State St. Since this side of the street is considerably wider than the north side, with fewer vendors and cafes, and Overture is far and away the largest draw on that block, I find it strange that they hold this position.

(The above paragraph was written a couple off years after the Overture Center was opened. Since then, as part of the redesign and rebuilding of the 200 block, I managed to get some racks installed on Fairchild St, at least within view of the main entrance to Overture. However, the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art still resists allowing any racks on the corner of State St and Henry, either on the State St side or the Henry side. There is quite a bit of space in both these locations, and a desperate need in that part of State St, especially for large events downtown.)

Finally, I believe a barrier to adequately accommodating bicycle parking needs is the assumption that the only way bicycles can be stored is on the sidewalk in standard 3-4 space racks. True, there are racks in the parking garages, but as we will see, there is no signage to direct people to these locations. I believe there is also an implicit “this is the best we can do” attitude among city staff. There does not appear to be the will among the various departments to solve the problem.

At some point in our civic past, Madison city staff, elected officials, and citizens made the decision that the city had the responsibility to appropriately store cars. We made accommodations so that there were places for people to leave their cars safely and efficiently while they worked, shopped, dined, attended events, or even went home to sleep. Madison has one of the highest bicycle transportation mode splits in the entire US, and the downtown is the highest use in Madison. It is time for the city to make this same commitment to bicycle parking.

Below are some ideas to relieve the bicycle parking crisis in downtown. No one idea will be sufficient, and all are just that, ideas. This is simply a starting point for further brainstorming and discussion. I hope you find it helpful.

Concepts to consider

  1. Begin to think of bicycle parking in the same way we think of car parking. On June 9, (2005?) DMI hosted a presentation on Best Practices in Parking Management. Although I found most of the information too obvious for a city such as Madison, we can use some of the same concepts the consultant covered to plan appropriate bicycle parking. Look over your notes, and simply substitute “bicycle” everywhere that you would normal think “cars.” Proximity to destinations, inviting parking facilities, signage, customer service, new technologies, Private-public partnerships, etc. are but a few concepts that we need to consider.

  1. Think of bicycles in the same way we think of cars. They are vehicles that need to be stored for short or long periods of time. We have short, medium, and long term car parking. We remove cars that appear to be abandoned. We have a limit on how long a car can be parked in a certain location. We devote staff to making sure cars are efficiently parked, and we enforce rules. We have people who use their cars every day, and people who use them occasionally. We have people that do not know their way around downtown, and we help them find a place to park their cars. People use their cars for commuting, for work, for shopping trips, or simply to visit the downtown. All of the above could also be said for bicycles. In some cases, using the same rules and requirements may not make sense, but we can start to think of bikes as vehicles that need a framework for parking.

Possible solutions

  1. Make sure that bikes that are abandoned are removed. Bikes abandoned in racks are occupying spaces that others could be using. The city has let this task lapse, but it was never adequately staffed. Bicycles could be tagged on Monday each week and removed on Friday if the tag still exists. This means no bike is removed before 3 days has elapsed, and would clear spots a minimum of once a week. It seems that bikes only get removed before Maxwell Street Days and before Halloween. Even when people call to request removal of an abandoned bike, it is not done. We already have an ordinance that bicycles cannot be parked on the public right of way for more than 48 hours. It is the same ordinance that requires cars be moved every 48 hours (a requirement that many of my neighbors hate because they do not use their cars frequently.)

  1. Consider lockers for daily commuters or local residents without bike storage on site. Many spots that could be occupied by shoppers or diners are taken by long term parkers. Lockers could be rented monthly. This allows a bicyclist with extensive commuting gear (lights, panniers, odometer, helmet, etc.) to leave much of the gear on the bike and know that it will be secure. People riding more expensive bikes will also feel their bike is safe from theft of vandalism.

  1. Consider coin-operated lockers for people who wish to leave expensive bikes or purchases in the locker for medium or long term parking. An example would be similar to lockers one sees in train terminals or airports. Occasional shoppers may not want to rent a monthly locker, but they will be glad to have a place to store purchases while they eat diner or attend events. It would allow use similar to taking ones purchases back to the car until one is ready to go home.

  1. Signage is very important. Many racks exist in locations that are not obvious or even visible from the main destinations on State St. This is one of the problems with the racks in the parking ramps or farther away from State St on Henry Street. If one is going to a show at the Orpheum or Overture Center, how is one supposed to know that racks exist on Henry St or the State Street Capital ramp? Even staring directly at the entrance to the city ramp gives no indication that racks are available inside.

  1. Put smaller racks on the street. Parking meters or sign poles are used as de facto bike racks, yet take up little space. “Hitching post” type racks can accommodate two bikes, and occupy very little space. There are many locations that cannot accommodate a 3-4 space rack, but could easily take a hitching post.

  1. Convert parking meters, poles, or other street accessories into real racks. This has been started with the conversion of the parking meters to “pay by space” parking systems. The poles remain and have been retrofitted with rings to allow proper bicycle parking. Tree protection fences, benches, or other street furniture can include bike parking spaces. This is done in many cities where people have used trees as bicycle parking. (This is illegal in Madison and damages young trees, which is why it is illegal in most cities.) decorative fences around trees can also have elements to allow proper bicycle parking.

  1. The city may need to acquire property to adequately accommodate bicycle parking. We use real estate that could be privately held to park cars. Is it time to build a city bike parking lot or ramp? One caveat with this concept is that bicycle parking needs to be even more convenient than car parking in order to be used. One reason that bicycles are an attractive transportation alternative is because there is an expectation that parking will be extremely close to the destination. The previously proposed “Bike Station” at or near the site of the Government East Ramp/Public Market/High Speed Rail Station/current municipal lot would serve employees in the GEF complexes and the south side of the Square, but would not serve most of State St. However, a similar facility might help relieve the need for secure long-term parking in the State St area.

  1. More space in city ramps can be devoted to bicycle parking. However, there must be adequate signage so that bicyclists know the spots exist. Bicycle parking inside ramps should also be attractive and feel safe. Better lighting, better visibility from the street or locations near parking personnel will mean nighttime use is less intimidating. The bicyclist should also feel safe from car traffic within the ramp.

  1. Bicycle racks could be placed on the street instead of the sidewalk. A wall or other barrier would be required to protect bicycles and users from motorized traffic in the street. On-street parking is the solution for many short-term car parking spots, and it may be one solution for short term bicycle parking as well. One advantage of this approach is that the spots are highly visible and possibly closer to destinations than other locations. Many bicycles can be parked in the space required for one car, so many spots could be added with minimal loss of car spaces. Cities around the US are starting to convert car spots to bike spots. If plowing in the winter is a problem (as I have heard), these spots could be seasonal, as bicycle parking demand obviously goes down (but not away!) in the winter.

  1. A private-public partnership or a for-profit enterprise may be viable avenues for development of facilities. Especially with regard to long-term bicycle parking, it is possible to make bike parking profitable. A business with underutilized space may wish to offer guarded bicycle parking for daily commuters. This would not even require racks, but simply a secure place to leave one’s bike. State Street is not the ideal location for this because of a lack of large employers. This concept would work very well near the GEF buildings. (See comments above about proposed Bike Station.)

  1. Large event sponsors or destinations may want to consider “valet” bicycle parking. In the past, Bicycle Federation of Wisconsin provided this service for the Great Taste of the Midwest and the Madison Blues Festival, both in Olin Park. A non-profit group or even a for-profit enterprise could park bikes for events such as Maxwell Street Days, Taste of Madison, Farmers’ Market, Overture Center events, Orpheum concerts, etc.  The sponsor or group would need to find a location to store the bikes while patrons attend the event, but the location would not need to be as close as optimal racks.

  1. Consider vertical storage. Lockers exist which allow bicycles to be parked on two levels. I have tested some of the devices at conferences, and even a short woman with little upper body strength (me) can place a bicycle in the upper berth. Some racks are made that hang bikes by the front wheel. This allows bicycle parking in less horizontal space than a standard rack.

Next steps

The above ideas are just off the top of my head. I am not an urban designer, planner, parking expert, or engineer. I have also not studied the problem except as a user of the facilities (or lack thereof.) As with any change in city policy, investment, or public need, I would suggest we do a study of the issues and problems and come up with a set of formal recommendations. Below are some steps that should be included to reach a solutions to the problem of inadequate bicycle parking downtown.

Several different city departments will need to be consulted, but I would suggest that the lead department should be Planning. They work with the downtown business community, neighborhood groups, economic development interests, City Engineering, Mall Concourse (housed in the Parks Dept), and Traffic Engineering (Parking Utility and the Bicycle-Pedestrian Coordinator) on a regular basis. Planning has the staff and expertise to work with all these interests.

Survey existing bicycle parking facilities. Traffic Engineering and Mall Concourse should have a list and count of all the bike racks in the State St/Capital Square area, but I wonder if they also include the racks in the parking ramps. If these counts and location maps need to be updated, that should be done.

Survey where bikes are parked, both legally and illegally. I have done occasional counts on State St, and often found 140% more bikes parked than there are legal and appropriate parking spots. We need to know what the demand is in order to meet said demand. Surveys should be done during the day midweek, during Farmers Market, when there is an evening event (for instance Overture), and on weekends, both daytime and evening. Art Fair on the Square, Concerts on the Square, Maxwell St Days, or other special events should be included in these surveys.

Talk to business owners. Some may have ideas, others concerns. I have heard from some business interests that they are very concerned about the lack of adequate parking for their customers. Others may not realize that their customers come by bike. Still others are actively opposed to additional bike parking in front of their business.

Talk to the Madison Police Department and Mall Concourse about how to solve the abandoned bike problem. Tagging and removing abandoned bikes does not seem to be a priority, or even a regular event, however I believe it is crucial to solving this problem.

Survey bicyclists parking downtown. These are the customers for the facilities. There are likely many categories and corresponding needs with the bicycling community: business customers, daytime commuters, event attendees, downtown residents (who probably have nowhere else to park, so use racks that should be available for short term parkers), downtown employees, etc.

Consider the needs of different users. Some of these bicyclists may be willing to park slightly farther away, in less convenient spots, if given better, more secure facilities. For instance, if someone will be parking for several hours every day (commuters), they may give up a spot in front of their place of business if their options are expanded to locked, covered, or otherwise upgraded facilities. Downtown residents may need a place to store their bikes overnight or for winter. Again, we may be able to make more street spots available if we move long term parking elsewhere. Also, some consideration of paid bicycle parking may be appropriate for optimum spots and facilities. (See suggestions of lockers, “bike stations,” and public-private partnerships.)

Survey space that could be converted to bicycle parking. Bicycle parking can be clumped together - like a parking ramp, or dispersed - like street spots for cars, but using post and ring or 2-bike spots.

Come up with a plan to meet the demand! Again, this might involve a list of recommendations, such as long term solutions, such as structured bicycle parking, as well as short term or policy changes using existing facilities.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Garlic scapes, fennel and tomatoes over pasta

After I posted that I was eating garlic scapes for dinner, a friend asked me how I cooked them, so I wrote this up. It's not really a recipe, but more like my cooking methodology - if you can call it that.

This was very much a last minute, make-it-up-as-you-go dinner. That's what happens when you live alone and don't plan your meals in advance. It sounds horribly disorganized, but sometimes great things come from experiments like this. Many of my favorite dishes have resulted from me just throwing ingredients in with no plan.

I had garlic scapes* from the garden, and my fennel was getting bushy as well. I figured maybe I should cut the fronds on the fennel back a bit so that more energy would go into the bulb. (I love fennel, and have tried to grow it in the past, but never had any decent bulb, so I'm happy to report that it looks like it was a success this year.)

Several people had told me that garlic scapes can be eaten just like asparagus, so I thought I'd cut them up and saute them in butter, since butter always seems to improve garlic. The scapes looked a little lonely in the pan, and not much like a meal, so I decided maybe I should make a more varied veggie dish over pasta. I walked into the back yard and cut a big frond of fennel, chopped it up, and threw it in as well. Then, so pull it together and make it more sauce-like, I chopped up a few tomatoes and threw them in. Salt and pepper are often the only spices that are needed with veggies this flavorful, so that's all I added. OK, I actually also added a little bit of balsamic vinegar, which I find is like salt - it brings out the flavor in foods.

After the pasta was all cooked up, and I dumped the veggies in top, I decided that the parmesan cheese just wasn't rich enough, so first I added a bit of olive oil, and then a little cottage cheese to make it extra creamy.

Yup, that was just perfect.

The following day I made a similar dish, but this time just the veggies, salt, pepper, olive oil, and vinegar in foil on the grill. Very tasty and quick addition to the burger and brats.

*More on garlic scapes.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Seriously, How hard is 400 signatures?

A judge recently ruled against a candidate that failed to get 400 signatures for a state senate seat. He was two signatures short after some of the signatures were ruled invalid.

I'm sure the Republican party will call foul, but really, 400 signatures to get on the ballot, and he failed? Volunteers got enough signatures to set up a recall election, but not enough to get their candidate on the ballot? How lame can the effort be?

Maybe it's because the people collecting signatures against Senator Dave Hansen were often paid, out of state people who didn't really care about the issues, but were just in it for the dough. I did data entry to challenge some of those recall petitions, and the work was very sloppy, and almost every petition from Green Bay were from someone from outside Wisconsin. (I personally think a person circulating a petition should have to be an eligible elector in Wisconsin, but that's just me.)

As a former elected officials, I have circulated many nomination papers. Four hundred signatures is a pretty low bar for an office that important, and everyone knows you always overshoot. When I had to collect 20 signatures to get on the ballot in Madison, I got 50. When the Democrats needed 15,000 signatures to recall a Republican Senator, they got 20,000, 25,000, even 30,000 signatures!

Rep. John Nygren is either extremely lazy or extremely politically incompetent. Either way, he didn't do the minimum to be on the ballot, and clearly doesn't deserve to be a State Senator. (Yes, it was probably his staff that is lazy and/or incompetent, but it is still the candidate's responsibility, and even the candidate alone should be able to get 400 signatures to get his name on the ballot.)

Friday, June 17, 2011

Todd Dr "bike lanes" are not

Earlier today, I posted a blog entry/rant about crossing the Beltline by bike or foot. It all bubbled up because there was yet another bicycle-car crash on Whitney Way neat the Beltline. Why does it seem we obsess and spend hundreds of millions of dollars to be sure car drivers are safe, and yet we can't spend a fraction of that to make sure that people using non-motorized transportation also have safe and convenient facilities.

Instead of tacking on the post below to the earlier one, I thought I'd tell a story about a time when we did have money to do things right, and yet the money ended up elsewhere, and the results were not even safe when the project was done.

Back when I was an alder and Mike Rewey was just leaving the Wisconsin DOT, Mr Rewey got some funding to fix a safety problem: people were trying to get across the Beltline between Fish Hatchery Rd and Park St. They were cutting holes in the fence and running across the Beltline. some of them got hurt doing that. 

Why were they taking such risks? Because they wanted to get to jobs in the area of Greenway Cross, and they lived in the Burr Oaks and Bram's Addition areas of the city, which is traditionally a lower income area, in other words, full of people who would like to work at the entry-level jobs in the area directly across the Beltline from them. The Fish Hatchery Rd crossing of the Beltline is not friendly to pedestrians, and for people on foot, it's pretty far out of the way to just get across the highway.

So Mr. Rewey got funding to build a pedestrian-bike bridge to connect the two pieces of Perry St on either side of the Beltline. 

However, some of the businesses in the area were concerned with making this connection, and the project was killed by the local alder. The money was diverted to another project farther west, rebuilding Todd Dr. 

There was just one problem, and that was that Wisconsin generally doesn't allow targeted bicycle and pedestrian money to be used just to add sidewalks and bike lanes when a road is rebuilt. The Wisconsin DOT, and the various MPOs and municipalities that follow the WisDOT guidelines, figure that bike lanes and sidewalks are part of the roadway anyway, and since it's not really all that expensive to add them when the road is being rebuilt, you don't have to use a special, and very limited pot of money to out them in.

I argued that this was an inappropriate use of the funds that were supposed to alleviate a very specific safety problem, but I lost that battle and the money was used to add "bicycle and pedestrian accommodations" to the Todd Dr . project. 

So imagine my chagrin when I went down to Johannsen's Greenhouse, next to the rebuilt intersection, and found that the "bike lanes" were to the right of a right-turn-only lane! Uh huh. So you are riding along in the "bike lanes" - note that they are not actually marked as such, because they are in the wrong place - and all those cars are going to be cutting you off to get on the Beltline. Great. 

After a couple of years of noticing this, I finally remembered to mention it to a couple of people who should be able to fix it. I sure hope so, because what exists now is very dangerous. And really, this is what we get when we put in "bicycle and pedestrian accommodations" with money allocated to solve a bicycle-pedestrian safety problem? I sure as hell hope not!

Another bicyclist injured on Whitney Way

Last time it was just north of the Beltline, and the driver tried to drive off, dragging the bicyclist under her car. Fortunately, the driver of a Roto-Rooter truck blocked her so the injured woman could be helped. But the driver then sped off again.

This time the hit-and-run was just south of the Beltline, but also on Whitney Way.

Sounds to me like there is a need for some safety improvements, or maybe another route option in this area. The Beltline crossings in this area are pretty far apart for a bicyclist or pedestrian. It is roughly a mile to the Grand Canyon underpass to the west, and about 3/4 mile to the Hammersley overpass to the east (and that is as the crow flies, not as the bicyclist is able to use on-ground connections.)

With two crashes within one month, is that enough to get hazard mitigation funding? There is a nice cul-de-sac at Forward Dr south of the Beltline, and another one on Schroeder Ct., just west of Whitney. Maybe we can get a crossing there? The Odana Golf Course makes it a bit tough to find a crossing between Whitney and Hammersley, but maybe we can find a way.

And just by coincidence, when I went in to Google Maps streetview just north of the Beltline on northbound Whitney Way, there is a bicyclist in the shot!  [edit: On second glance, I actually think that is a scooter, but it's still a horrid place to be on a small vehicle that doesn't go as fast as the cars generally are moving.]

Crossing the Beltline by foot or by bike via the normal car routes - Fish Hatchery, Whitney, Rimrock, Mineral Point, Old Sauk Rd, etc. - is a scary experience, even for experienced cyclists. I've done it many times, and I don't like it. I do it because I have to get somewhere, and just like most people, want to get there by the fastest and most direct route.

If we want people to be able to go the same places by bike and by foot as they do when in a car - and I think that should be our goal - we need to spend as much time thinking about making the routes as safe for bicyclists and pedestrians as we do solving safety problems for motorists. After all, if two cars are in a sideswipe crash at 25-30 mph, or a car bumps another from behind, there will be damage, but likely not major injury to either driver or any passenger. But if a car sideswipes a bicyclist at 30 mph, or rear ends a bicyclist when the speed differential is 15 mph (bicyclist going 15 and car going 30), the bicyclist is likely to end up in the hospital.

We spend hundreds of millions of dollars every year in Wisconsin making sure that motorists are both not overly delayed and are as safe as possible. That doesn't stop all the deaths and injuries, but we have engineered the roads as close to fool-proof as possible. We cut down trees, make the roads wide and the curves gentle. We put up signs and lights as warnings. We paint every road with stripes and arrows, and take over huge swaths of valuable land - good farmland or pricey urban land - to accommodate safe and fast roads.

Fortunately, bicycle and pedestrian accommodations are nowhere near as expensive as roads. A fe years back, the Madison Transportation Planning Board (MPO) was asked to make up a list of what it would do with $50 million in federal funding for bicycle and pedestrian projects. Almost everything we have been planning for for 15 years could be built with that money.

That seems like a lot of money, until you consider that the "interim fixes" to Verona Rd - just to make it work for motorists until 2030 - will cost... what's it up to now? Maybe $140 million? And then the planned freeway conversion in 2030 will be another $200 million. (The DOT web site is nowhere close to up to date on this project. I just attended a meeting on Wednesday where they presented a new version of Stage 1.)

So OK, that's a really big road, and several state highways. How about the S&M intersection on the west side of Madison. That is two county roads, but the City of Madison is picking up most of the local share. Just that one intersection, not even an interchange with the Beltine, will cost about $20 million. And that doesn't count the rest of the "improvements" to County Hwy M to accommodate all the commuters between Verona and Madison (or Middleton.)

So why is it so hard to make it safe for bicyclists and pedestrians to get across the Beltline? Why do we have to have a separate, and very small pot of money for that, instead of just building these projects just like we build big highways?

PBIC image - Dan Burden
The City of Madison has been pretty good about building good, safe connections for bicyclists and pedestrians, but that's partly because we have also been able to tap into federal earmarks. What will happen when those dry up? Will we keep building bigger and bigger roads, even as [motorized] vehicle miles traveled decreases, and bicycle mileage grows? And will be keep putting off the projects that would allow people to safely, easily, and quickly get across the barriers that we have created with... wait for it... all the big road?!