Saturday, April 16, 2011

Questions about the Tea Party rally and participants

1. Why are their signs so lame? The left unquestionably has better signs. Is the right unable to be creative? Can they not think for themselves? I'm trying to not be snarky, but part of the fun and energy of all the rallies at the Capitol has been the great, creative, and often very funny signs. I see few of those at the rallies put on by the right.

2. How come they all get shuttled around in buses? Maybe I should be happy that they are not contributing to downtown traffic congestion, and I understand that Madison can be a confusing place to drive and park, but it just all seems so staged.

I was coming back from the Isthmus Green Day event, and stopped to talk to a group of people waiting to get on the yellow school buses staging in front of the Municipal Bldg. I asked where the buses were going, and how come the rally participants didn't stick around and spend some money/support our local small businesses. I think some of the people thought I was spying on them, and they didn't want to answer. But one guy said that, "Last year, the businesses wouldn't serve us." Which leads me to another question:

3. What kind of BS stuff is right wing radio and Fox News telling these people? When the guy said that they had been refused service, I asked him where. He said, he heard it on the radio. So I asked the crowd, "Who here has been refused service at a local business?" Of course no one raised their hand. I told the crowd that I was certain that any local business would be glad to take their money, and we always welcome people supporting our local businesses.

One guy suggested that I then support Johnsonville Brats. (Referring, I'm sure to the suggested boycott of Johnsonville and Brat Fest for supporting Walker.) Well, for one things, they aren't a Madison business. For another, that is a bit different than eating at a restaurant or shopping on State St.

4. Why do all the conversation I have with the right wing rally goers end up degenerating into talking points from talk radio and Fox TV on their side? And I'm not even trying to talk about politics. Besides asking them where the buses were going, and urging them to stick around and spend money locally, I stopped to thank a pair of women who were picking up trash at the Capitol. Honestly, I saw they were wearing buttons, and I assumed they were typical Madison anti-Walker protesters picking up after the Tea Party rally. But they had on Sarah Palin and other Tea Party buttons, so I thanked them for cleaning up.

They said, "Of course, there shouldn't be any trash." I replied that yes, that was one of the great things about all the rallies throughout this ordeal: that people have been very clean and neat, always cleaning up. They replied skeptically, "Oh, yes we've seen how clean it is." (I think they were being skeptical and snarky, and not honest, but maybe they were being truthful.) When I said, "Oh, have you been up here for other rallies?" they replied, "No, we've seen it on TV." Uh huh. What makes me think that they mean Fox News has been feeding them a bunch of lies about how trashed the Capitol and grounds were? I told them, no, really, it's been wonderful. Much less trash than any of the events, like Art Fair on the Square.

Another guy who did engage me, calmly at first, but then more stridently when I wouldn't bite, asked me, "If working is a right, how come the right to life sin't a right?" He wanted to talk about abortion, and somehow got sidetracked onto asking if I supported women aborting their fetuses that were the wrong gender - in India and China. The conversation had started on the topic of the buses and supporting local businesses, so I'm not sure how we ended up within 90 seconds on abortion, but it seemed that it was another case of using the right wing radio/TV talking points.

5. Why did Vicki McKenna immediately give me a shooting headache? OK, this might have been pure coincidence, but I was buying some cheese at the Farmers' Market when she came on stage. The moment her voice came through the loud speakers, I got one of those headaches that is a shooting pain in your temple, the ones that make me think I'm having a stroke. (Am I the only one that gets those? Should I be worried? It's been happening most of my adult life, and I'm still alive and healthy, so I've mostly been ignoring them, but I always worry that maybe my body is trying to tell me something.)

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Raise the federal gas tax!

If you already understand federal funding for surface transportation, please excuse some simplification in the explanation below. But if you understand transportation funding, you also understand that is too complex for a simple blog post.

Each year I attend the National Bike Summit, a conference/lobbying trip in Washington, DC to talk about bicycling with our legislators. I'm not going to bore you to death with the minutiae of transportation funding or the federal process, if you want an overview of the current legislation, you can go here. But there are a few critical points to understanding what is going on.

1. The federal government generally passes a multi-year transportation bill so that states and local governments can plan for the big projects that are funded with this pot of money. If you are going to spend $1 billion on upgrading the SE Wisconsin freeway system - including the $810 million Marquette Interchange - you don't want to be guessing what the feds are going to do year to year.

2. The current 5-6 year bill expired a year ago, and to keep the money flowing the feds have passed a series of what are known as a continuing resolutions. These basically continue the same funding programs, at the same levels, for as long as these short-term pieces of legislation last, typically 3-6 months. When the bill expired last March, no one wanted to touch the bill before the mid-term elections, so they just kicked the can down the road. (Pun intended.)

Why didn't anyone want to deal with the transportation bill before the mid-term elections?

3. The not-so-secret secret is that there's just not enough money under the current system, and no one wants to change the system. For most surface transportation (not air) the funding comes from the Highway Trust Fund, i.e. the federal gas tax. And there just isn't enough money coming in to pay for all the programs - mostly roads - that the American public wants.

(And please spare me any talk that getting rid of "frills" like Safe Routes to School, bike and pedestrian programs, or CMAQ will solve this problem. Those programs are such a tiny sliver of all the federal funding that they can't even be seen on the pie chart. It's like trying to solve the federal budget deficit by getting rid of funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.)

No elected official, right, left, center, or anywhere in between, wants to raise the gas tax. But the federal gas tax hasn't been changed for almost 20 years - since 1993. To make matters worse, the gas tax is based on volume, not a percentage of sales, that is, you are paying the same tax in April 2011, when gas is averaging $3.80/gal as you were in 1993, when gas was averaging $1.10/gal.

Cars are getting more fuel efficient, but people are driving way more than they were in 1993, and they are demanding bigger, smoother, faster roads, and those cost buckets, nay barges full of money. The gas tax at 18.4 cents/gal just isn't going to cut it. All those roads that we have been building for the last 55 years - since we started building the Interstate Highway System in 1956 and launched the car-based society - are falling apart. They need to be fixed, but at the same time we are all demanding that new roads be built, or current roads expanded.

There is simply no way that we can continue with this system unless the gas tax is raised. Many people, myself included, will argue that continuing to plan for a car-based system for personal travel is an insane idea for all sorts of reasons. But it has taken us decades to get into this mess, and it is not going to be solved overnight. We need a transition plan until we can build a transportation system that allows people to live their daily lives without getting in a car every day. Individuals, families, businesses, and communities are also going to have to make some changes to move away from a car-based transportation and planning mindset.

And it is going to cost money to build that system. So we need to raise the federal gas tax but also start looking at other sources of funding for mass transit, intercity rail, upgrades to freight rail, and multi-modal facilities.

Although no elected official wants to "raise taxes," because they are afraid it will stall the economy (or they won't get re-elected), we could raise the gas tax by a nickel a year for the next 10 years, and no one would notice it in the price they pay at the pump! Sure, the media would make sure everyone knows the tax is going up, but with the volatility in gas prices, the federal tax is a drop in the oil drum. Besides, gas taxes are user fees, and aren't conservatives usually all for making people pay for what they use?

So, raise the federal gas tax. Two cents a year for the next 10 years would keep things going the way they are. Five cents a year for the ten years might actually allow us to start building a transportation system with some choices for those that don't want to drive everywhere, and in addition provide a tiny disincentive to drive so much. Gas prices have jumped 20 cents in the last week, and 75 cents since January 1. Does anyone think people are going to notice a nickel a gallon?

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Dane Co. PARC grants will improve bicycle access

There is an article in the paper with all the grants from the Partners for Recreation and Conservation program, and the headline emphasizes the Verona soccer facility, but there are several bicycle-related grants as well, and I thought I'd emphasize them here.

There are three bicycle-related items on the list. Quoting pieces of the article:
The village of Oregon was the third $250,000 grant winner, for a new bicycling trail from Oregon to the Badger State Trail, about four miles to the west.
$100,000 for the Dawley Park bicycle hub and $3,300 for bike lane signage and marking on County D and PD to the city of Fitchburg.
$32,050 to the Friends of the Arboretum for restoration of the Grady tract and green prairie, bike access and trail improvements.
Also note that the recipient communities or organizations must match the grant amount, so they definitely have some skin in the game.

The Arboretum project is the only one that I am really familiar with. The director of the Arb called me last month to talk about this, and I told him how great this would be. It looks like the plan is to have a few accommodations off the new Cannonball Path where it passes the south side of the Arb. Water, bike racks (no bikes on the Arb trails!), a shelter, picnic table, information, etc. would allow path users a pleasant and convenient place to stop and enjoy the area.

In addition, this would add another entrance to the Grady Tract - the portion of the Arb south of the Beltline. Right now, the only official entrance is off Seminole Hwy, in the far NW corner. There are a number of places along the eastern side, near the apartments, where people enter the Arb, but these are often no more than places where the fence has been cut, and the Arb staff and scientists are not happy with the situation.

As to Dawley Park and the other Fitchburg improvements, I had to look up Dawley Park to find the location of this "bicycle hub."

Dawley Park is the area bounded by Seminole Hwy on the east, the Badger Trail on the West, the Cap City Trail on the north, and some development on the south. It is on the south side of the Cap City Trail from Dunn's Marsh. I'm not sure what they are planning, but there is no question this area is a hub for bike routes. The new Cannonball Trail will run north of Dunn's Marsh, so there will be a point where the Badger, Cap City, SW, and Cannonball will all be within a few hundred yards of each other.

Maybe someone from Oregon can chime in on where this new path will be from Oregon to the Badger Trail, because I don't see an old rail line that is ready to be converted. It's certainly possible that they are starting from scratch, but that generally means acquiring easements. On the other hand, maybe they don't really mean "trail," and instead mean "route," as in a signed on-road route with bike lanes.

Either way, It will be a nice addition.

What would be even better would be if they could figure a way to get the Badger Trail connected to Sun Valley Parkway (it currently runs under the road, and there is a pretty major elevation change.) This would allow families and less experienced bicyclists to get to Paoli without going over Sayles Trail. For those who haven't ventured past the paved portion of the Badger Trail - which ends at Purcell Rd - the next place you cross a road at grade going south is a little road called Henry Rd in Basco, almost 3 miles to the south. From this point, you are dumped onto Hwy 69, not what most trail users would chose.

A ramp from the trail up to Sun Valley Pkwy, and maybe bike lanes/a paved shoulder on the road, would provide good. safe access for less experienced cyclists all the way to Paoli. What a boon to businesses in Paoli!

Maybe someone from the village will work on that.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Walker is lying to transit advocates. What a surprise

This may not be news to many people, but for those that haven't been paying attention to all the nasty little turd bomb in the budget bill(s), here's an update on impacts on our transit systems.

From the Huffington Post (although this same article was posted in many other locations as well):
Under an obscure provision of federal labor law, states risk losing federal funds should they eliminate "collective bargaining rights" that existed at the time when federal assistance was first granted. The provision, known as "protective arrangements" or "Section 13C arrangements," is meant as a means of cushioning union (and even some non-union) members who, while working on local projects, are affected by federal grants. It also could potentially hamstring governors like Walker who want dramatic changes to labor laws in their states.

Darling and Vos of JFC really don't want to hear your opinion

The co-chairs of the Joint Finance Committee – Sen. Alberta Darling and Rep Robin Vos – are really doing everything they can to skew the testimony in favor of their view. And on the flip side, they are doing everything they can to suppress the views of those who disagree with them.