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.