Thursday, March 21, 2013

Business owner freaks out over bike lanes

Yes, it's been awhile since I posted. But I have a whole folder of thoughts marked "Save for Blog," so maybe I'll get some of them out.

Today's topic is the freak out that the Northside Business Association had about the redesign and re-striping of North Sherman Ave. Commonly called "putting bike lanes on Sherman Ave," even though the safety improvements are going to improve the safety for all users, including drivers.

The vote and the whole debate is now old news, but today one business owner - not even located on Sherman Ave - managed to revive it and piss off the biking community as well.

The owner of New Orleans Take-out, on Fordem Ave banned Alder Marsha Rummel for supporting the project. Reaction was swift on the Bikies list.

I called the west side NOTO, which is pretty close to my house, and asked if I was banned as well, since I sit on two city committees that voted in favor of the project, and I testified in favor. The owner - turns out it's a different owner, despite what the article said - told me no one was banned from his restaurant. He hadn't even read the article, but I think people had already started calling him.

Others called and expressed their displeasure. One wrote:

After his initial diatribe we actually talked.
Among other things, he said his business has been down ever since bike lanes were put on Fordem.  I questioned that since Fordem was always two-lane.  I said perhaps the fact that the mural on the side of the building has deteriorated badly in the last two years and his sign needs work, it looks like he is not open or barely open at best.  He actually said I had a point.
John said he will have something in the Isthmus next week - let's wait and see.

Another person wrote an email to the owner and got this reply:

You are wrong, Bill.  But, the city council running rough-shod overthe city has to stop.  There was no investigation into how this wouldaffect the city.Public safety wasn't an issue. No other solutions were investigatedor discussed.  Their rational was fabricated and there was noeconomic impact statement done.  It will affect property values.  Itwould nice to know how and how much.  I used this incident to wake upthe city to what's going on.  It's time for civic involvement to curbcity council excesses.   I knew that I would take a lot of heat butsomeone has to, "Stop, enough."  The council can't close off one ofonly two ways to get to the north side and not think that it isn'tgoing to affect life on the north side.

I simply couldn't let this response go without an answer. Although I didn't email the owner directly, I posted back on the list - which is widely read by even non-bicyclists because of the number of people and level of public involvement on the list:

I'm not going to argue with this guy, since he obviously has some issues beyond not thinking bike lanes are a good idea. But, he is very wrong on so many points.
  1. The city - specifically Traffic Engineering (not the most radical bunch) did investigate other solutions to documented safety issues on Sherman Ave. They tried other solutions for 20 years. 
  2. There are documented safety problems - for motorists, pedestrians, transit users, and bicyclists. 
  3. The City Council was following the recommendations of Traffic Engineering.[pdf] Again, and I say this with affection, "Not the most radical bunch, or known car-haters, IMHO."
  4. Every study of this type of roadway redesign has been shown to either have no effect or a positive affect on economic activity along the corridor.
  5. This project is not closing off any routes. Traffic Engineering estimates that the same volume of traffic will be able to use Sherman Ave after the re-striping. When you have a four-lane road with no left-turn pockets, the center two lanes become de-facto left-turn lanes, so only the outer lanes can be used for through traffic. Local users - drivers - have said that they worried about being hit from behind when stopped in the left lane to make a turn. This means some people might not even make that left turn into a business. The center turn lane removes this problem and reduces conflict points for left-turning vehicles from seven to two. 
  6. Yes, this redesign was put forward twenty years ago by Traffic Engineering to make the road safer for DRIVERS.
  7. Civic involvement is how this project got approved. Just because you disagree with the vote doesn't mean that no one listened to you. It just happens that there are others - perhaps even a large majority that disagree with you. 

Whenever I hear doomsday predictions from people that haven't even researched the subject, I always want to ask for a retraction after the horrible results fail to materialize:
  • Smoking ban will kill all the bars in Madison! (And before that, "All the restaurants will close if smoking is banned!")
  • Big building will lead to massive traffic jams every morning and night!
  • Everyone will sell their house or property values will drop if this building gets built!
  • Roundabouts will lead to terrible crashes because people don't understand them!
  • No one will move into those apartments, and they will all become run down when the project fails economically!
  • etc.
[And someone reminded me of one of my favorite, which somehow slipped my mind: "If that bike path is built, crime will soar and housing prices will plummet!" Of course, exactly the opposite is true. Studies have shown that housing prices near paths are almost always higher than comparable houses farther away from paths.]
Every one of the above I have heard in the last ten years, and not one of the dreaded outcomes has happened.

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