Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Madison Rail Battle Disappoints

I used my monthly op-ed space in the Madison Capital Times to urge politicians and opinion-makers there to stop fighting over rail options.

From a Milwaukee perspective, and to the rest of the state, the fight is counter-productive.

And I'd be remiss if I didn't point out that if 510 votes in the 1979 Mayoral contest had gone the other way, that rail argument would have been settled long ago, but let's not get too far off the track.

7 comments:

vyborg said...

I don't think rail is liberal or conservative. In many ways I would position the pro-rail side on the right side of the political spectrum.

The only rail I support are linking up Milwaukee, Madison, Green Bay etc. I think that is a strong need.

If medium rail is to work it must be like Houston where cars are not permitted in the central city or parking is so expensive so its impractical. Burbs must take rail into the central city.

Trolley's are a stupid idea from the beginning. You could argue for it in downtown Madison but then all these far westsiders want it by their houses because its not as lower class as the buses.

I know few conservatives and even less proponents of rail. What I do know is bus service in Madison continues to be cut year after year. If we want to modernize the bus system to a rail system that's a different debate and one that I'd welcome. But, Madison been there, done that. Rail was shut down because the Fair Oaks trolley was the only one that could sustain itself.

Madison is having the debate because we are an informed electorate unlike Milwaukee where 83% of the voters are disenfranchised.

James Rowen said...

I have no idea what that 83% figure means, but thanks for the comment.

vyborg said...

How many voters (potential) do not vote.

I thought about this more today and what bothers me so much about medium and trolley rail is it rewards the wrong behavior.

I talked with some one at work about this today, he lives in those new condos downtown. I asked him if he'd take a trolley downtown, he said no he'd walk. Same with me I live in the central city (Atwood) and walk to work. Rail would do me little good.

Who would it benefit? It seems mainly burbia, those continually growing suburbs in and outside the city who drive downtown to work. In short the ones that are making the wrong decisions. They in many ways are leeches, they continue to sprawl outward and overuse city infrastructure but pay for little of it.

I am a firm believer that we should not have a weak center with an expanding periphery surrounding it. We used to say Milwaukee was the biggest little hick town in the world. Much of that was because it had no center just an ever expanding burbia.

So, anything that will strengthen the central city if it be development, trolleys, or rail I'd support, if it supports an expanding burbia I am dead against it.

The last thing Madison needs is to turn into a Milwaukee. That city dies after folks go home from work. We should not be discussing models to get burbia into either city without cars, but rather getting folks to relocate to the central city. In short rail has it half ass backwards.

James Rowen said...

I think we are both urbanists. I think that because you can walk to work from Atwood Ave. doesn't mean you wouldn't take a trolley if it were there, and you wanted to go somewhere relatively close to the downtown, say, over lunch.

The trolley would give you a choice.

I don't think trolleys or light rail weakens central cities. Just the opposite. It helps bring people into the central city, and move them around.

And would spur development at stations and along the routes.

vyborg said...

Maybe we can agree that rail in itself is not good or bad but how it fits into a regional plan.

What I notice and resent dearly in Madison is burb schools, clinics, and other essentials expanding and resources in the central city closing. I would refer to that as the Milwaukee model.

Why would I want to build a whole bunch of rail to take a trolley downtown when I can hop on a bus. Now a rail for what we'd call an express route makes sense to me. For example a light rail from the airport to downtown Madison. But as soon as that is mentioned we get the burbites wanting to make sure rail goes to their community.

What I'd support is a problem based plan which says this mode of transportation solves this and that mode another. Light rail makes absolutely no sense replicating what busses currently do. And if you are going to have a downtown trolley it makes no sense it going out into inner burbia. We currently have a gas powered trolley and it is always empty. It seems unlikely that a track powered own will be anymore successful.

What I am against is a rail system that makes it easier for burbia to expand. We should do everything possible to indice them to live in the central city, not live on the outskirts and come in to work. Such a system is regressive to the core. It forces poorer central city property owners to subsidize their wealthier burbites.

James Rowen said...

I think the way you make the central city as attractive as possible is to offer choices to people who live there or come in for whatever reason they do.

Some of those people will make the eventual choice to move back, too.

Bus ridership is declining. It just isn't as attractive an option as is rail, and rail will help the bus system get riders, too.

It all works together.

James Rowen said...

One more thing to Vyborg:
It doesn't help out your argument to keep alluding to Milwaukee so negatively.

I'm guessing you haven't spend much time lately in the Third Ward, Fifth Ward, on Brady Street, on King Dr., or up and down the Riverwalk from the Harbor to Humboldt Yards and into Riverwest.

Those neigborhoods have significant night life, entertainment, and expanding populations. And they are most definitely not suburban.