Posts Tagged ‘public transportation’

Cable cars for Madison?

January 2, 2010

I’m not going to take “I’ll have to look into this further” for an answer from the mayor’s office on this one. Former mayor Paul Soglin claims to have been interested in the idea since 1976, when he and a team of city planners considered building an aerial transportation device to get people across Lake Monona. 34 years ago they considered that and it doesn’t sound any less absurd today.

The only thing I learned definitively about the technology from Soglin’s post is that it is expensive. The only example of a price tag was a system being built for the Oakland airport –– $500 million. Another disadvantage is that it doesn’t offer the opportunity to be incorporated into a larger system of public transportation, as passenger rail could be. Yes, theoretically there could be a nation-wide system of aerial-ground transport, but that is even less likely politically and economically than a meaningful investment in high-speed trains.

O Minocqua, where hast thy trains gone?

August 30, 2009

A trip to Minocqua, WI (Oneida Co, pop 4,859) wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the town history museum. I was thoroughly impressed by the two rooms of local lore – so much so that I donated the only remaining dollar in my wallet to the cause. I especially enjoyed some of the original maps of the area drawn and labeled by French explorers. Although the explorers documented all the local flora and fauna, I did not see anything about des blaireaux (badgers).



The town was started as a commercial hub for lumberjacks in the area after a railroad station was established. It connected the north woods to Milwaukee and the rest of the country.

The town had a horrendous fire in 1912 that required that firefighters be called up by train from Wausau.

In 1959 passenger rail service was stopped.

In 1981 the rail line was abandoned forever.

How ironic. Now, in the 21st century, we’re desperately trying to grapple with the consequences of the infrastructure we substituted for the railroads, and trying to get trains back on the agenda. Maybe one day, as an old man seeking a peaceful place to retire, I will be able to once again take a train from Chicago to Milwaukee to Minocqua.

Trains for Madison

August 21, 2009

I don’t want no bus, a bus is a ride that can’t get no love from me.

It seems as if the debate has come down to that dichotomy, with rail advocates yearning for a European style system of efficiency and clean air, and others who believe that adding buses is a more realistic way to work within the current framework of regional infrastructure.

Brenda Konkel, a model citizen reporter, attended the Public Works and Transportation Committee meeting of the County Board, which is currently debating whether or not to levy a sales tax to fund a regional transportation authority. Actually, the question at hand is whether to put that question to the voters, through a referendum.

Is this the kind of issue that is dealt with best by the people? What do you think? Are the people of Dane County intelligent enough to evaluate the merits of public transport? Are you? Am I?

Bus fare hikes: success or failure?

August 17, 2009

That’s the way the question is being posed on the blogosphere. But like most political issues, the bus fare increase that Mayor Dave pushed through this spring presents a mixed bag of successes and disappointments, of overestimates and underestimates.

Last week Joe Tarr wrote an article for the Isthmus detailing the preliminary results of the 50 cent fare hike. The part that Brenda Konkel, an opponent of the plan, is focusing on, is the $440,000 the city fell short of its projected revenue from bus tickets. Konkel also points out that ridership is down this summer from last summer, before the fare hike. However, the mayor’s office contends that the stats can be explained not by a drop in ridership but a drop in “transfers and non-revenue rides.”

People with monthly passes don’t need to purchase transfers — and each trip is calculated as a separate revenue ride. Non-revenue rides include children under 4 and school or children’s groups that ride with free passes.

I still don’t understand what that means. Am I alone here?

Neverthless, here’s what’s most amusing about the story: the mayor advocated the fare increase to cover rising bus costs, but then apparently costs dropped drastically this year. The revenue shortfall was more than made up for by massive cuts in salaries, benefits and the cost of gas. Of course, the mayor contends that the revenue, albeit much lower than expected, was still almost half a million dollars higher than in 2008, which begs the question: how much would the city have had to cut without the fare increase?

I was always a skeptic of the mayor’s fare plan. I thought the money would be better raised elsewhere, however, I think as long as there are affordable options for regular riders, such as the $55 month passes, it’s humane to charge $2 for a bus ride. It’s encouraging to see the monthly bus pass succeed – it’s the kind of thing people should be encouraged to buy. When people buy monthly passes they are not only saving themselves money, but they are likely committing to their city’s system of public transportation. They are investing in what will hopefully become a major selling point for Madison in the future, as evidenced by the federal grant the city has just won for 15 new hybrid buses.

As of “posting time,” the mayor’s office had not responded to my questions about the budget cuts. Hopefully they’ll get back to me by tomorrow.

Mayor Dave’s green neighborhood

July 27, 2009

Rick Berg writes a very good article about a trip to Freiburg, Germany in this week’s Isthmus. A self-described conservative, Berg attempts to describe “the Vauban,” a district of Freiburg that has come to symbolize everything that American environmentalists yearn for. This of course is made in light of Mayor Dave’s open admiration for Freiburg’s system, including his proposal to put in place “car-light neighborhoods” in Madison.

Berg, despite many-an-underhanded snipe at lefties, gets the analysis right when he describes the Vauban as unlikely in Madison’s near future. The problem is not simply the cultural attachment to cars in this country and state, it is the utter lack of viable alternatives for so many residents. Like most mid-sized cities, Madison has a system of public transportation, however, it is not even close to extensive enough to be a convenient option for thousands of working people. The buses don’t run frequently enough, and the routes don’t cover enough ground for commuters in the area.

Because public transportation is so limited in the area, a green neighborhood in Madison would have to target one of two major constituencies – students at UW or professionals who work in the city. Northeast Madison, which the mayor cited as the prime location for the development, is far away from campus, so we can assume that the latter group is the more likely target.

If the plan mimicked the Vauban, it would attempt to reduce car use by making it exorbitantly expensive to park cars in the neighborhood. All the development in the area would be green, from solar panels to “passive solar heating.” Residents can save money, however, by selling excess electricity back to the utility company, which I suppose makes up a little bit of the cost of paying $23,000 for a parking spot.

A Vauban on a small-scale might be possible in Madison. A neighborhood for mainly young professionals who don’t have cars is easy enough to envision. Several streets of apartment buildings or houses that don’t allow cars. I can see it. However, something a long the lines of the Vauban, which attracts middle-class families, is absolutely out of reach at this point in time. It will only come after serious investment in public transportation is made at the state and local level. Commuting, taking your kids to karate, shopping – these are things that unfortunately require cars for the vast majority of American families. 88% of Americans rate cars as a necessity.

Hence, it makes sense that the mayor would champion a trolley system. It’s the first step to sustainable living. I’m certainly not convinced the plan would have been the most cost-effective or the most sane approach to public transportation – I would be perfectly content expanding the bus system. However, it represented a meaningful vision for a day when mid-size cities can welcome people without cars in the same manner than New York City does.