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Uppity Wisconsin - Progressive Webmasters

« Streetcars: History and Arguments | Main | Bush: Paris, Britney, Lohan are Patriotic, Coulter Not »

December 20, 2006


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Judy Karofsky

Or --
Spend at at least $30,000,000 to purchase and renovate a critical mass of Downtown homes to sell or rent to working families (you can calculate the ROI) and eliminate beer cans, pizza crusts, and vomit on our main streets and sidewalks (flowers might appear), cut transportation costs (now hovering near or above housing costs), restore the beauty of the central city for residents, visitors, and tourists, reduce the number of squalid, near slum, units marketed as "cheap" student rentals, and (most important) gain a handle on Central City crime. Another $2,000,000 loan (with help from other sources) will help provide housing for the permanently homeless -- Downtown.

Dan Sebald

This first point

"Any transportation system, rail (heavy or light), bus, or car will contribute to sprawl if it is not preceded by tight land use controls."

is where Madison government falls short. There is some good momentum to revitalize parts of the city, to put higher density near bus route intersections, etc. However, the city continues to allow development at the outer edges of the city. Neither the city nor the county has made a stand on any project that I can think of.

Dan Sebald

I should correct myself; the original phase II of Hilldale (Whole Foods) was a stand. I'm thinking more along the lines of the land at the outer edges of the city.


"It was rail, not cars, that first created suburban sprawl (Long Island RR, Main Line, South Shore, CM&NW). Any transportation system, rail (heavy or light), bus, or car will contribute to sprawl if it is not preceded by tight land use controls."

True (except I am not sure the adjective "tight" is appropriate - it is far more complex than saying "you can build this and only this in this kind of space x feet away from rail" or the like), but that is talking about regional rail and not central city rail. Likewise, we're in a wholly different world both in terms of time and place from these examples. So I would say that they're not entirely applicable, and by virtue of this being a discussion of streetcars in downtown-ish Madison, especially so.

But one point that Paul has hit upon is that development occurs around rails, be it in the suburbs or otherwise. Why? Because rails get used. Saying that rails bring development at their access points is a truism of rail trainsit. If you apply that "if you build it, they will come" logic to the central city with streetcars (and I don't think that that is too far out of line), you can see that streetcars in the city will be beneficial for extending the human-scale of neighborhoods and connecting commerce, as well as for fostering density.

Were we to combine a regional transit plan for all of the Dane County+ area with development agreements that respect the need for density along rail corridors like a point-and-spoke model (as opposed to just a big expanding circle from the downtown-outward), we can have the transit needed for exchange between the outlying communities, which are going to grow, no matter what, and the central city, which probably will grow, no matter what. It's all about the corridors (with 'environmental corridors' maintained elsewhere) of development and density arrayed around a denser-than-current central city core. This doesn't happen relying upon roads.

We're among the fastest growing counties in the country. It's not a matter of whether or not we add population, but how we do so and where. We'll probably need to manage that to allocate to both 'suburbs' and central city, because Madidson is not capable of handling all the density needed to add 100,000 people over 20 years. We very well could see that many people (or more) added to greater Dane County in at least that time-frame.

So, as we plan to grow, we need to be mindful of putting in place at least somewhat ahead of time (15 years ago would have been good) the transportation means to facilitate people-exchange between places where there will ostensibly be people added. Not building light rail doesn't mean that population will be added only in the central city, and it likely means that population will be added where it is "convenient." If we make it convenient to live in an inner core suburb or downtown through means like affordable housing in the city and transit opportunities throughout the county, we can focus the growth within the central city and prevent exurbs from forming (sorry Cross Plains, you can only get so many McMansions). Let's foster growth in Middleton, Monona, Fitchburg, Verona, and have satellite communities in places like Waunakee if we need to.

And as far as priorities, I agree that there are higher priorities than streetcars. But there are fewer high priorities than establishing a transit system (we're not going to build it all in the next five years) that will foster sustainable growth and prevent economic, social, and environmental disaster 20 years down the line. So we won't spend all that kind of money in 5 years, but we need to start laying out how things will happen. Beginning the investment and infrastructure-development that needs to be done can be done more efficiently earlier on, and save taxpayer dollars down the line. Likewise, having a sustainably developed city might not win votes in 2007 (or 2011), but orienting towards that is the kind of leadership that puts people in the history books and does right by everyone, now and future generations. Shorter-term thinking will never put us in the place of problem avoidance.

And perhaps most important on streetcars/transit/etc is the mechanism of financing.

The way Paul lays it out above, it sounds like a block appropriation of millions of dollars from the city budget. But in reality, I have heard some convincing arguments about using TIF districts that can be feasible, as well as to be a catalyst for federal dollars to go along with it. And this is the sort of municipal infrastructure investment that when done right, validates the notion that cities are at the heart of developing a progressive vision for our country and validating the way progressives believe should be the method of economic development.

As an aside, I think it would be very interesting to hear ideas on how to rehab-without-gentrifying-or-maybe-gentrifying-just-a-little the student neighborhoods of which the first poster spoke in the areas just northeast and just southwest of the capitol square.


No, rail lines have rarely caused sprawl. Miles and miles of streetcar lines originally served city neighborhoods, leading to a compact form of development with storefronts and apartment buildings adjacent to the lines and closely spaced homes and duplexes within walking distance of the lines. When rail lines served inner-ring suburbs, similar patterns prevailed. Think Haverford outside Philadelphia or Oak Park outside Chicago. These communities are not examples of sprawl. They are well-planned and efficient examples of urbanism that today offer residents a chance to lead their lives in more environmentally sustainable ways. Appropriate form-based codes will help Madison make the most of its rail lines, but it's highly unlikely under any circumstances tht rail will fuel sprawl. In a world, where drivers fly around on the beltline and interstates, how is it possible that a light rail line going to make development patterns worse? Rail lines create an incentive for development within walking distance of them, encouraging more efficient and intensive use of already built areas.

jim rowen

C'mon, Paul; You gotta have rail in the mix or the city will continue to strangle on the daily commute grind. Modern cities need this added to the mix; most have and more will and more and more new arrivals will expect it.


Childless liberals can afford to pretend that good schools and lower taxes do not drive parents to seek lower tax rates on homes big enough for their families in better school districts and that they know better than anyone what they need and how much to pay.

It's only Madison, not some big city. It doesn't need a big city transit system. The only way I would be in favor of it is if college students can no longer drive scooters.

As Mark Twain said, "To do good is noble. To tell others to be good is even nobler and far less trouble."

Dan Sebald

Steve's comments do sort of make sense that in the days of not having transport trucks like today, there'd have to be commerce by the railway. Otherwise it's too expensive and difficult to move goods too far from the rail.

Peter's post is very good, but one item I don't agree with is the inevitability of sprawl. The strictly car-based community, like we have on the west side now, is something that shouldn't be in a "city", but more appropriately a township. Then the township would fall under the aegis of Dane County. No subsidizing of sprawl (such as Gov Doyle splitting the cost of roads for Cottage Grove's industrial park); then I think the taxes to pay for roads will naturally control sprawl. (Just like if the cost of disposal and landfill space was tacked onto consumables, recycling would increase.)

However, allowing natural cost, congestion, quality of service to run things is a bit of a diservice to the environment and resources. The history of county roads in Wisconsin is for farming. I just think it so unfair to take cheap land cultivated over decades for food and county roads for the same purpose and exploit them for cheap home building.

Well, I guess my personal viewpoint is to cater to the lowest impact modes of transport first. Walking (i.e., mixing retail, recreation, work, education), bicycling, rail, bus, automobile. Still not sure street cars are technically rail (and I don't like the fact that rails in streets would make bicycling difficult). I could even go with scooters if laws forced them to be clean and quiet (but honestly, I think bicycles are much more convenient because of the fact I can lift it and carry it up and down stairs).

The thing I can sort of envision right now is light rail down the center of East Wash taking one possibly in the future to a hub somewhere north that connects to regional rail (call it "Fastrak" instead of Amtrak because we know that Amtrak is hindered by what almost seems like political sabotage).

Dan Sebald

I just looked up the Mark Twain reference by mgm, there are couple variations on the quote:

To be good is noble; but to show others how to be good is nobler and no trouble.
- Following the Equator

Somehow that seems different sentiment than what mgm is implying. Here's another quote:

Be good and you will be lonesome.
- Following the Equator

Guess that explains the childless liberal... just having some fun here. :-)


Thanks for the nice words. I appreciate it.

Let me clear one thing up though. I did not mean to suggest that there is an inevitability of sprawl in the sense of just a diffusory growth outward. What I am saying is that there is an inevitable growth in population in the Dane County area, and it won't be that 100% of it takes place within the municipal boundaries of Madison. I would bet that it will actually be 40% Madison and 60% elsewhere. Maybe even less Madison-centric.

If we support and foster density in Madison, through things like streetcars, affordable housing and in increase in the cultural vitality of downtown Madison, we can make sure that we're around that figure of 40% of the population growth happening inside our city limits.

The key is where that other 60% occurs. Is it in the City of Verona or the Town of Verona? Is it in the City of Middleton or the Town of Cross Plains? Does Fitchburg do better in adding density itself? Can Sun Prarie's outskirts be more than a strip mall (same thing with Madison's far east side as well)?

Having serious investment in transit on a regional basis is going to be a major part of this. Again, the population growth will be inevitable. The how and where are the really important things for the health and sustainability of our community.

Dan Sebald

I hear you. In response, I will just note a few interesting things.

Paul raised the regional planning commission issue a couple months ago and the political dealings with it. Channel 3's editorial the other night was about regional planning and the exact same argument and note about the political mishandling.

The towns and cities who invite that diffuse, unplanned growth could easily come to regret it. I thought I read something in Cap Times about an upscale housing project near Oregon in financial trouble. (I bicycled past it near the end of the season; way out of whack with the traditional Dane County dwelling.) Who is it that ends up holding the burden of failed projects when the city is giving TIF and all that sort of thing? (I'm not sure really.)

You mentioned Town of Cross Plains. I thought I read in Cap Times of a developer proposing homes along Mineral Point Road across from Shoveler's Sink, by my guesstimates. It's zoned agricultural right now so can't have high enough density to currently attract a developer. Plead with the township to not allow it!

My guess is that transit will not be addressed until Washington gets on the right path. That's where the big bucks come from. Bigger cities have the resources to invest and they will probably eventually show the way for Washington. (I could be wrong.)


I think you've hit on something here:

"My guess is that transit will not be addressed until Washington gets on the right path. That's where the big bucks come from. Bigger cities have the resources to invest and they will probably eventually show the way for Washington. (I could be wrong.)"

The policies, especially transportation funding, tax incenvtives, and the like from Washington on development and 'growth' overwhelmingly favor diffuse, sub-to-ex-urban types.

Big cities have the resources to invest, I'll give you that. And that's why Chicago's CTA is awesome and can get you anywhere with nothing more than a 10 minute walk and a passcard. But that's exactly why the Dane County Region has to have a transit authority as part of a regional plan for growth (maybe I didn't mention that thought in my other posts - in my head I was screaming it). We pool the resources of Madison, the Cities and Towns of Verona, Fitchburg, Middleton, etc., and we've got a pretty hefty chunk of municipalities with some common interests in having a transit system that works for all of them.

It looks like many, if not most municipalities are now starting to see themselves not battling Madison or one another, but instead part of a symbiotic region. Regional transit is the thing - but there must be things along the way to get there.

Dan Sebald

Right, Chicago was one of the cities I had in mind. Overall, good transit layout. The subway has been neglected, however. When those rusty cars come squealing around corners in the loop and sparks start dropping from the overhead tracks my first thought is to run... The Metro trains to outlying suburbs are rather nice.

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