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Monday, January 26, 2015  |   Madison, WI: 24.0° F  
CITIZEN DAVE: Thoughts and ideas about city building from Madison's former mayor
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Citizen Dave: Do we really need all that parking at Judge Doyle Square?
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Government East Garage
Government East Garage

On Tuesday, the Madison Common Council overrode the mayor's veto of the Longfellow School development and then refused his request to reconsider the same issue, both by overwhelming votes.

This is Paul Soglin's second veto in two years, and the second time he has been overridden by a wide margin. The first was another bizarre veto of a liquor license for the Goodman Community Center. The vote to override him on that one was unanimous. And last year, the council passed what was essentially its own budget, ignoring his, an unprecedented move against any mayor. Over and over again, this city gets saved from the mercurial and often just strange meanderings of a doddering mayor by an increasingly competent and assertive council.

I am lost for explanation of why the mainstream media (including Isthmus) simply will not report on this mayor's failing leadership. Could be that he yells at them a lot. He also has a deep voice.

In any event, that's not my main point. My main point is that the council did the right thing by sticking up for the concept of shared parking. That's the idea -- that we can build less parking and make it more efficient by sharing it among users. So, for example, during the day when apartment residents are at work, their parking could be used for patients at a hospital. This is exactly the idea over which Soglin vetoed the Longfellow proposal.

But expanding the good idea of shared parking is only one step. A much bigger issue is embedded in the mayor's proposed capital budget for next year. In his budget, the mayor would expand the Government East parking ramp by about 800 stalls. It would go from around 500 to 1,300 spaces.

Creating excess parking is a very bad idea for cities. I cannot think of a single vibrant, successful city center that doesn’t have scarce and expensive auto parking. Some cities, like Freiburg, Germany, have gone so far as to ban cars from their central business districts altogether. Freiburg has one of the most amazing urban centers anywhere, and it's a city about our size with a big university. We might not go so far as to ban cars in our downtown, but we should at least spend some time thinking about almost tripling the size of a ramp.

Look, I know that developers and downtown business associations always scream that less parking won't work. But it always does. In any event, the Government East parking glut shouldn't just be accepted without a much deeper public discussion, because if built at its proposed size, it would represent a historic missed opportunity to improve our downtown by reining in parking.

I hope the new, assertive council will strip that item from the capital budget and refer it to the Parking and Transit Commission for study and debate. It's not just about parking; it's about the future of the whole downtown.

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