If a lone committee member's recent suggestion that Madison consider restricting new drive-through venues was enough to cause a national stink, just wait till Rush Limbaugh finds out about Dave Cieslewicz's interest in "car-light" neighborhoods.
"It's like traffic calming on steroids," jokes the mayor, who recently toured two such neighborhoods in Madison's sister city of Freiburg, Germany. "People drive to the periphery, park in parking structures, walk in or ride a tram," he says approvingly. Residents can drop things off but "you can't actually park there."
Dear God in heaven, won't somebody please think of the children?
In fact, says Cieslewicz, both neighborhoods - Vauban and Rieselfeld - are especially popular among families with children. "They're very safe neighborhoods from a traffic perspective."
Cieslewicz hopes to incorporate the idea of car-light neighborhoods into city planning for a green development on the city's northeast side. As Isthmus reported ("Mayor Dave's Green Dream," 5/30/08), he wants to "push the envelope" in terms of incorporating green ideas.
Besides a reduced reliance on cars, Cieslewicz says the Freiburg neighborhoods are designed for "maximum energy efficiency and use of solar." One has a 16-building solar village that generates all of its own electric power and even sells excess energy back to the grid. And the streets are platted to maximize their potential for passive solar.
Cieslewicz knows these are bold concepts. (He actually uses the term "radical changes," but we don't want Limbaugh knowing that.) He suggests they could be incorporated into just a small part of the new northeast neighborhood, which could have one or two stops on a commuter rail line.
"I've asked city planning to take a look at some of these concepts," says Cieslewicz. He met with staff early this week and plans to powwow with potential developers. The mayor hopes a green neighborhood would be a draw and maybe even merit national attention.
The issue of gas prices, he notes, is just reaching critical mass in the U.S. But in Germany gas costs the equivalent of about $9 a gallon. In devising neighborhoods that minimize car use and maximize energy efficiency, "They're just responding to the market pressures they've had for a long time."
Some statistics make his point. For every 1,000 people in the U.S., there are about 800 cars. In Germany, it's about 500 and, in Vauban, 150. It isn't as though cars are banned, they're just de-emphasized.
In contrast, says Cieslewicz, many modern American neighborhoods are "absolutely car-dependent. You don't have more freedom, you have less."
If a neighborhood like the one he's suggesting does come into being, would Cieslewicz be interested? "I'd live there in a minute," he says. So would lots of other folks - happily not including Rush Limbaugh.