Transportation is an important issue for Carl DuRocher, one of the four candidates for the 6th District aldermanic seat on Madison's east side. DuRocher, who chairs the city's Transit and Parking Commission and has a long history of serving on city and county transportation panels, is 60 years old and a 30-year homeowner in the 6th.
He is the executive director of RetroTech Computer Corp., which refurbishes donated PCs for low-income people. He also consults on making computers more accessible for people with disabilities and does outreach work for the UW Waisman Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities.
A brief interview with DuRocher follows.
The Daily Page: District 6 is rapidly becoming denser with the growth of developments like Union Corners. What is the ideal level of density that you would like to see on the near east side, and how can it be affordable?
DuRocher: In the face of intensifying pressure for infill development, the pivotal challenge is that we don't overbuild nor increase population density to the point where we lose the livable, walkable charm of our traditional mixed-use, near-eastside neighborhoods that make our area so attractive, and property so desirable, in the first place.
I don't have a yardstick to measure exactly where that point is. It would mean quantitatively measuring quality of life issues. When Union Corners comes on line, for example, we'll be adding 400 units and another 1,000 people to the district I want to represent.
A misconception about inclusionary zoning is that when a residential development project comes under the ordinance, there are set-aside units for low-income people. It's really designed to make units affordable to purchase by moderate-income homebuyers, not low. The threshold of eligibility is 80% of area median income, which for a household of two is over $55,000.
When the question is asked how can we make increased density housing "affordable," my question is affordable to whom? To support and encourage owner occupancy, we need to continue the city's Homebuyer's Assistance Program and support for rent-to-own projects. City public housing developments, the state WHEDA and HUD Section 8 programs also provide opportunities for low-income housing.
What do you think the status of the Central Park concept will be by the end of this decade?
La FÃte-de-Marquette this past summer -- praise Bob Queen -- demonstrated what a large, centrally located open venue can do for the vibrancy of our area, as in Washington, D.C., where everything happens in the Mall between Constitution and Independence.
We need a gathering place.
I fully support the principle underlying the concept of a 16-acre park in the East Rail Corridor, which is to preserve and enhance natural space in our midst. Once we lose green space in an urban district, we don't get it back.
What will really happen in the next several years will depend on the recommendations of the Central Park Design and Implementation Task Force, members to which are still waiting to be appointed. The City will be partnering with the Urban Open Space Foundation. Here's a PDF of a plan for the space.
What kind of transit must the city foster in order to assist commuters from and passing through District 6?
All traffic coming into the isthmus from the east has to pass through the 6th or 2nd districts. That's just our geography. As the towns of Burke and Blooming Grove continue to develop, and if single-occupancy vehicles continue to be a predominant mode of getting around, then clearly, even with a redeveloped East Washington Avenue, gridlock is down the road.
Public transportation and bicycling warrant all of the support we can garner. We have to collectively get beyond the idea that Madison Metro is a good idea for somebody else so we have room on the road for our vehicle. We have to mature to an understanding that the bus is an option, and a pleasant one, for everyone. Park and Rides on the periphery already are well-used by people who come from outside of the Metro service area and have commute trips to the central business district.
Many cities have found that introducing rail to an integrated transit system attracts new transit passengers. Rail transit particularly attracts "choice" riders, those who have the means to drive but who choose to use public transit. Hence, the advance of the commuter rail proposal, which I have not yet been convinced deserves any resources for operation and maintenance that could be better spent improving our existing successful bus system.
You have served on multiple city and county transportation committees. How do your experiences with these organizations inform your perspective on transportation issues? I realize through sitting through many public hearings how critical a dependable public transportation system is to a transit-dependent population. I would never save the budget by eliminating our paratransit accommodations that exceed the minimum Federal ADA requirements.
I realize that for ridership to grow among "choice riders" and public support for funding to grow, we need to make the system more convenient: through bus shelter amenities, frequency and time of service, service-area expansion, extension of time of day the service runs, expansion of our contracts with employers to provide unlimited free-ride passes, and through scheduling additions to provide shorter travel times.
Dealing with the recurring tough budget decisions, emphasizes to me the importance of good relationships with our state legislators; about a third of what keeps our buses on the road comes from the state where the competing interest for Wisconsin Department of Transportation dollars is highway construction.
Good public transportation is critical to a livable city. I'm leery of the T-word. I haven't been convinced that we can afford to keep Metro on the upswing and launch an entirely new mode of public transportation. Risky. I don't want to be caught having to cut Metro services to save a, you know, the thing we don't like to talk about too much.
What kinds of developments would you like to see in the East Washington corridor between the Capitol and the Yahara River? How should TIF be used any projects suggested for this area?
Seeing East Washington Avenue as the gateway that it is, I want to adhere to building-height restrictions. The view of the Capitol coming in on East Washington is a Madison signature view. Few U.S. cities have a distinct look and feel and an immediately recognizable identity. Madison does, and I would not sacrifice that for expediency. Coming in at night on East Washington, or on John Nolen with reflective pools on both sides, is like coming into Oz.
On the practical side, the new East Washington underpass at the Yahara is a wonderful reminder of the value of maintaining ped/bike friendly development along the corridor. We're not just concerned about getting through the isthmus, but about visiting our friends and schools on the other side of East Washington. As transportation and land use are inextricably linked, I see increased density as transit-oriented development that will support increased public transportation through the corridor.
A thought I have that has not been fully vetted, but I would like to consider further and could involve some TIF money, would be to identify a location within the corridor for a parking ramp. We've moved away from a mid-State Street parking ramp for a variety of logistical complications, but if bus service becomes frequent enough through the corridor for people to get out of their cars, perhaps parking at Government East or at other locations around the Square could be substituted for parking east of the Square.
When it comes to District 6, you say you "want to preserve the character and attractiveness of the area while we work with developers and a controlled level of infill." What do you mean when you say, "controlled level"?
The "control" process is in place. We have opportunities to review and/or put the brakes on a project going through the approval process: the Plan Commission, the Urban Design Commission, the Landmarks Commission, the Zoning Board of Appeals, and the Tax Incremental Financing Policy Ad Hoc Committee with representation from the Board of Estimates and the Housing Committee.