The Madison Board of Public Works last week rejected plans for eight-foot-wide sidewalks on Monona Drive, which the city's municipal neighbor, the city of Monona, already approved.
"It was really quite remarkable to watch [the board] say to hell with the plan, this is what we're doing," says Ald. Larry Palm, a member of Public Works who lobbied against the wider sidewalks. On Tuesday, the Madison Common Council approved the board's recommendation.
Monona, which shares the road with Madison, had earlier approved plans to widen the street to include four 11-foot traffic lanes, two four-foot bike lanes, and eight-foot-wide sidewalks on both sides. The $25 million project, scheduled for 2012, will be financed in large part by federal funds.
Many Madison residents objected to the plan, saying it would eat up too much of their front yards and force the removal of two dozen trees. (See "A Widening Rift Over Monona Drive," 3/5/10.)
The Board of Public Works agreed to the traffic and bike lanes but balked at eight-foot sidewalks, opting to go with ones that were five feet wide instead.
"Our board is saying we don't want to participate with that," explains Madison engineer Christy Bachmann. That means, to build the eight-foot-wide sidewalk, Monona would have to purchase all of the land on its side of the road.
Monona's engineer Richard Vela says Madison's position is a "fair statement and stand on the situation. Right-of-way is pretty tight up there, and we've got to widen the road as it is to accommodate the space. Space is at a premium."
Vela says Monona proposed the wider sidewalks because it's a popular stretch for families to walk and bike: "Even though the sidewalks aren't the best place for bicyclists, people feel comfortable doing it, and that's not going to change."
Now the city of Monona must decide whether it wants to take on the additional cost for bigger sidewalks.
Homeless welcome, just not now
In downtown Madison, homeless people who want to hang out indoors during the day have two options: the Madison Central Library and the basement cafeteria of the state Capitol.
The cafeteria is an especially popular spot because it opens at 8 a.m., right after the emergency shelters close. Or it used to. The cafeteria is now opening at 10 each morning. That set off alarm bells among homeless advocates, suspicious that the move was meant to keep the homeless out.
David Helbach, administrator of the Division of State Facilities and secretary of the state Building Commission, insists that's not the case.
He says that state cutbacks have forced him to rely on temp workers to clean the facilities, and that they need to clean it each morning. He adds that, prior to 10 a.m., the homeless are welcome in any of the building's other public areas.
"They've got the whole Rotunda if they want," he says. "I could put them in the North Hearing Room if they want to go there."
Helbach says the homeless do sometimes create messes, but so do "fourth-graders" who frequently come through the Capitol for tours.
"We've had problems with drinking," he says. "We've found needles down there, which is why we want to clean it before the fourth-graders show up."
The high cost of getting around
Madison hit an annual milestone Tuesday, according to the locally based public policy group WISPIRG. It was the day when the average resident finally made enough money to pay for his or her transportation costs for the year.
According to WISPIRG director Bruce Speight, the average Madison family spends $9,196 on transportation - more than the national average of about $8,000. He says people spend more on transportation than they do on food or entertainment.
WISPIRG marked what it called "transportation freedom day" with car-sharing group Community Car in a small gathering on Pinckney Street. On hand was Duncan Basson, a member of Community Car, who says he used to drive a 21-year-old station wagon. But when it died a year ago he thought, "Am I going to buy a new car or find something else to do?"
Basson uses a Community Car about once a week, and he vastly prefers it to owning his own car. "Before I had to think about repairs, gas and insurance. Now I don't worry about any of that," he says, adding, "I get to drive around in a cute Mini Cooper."
Sonya Newenhouse, founder and president of Community Car, says the group recently hit a milestone of 1,200 members. It has 18 cars.
WISPIRG's Speight says the high cost of transportation is an argument in favor of more mass transit options: "The more access we have to public transportation, the more money we save as consumers."