This summer, city workers installed dividers on some benches around Capitol Square at the behest of the Central Business Improvement District to keep people from sleeping on them ("Liers Not Welcome on Capitol Square Benches," 8/6/2009).
But if Ald. Mike Verveer gets his way, those benches will soon be removed, replaced with benches more conducive to snoozing.
"People can sleep on the new benches, which is fine by me," says Verveer, whose district includes much of downtown. "More importantly, the new benches will update the Square. Right now, it's a hodgepodge of designs."
The problem with the older brick benches isn't just that people cannot sleep on them. The bricks pop out when it freezes and the wood is splintering in some spots. It's the same with the brick sidewalks: the bricks come loose, creating tripping hazards. So the city has been slowly replacing both the benches and the sidewalks.
Verveer would like to finish the job on East and West Main streets and South Pinckney Street. But the work is expensive - it costs $1,000 to replace each bench, or $26,000 total. Replacing the sidewalks on all three blocks will cost $322,000.
To finance it, Verveer is proposing extending two Tax Incremental Finance (TIF) districts, which would let property tax revenue pay for improvements. He's proposing an amendment to the capital budget to make it happen.
"We're going to have to decide how much we can afford. Do we want new trashcans, bike racks, trees and shrubs?" he says. "My number-one priority is to deal with the benches."
Where's that confounded park?
Nathanial Abrams figured it was okay to play R&B music from his boombox in Lisa Link Peace Park on Sept. 16.
He was wrong. A Madison police officer wrote him a ticket for violating city ordinance 24.04, which states, "It shall be unlawful for any person, firm, corporation or other entity to use sound amplifying equipment on the State Street Mall at any time without first having obtained an electrical/amplification permit."
Abrams knew amplified music is prohibited on State Street. But he didn't think he was on State Street. After reading the law, he was even more confused. Here's what it says:
"'State Street Mall' shall be defined as the 100-800 blocks of State Street, including the plaza area on North Carroll Street where the 100 block of State Street meets West Mifflin Street."
Peace Park, which also abuts Gilman Street, is not specifically mentioned, so Abrams argues that it's not included: 'Either I'm in State Street or I'm in the park.' Facing a fine of $25 to $500 plus court costs, he plans to fight the ticket in court on Nov. 5.
A former homeless man, Abrams thinks police singled him out. He says he's heard students blaring music from apartments right on State Street without being ticketed.
Marci Paulsen, assistant city attorney, declined to comment on the boundaries of State Street. "That's why the matter is set for trial," she says. "That's the only issue that's going to come out at trial."
The Wisconsin Urban and Rural Transit Association is hosting a seminar all day Thursday at Warner Park Community Center, to talk about transit in Madison. The event will include national and local mass transit experts, including Mark Huffer of the Kansas City Transportation Authority.
Scott Becher, one of the organizers, says the public seminar will involve brainstorming about transit technologies that might work in Dane County. These include dedicated bus lanes, technology that allows buses to change traffic lights, WiFi on buses, and automatic notifications sent to cell phones when buses are running late.
Says Becher, "We're trying to bring the best ideas from around the country to Madison and Wisconsin."