Happy New Year! I sincerely hope that 2010 has thus far treated you well and will continue to do so. Of course, if these last few days have already been bad, you may just be screwed. Or maybe it can only get better from here? I choose optimism!
And speaking of positive thinking in the face of poor odds, I've been trying out a new technique for surviving these bitterly cold days and it seems to be keeping me from murderous rages (part of the plea bargain involved anger management). I'm simply imagining warmer days to come and the ability to get back on my bike and ride the trails again.
Some of our hardier citizens, of course, never stopped riding. Winter bikers are an interesting lot. I find that they come in two flavors: Hardcore dedicated cyclists who'll ride come hell or high water, and riders of necessity. The latter must go by bike because they need to get to and from work, don't own a car, and often aren't served by the bus lines.
I'm well acquainted with all varieties of winter biker, but I have to say that my deepest sympathies lie with the rider of necessity. No one should be forced to ride their bike in negative temperatures with wind chill, ice and blowing snow. And yet I know those who have to choose between that and just not going in to work, a decision that would likely result in their losing the job. The buses are no help for many, because they work a later shift that ends after Metro stops service, or their job is in some obscure, outer part of the city where buses fear to tread.
Which brings me to the RTA and Paul Soglin's recent flight of cable car fancy. The first-a rail system serving those who live in the surrounding communities who would otherwise clog up roads driving in to their places of business in the city-I'm all for. Like a good lefty, I'm generally pro-trains and think this country did itself a great disservice when it dropped its rail infrastructure and went gung-ho for pavement. But I also recognize that regional transit does little to address the problems of those looking to get around the city itself without a car.
Cars are expensive. Not everyone can afford to own one. Community car programs are all well and good for running the occasional errand, but they're not a viable solution for daily transport to and from work. For some women who have third shift jobs, Women's Transit Authority (WTA) used to be a decent, free option, but negligent management ultimately led to the downfall of the program. It left many working women without any good options for their commute.
I know this because I used to drive for WTA and listened to the stories of how Metro didn't come out to where they worked, or didn't operate late enough to pick them up at the end of their shifts. I've quite a few friends who rely on the bus for getting around town, too. And by "rely" I mean "cross their fingers that the line will be running on time and/or at all."
I'd love to use the bus to get to my job but it's actually impossible to do so because the one line that serves the area stops running in the middle of the afternoon, well before my shift ends.
It'd be great if Madison had light rail along the lines of the L in Chicago, but the cold hard fact of the matter is that we just don't have the density to support any rapid transit that's fixed. We need buses. So as awesome as the sight of Soglin's cable cars gliding over Lake Monona might be, or as charming as Mayor Dave's trolleys might seem, I think it's long past time that we started thinking seriously about needed improvements to the public transportation system that we already have.
Study how other cities of comparable size do it. Consult the experts and those passionate about the idea. We have to shift our thinking so that funding a substantial Metro is seen as a social necessity with long-term financial benefits, the most important being a more mobile and effective workforce.
Even if you don't take the bus yourself, think of all the people who work for you, or with you, who do and what it would mean to you if they were suddenly unable to do their jobs. I'm not really keen to put that possibility to the test.
Grothman, go home
He may represent West Bend in the state senate, but Glenn Grothman was apparently pushed to extreme sassiness by Madison's less than stellar handling of the December snowpocalypse and felt like drafting legislation to address it specifically.
While I agree that the way the city dealt with the snowstorm was not at all ideal, I have to give credit to Mayor Dave and others for admitting fault and working to improve procedures in the future. It's unfortunate that it took such an extreme case to get them to make these changes, but better late than never.
None of that makes Grothman's political posturing over the matter any less silly. When it comes to fundamentally local issues like this, wouldn't it probably be best to leave the decisions up to, oh I don't know, the locals? I have to think that Grothman's constituents would agree with me when I say that his time would be better spent working on things that affect West Bend specifically, and the entire state generally. He was elected to do that, right? So Grothman really needn't waste time worrying his pretty little head over us dirty liberals here in Madison.
Unless maybe he's secretly pining to move here? Oh Glenn, come out of that closet and embrace the co-op lifestyle!
I still can't figure this out (and I'm certainly not alone), but the saga of John Scocos' firing by the Department of Veterans Affairs board continues to get more interesting. The Wisconsin State Journal recently got their hands on a few emails between the board's vice chairwoman and an aide to Gov. Doyle, and they don't exactly smell entirely of roses. The communications could be nothing, as the involved parties claim, but it's far from clear. The whole thing still smells fishy to me.
Sifting and Winnowing brings up some good questions about the recent citation received by the UW's animal research laboratories for conditions found to be in violation of federal regulations. I admit to missing the WSJ's original article about this, but have been following the allegations of misconduct and general discontent with the UW's use of animals in their research programs for some time. This is definitely an interesting development, and I'll be curious to see what, if any, impact the citations have on how the university does business.