What cost progress for the Willy St. Co-op?
There's been much discussion lately of plans to add a second driveway to the Willy St. Co-op. I've been watching some of the drama unfold on the neighborhood listserv, and recently Kristin Czubkowski wrote an interesting piece on the subject for the Capital Times.
The article gives a good sense of the not insignificant citizen uproar that's resulted from the driveway plans. "Many are angry about a lack of communication about the driveway and what they perceive as an increasingly corporate style of decision-making at the co-op," Czubkowski notes, going on to quote Marquette Neighborhood Association President Scott Thornton and others who back that sentiment.
I've seen similar dissent in listserv discussions of the topic, too. People feel like their voices haven't been heard by the co-op in this debate. Adding a second driveway will increase traffic on Jenifer Street. Too corporate! Too big!
The co-op's membership has grown substantially over the years, from 4,500 owners in 1999 to 20,000 as of last year. This should be great news after all, plenty of co-ops (in Madison and across the country) haven't fared nearly as well, many having to close like the Mifflin Street Co-op a few years ago.
With the Willy Street location's success, however, has come serious traffic problems at the entrance to its one driveway and a frequently full parking lot. In an email exchange I had with co-op communications director Brendon Smith, he told me, "The Madison 2009 Crash Report lists the 1200 block as the third-highest site of non-intersection car crashes."
I live close to the co-op and use it as my primary grocery store. I try to walk or ride my bike there as often as possible, but I can vouch for how insane the parking and driving situation can get around it especially at rush hour. A car waiting to turn left into the lot will often have to wait for several minutes for an opening, blocking traffic behind it in the process. And Willy Street is not a wide thoroughfare. It's almost impossible to get around a stopped car, and clogged lanes can bring the whole thing to a standstill.
When I heard that there were plans to tear up much of the street for construction next year, I couldn't begin to fathom the cluster-eff that would likely be caused for the local businesses and traffic through the area.
Between that and the already present problem of the logjam at the co-op, I fully support the addition of the driveway onto Jenifer Street as long as it's accompanied by further traffic easement plans and safety measures. I'm a little disappointed at how heated opposition to the plan has become by some neighbors, especially since I worry that any sustained stonewalling of co-op improvement plans could lead to the notion of it needing to relocate.
Claims that co-op staff has just sprung this decision on residents without adequate forewarning or discussion seems disingenuous at best. The second driveway has been talked about for a good long while now there's an entry on the co-op's website regarding the issue from last August, for instance.
And I'm not hearing much in the way of constructive alternative suggestions from those who oppose the driveway idea outright. The co-op needs to do something to mitigate the negative effect Willy Street construction is likely to have on their business both in terms of access for customers and deliveries. And since the myriad other strategies to reduce congestion in the lot implemented by the co-op (the Bicycle Benefits program, the online shopping option, and eventually the new Middleton location) aren't and likely won't be quite enough to solve the problem, different ideas need to be explored.
Smith went on to point out to me that, "What I think we would all love is for a wonderful solution that we haven't already considered to be suggested by someone. We have discussed a lot of options - essentially a lot of ways to avoid having to install a driveway - and feel like the driveway is that last, imperfect option to help solve these issues. We're very open to ideas we haven't already considered, or even new ways of handling ideas we had already considered but found untenable."
The co-op seems to have put a lot of effort into looking for the best solution to this growing problem. It would be nice, then, to see equal, constructive efforts expended by those who so vehemently oppose the driveway. Or at least a willingness to find middle ground.
Simply throwing up our hands and declaring "not in my backyard!" doesn't do anyone any good.
RoJo's Greatest Hits: Climate change denial, and now anti-religious freedom!
To be perfectly honest, I can't believe we're even having the debate about the Islamic community center near Ground Zero in the first place. I think it's disgusting and shameful that certain Americans, and far too many pandering politicians, are so vehemently protesting the construction of this building.
The center had already won the approval of the city, neighbors, and other religious groups before petty, spiteful people latched on to it has their cause du jour. The argument that putting a Muslim organization so close to the 9/11 site is a slap in the face to those who died that day is so specious and infuriating because innocent Muslims were among the victims, too.
And then there's that whole crazy religious freedom thing our Founders took the time to enshrine in our Constitution.
But oh no, these days tolerance and understanding don't get you votes like ignorance and fear! And one of several would-be politicians to take that lesson to heart is none other than Wisconsin's own Ron Johnson.
I've written about his amazingly ridiculous climate change denials in several posts (certain of which he has since attempted to walk back a bit), but now RoJo has added another song to his increasingly onerous hit parade.
Interviewed by the editorial board of the Racine Journal Times about his thoughts on the project, Johnson responded:
"Those folks are trying to poke a stick in our eye," Johnson said. "I just hope the zoning officials and the city, the state revisit that, rezone that piece of property."
The Republican candidate for U.S. Senate continued: "If they don't do it I hope the construction workers in New York show their outrage and say we are not going to do that."
Also well worth pointing out is the fact that Johnson's opponent in the race, incumbent Senator Russ Feingold, has come out strongly on the side of religious freedom in this case. Asked how he felt about the issue, Feingold was unequivocal, saying that "those who are looking to use the issue as a political wedge are guilty of 'gutter politics' and 'one of the worst things I've ever seen done in politics.'"
Voices of reason like that are becoming increasingly rare, so Feingold becomes a welcome breath of fresh air in the otherwise stultifying political arena.