Walk this way
Crosswalks are indeed perilous for pedestrians in Madison ("Peril in the Crosswalk!" 7/13/2012). I've nearly been hit several times since moving to Madison last month for summer classes. Just this morning I was crossing near the Capitol in a clearly marked pedestrian crosswalk. Even though I had made eye contact with a woman driving an SUV and was halfway across the street, she sped in front of me, grinning as she roared past. I'm from Missoula, Mont., where drivers are sane and the social norm is for vehicle drivers to stop for pedestrians. In my view, until Madison's social norms regarding stopping for folks in crosswalks change, I'll be walking defensively. Better yet, I'll ride a bus, which is bigger than the SUVs waiting to run down eco-friendly walkers like me!
While it may be true that drivers in Madison don't stop for pedestrians as often as they should, pedestrians are just as much to blame. I can't even begin to count how many times a ped has waltzed right out in front of me without making eye contact, or waving a red flag, or waiting until there is enough time for cars to stop for them, or looking up from their cell phone, or even using the crosswalk. Just a couple of weeks ago I nearly ran over a woman who was crossing a downtown street in the middle of rush hour, in the middle of the street (not using the crosswalk) on a curve, and she had the nerve to yell at me when I honked!
Julie Cleveland, Middleton
I couldn't agree more that crossing the street in Madison is dangerous. An attitude shift on drivers' behalf is necessary. This shift needs to start with the police and bus drivers. Daily I cross Winnebago and Eastwood Drive where Williamson Street crosses the Yahara River. Not once has a police car stopped for me and my children as we have attempted to cross the street in a marked crosswalk. A bus has stopped once. Drivers will not stop for pedestrians, follow this law or change their driving attitude if they observe the police ignore pedestrians and break the law.
Just last week, while waiting for the light to turn on Baldwin and East Washington, I watched a woman in an SUV almost hit a blind woman with a guide dog. They'd just stepped off the curb (on the walk light) when an SUV turned right. Luckily the blind woman heard the car approaching and stepped back. The lady in the SUV drove on as if she never saw the blind woman.
I have tried to change my driving habits, stopping for pedestrians and also letting them cross even in unmarked intersections. For this I have been close to being rear-ended, had cars swerve around me and almost hit the person. I feel too often I'm setting up the vulnerable walker to be bashed by 4,000 pounds of ignorant steel. The only solution is to stress pedestrians cross at the light, with the addition of more no-turn-on-red intersections and walk lights giving the walker a head start.
Bill Paulus, Cottage Grove
Many of us who drive the streets professionally believe, despite witnessing many motorist "errors" daily, that the lack of any enforcement against bicyclists, pedestrians and, more recently, skateboarders contributes enormously to the problem.
I had the chance several months ago to speak to the very people you interviewed, and I was told they didn't have the resources to enforce those laws. They indicated that without a federal grant to cover those costs it just won't happen. This argument ignores any potential revenue from the tickets themselves and reinforces our belief that the city has determined motorists have the deeper pockets.
Our police spend great amounts of time and money in mass sting operations directed at motorists all over town. When can we expect them to address the other half of the problem?
Dave St. Amant
There is no political will to enforce a basic public policy of "safe walking, safe driving and safe biking." Do we see any uptick in traffic stops for bicyclists or cars rolling stop signs? How can a seventh DUI be allowed to encounter the next victim?
Elected officials do not get the right message to put basic public safety ahead of special interest needs!
In Fitchburg I was approaching the crosswalk/bike path just east of the Imax theater. I stopped for pedestrians and bikers that were crossing the street. The car next to me also stopped. Who did not stop were the cars going the other direction, including two police cars. They in particular should be setting the example, and if they do not stop why should we?
In Middleton at the corner of Park and South a friend of mine acts as crossing guard. He uses a STOP paddle when he helps people across the street. He reports that he has almost been hit three times and actually had a car driver bump him when he held the STOP paddle in front of his car and made him stop for kids in the crosswalk.
What does work is strict enforcement. A few years ago Madison enforced this rule. What has happened since?
When I called his office to report another near miss at the University Avenue and Whole Foods crosswalk, Madison pedestrian-bicycle coordinator Arthur Ross told me children should wave their arms, make eye contact with drivers, and yell to ensure safe passage.
Mr. Ross could not tell me which one of the oncoming drivers they should attempt to lock eyes with, or what pedestrians should do if their arms are occupied with groceries, school gear or a stroller. I asked if we at least could obtain red crossing flags but was told these are not permitted at intersections where there are traffic lights, where "the law is clear."
So I asked about posting targeted law enforcement and/or encouraging pedestrians to call in license plate numbers. What about increasing fines for life-endangering crosswalk violations? Mr. Ross reiterated that this is not a legal problem but rather a cultural one. "We need to re-educate American drivers." I agree. And I sincerely wish my 9-year-old's arm-waving could change a car-centric culture or even just cool down one Madison corridor. But sadly, the Isthmus cover story confirmed the lack of imagination, leadership, and will all around to make Madison a more pedestrian-friendly city.
During Wednesday's thunderstorms, when Monroe street turned into a river for 20 minutes, I stepped outside with hopes high. I was dreaming of an idyll of stopped traffic - for once! No speeding on Monroe! Alas, the same spirit captured in last week's cover story ruled the day: high speeds, daredevil right-lane passing maneuvers and a total disregard for any pedestrians unlucky enough to be caught out in a downpour.
C'mon folks. Learn the rules of the river.
Not only do a lot of Madison drivers seem to scoff at the idea of yielding to pedestrians, they also have a problem with tailgating, running red lights and speeding. Allowing the bullies to rule the road lowers the quality of life for all of us. Come on, drivers, give us a brake.
When neighborhood streets are transformed into commuter corridors by increasing vehicle "traffic flow," the localized impacts go far beyond impairing walkability. Heavy traffic - largely from outlying communities - physically divides neighborhoods and reduces residential property values. Traffic noise can disrupt residents' sleep, degrade cardiovascular health and impair children's cognitive development.
The Madison Area Transportation Planning Board classifies Monroe Street (with daily traffic of about 20,000 vehicles) as an "arterial roadway." But this crude simplification ignores context.
Madison needs a people-oriented approach to transportation.
To reduce traffic impacts on Madison's neighborhoods, express buses - serving campus and downtown from suburban park-and-ride lots - should be a top priority. In neighborhood commercial districts, streets should be redesigned to shorten crosswalk distances and allow on-street parking (even during peak commuting times).
Jim LaGro, UW Department of Urban & Regional Planning
I live near the Northport and Sherman intersection and cross those busy streets daily, on foot or bike. Crosswalk rules be damned: Why should an entire line of cars - or even one car - have to stop for me? Am I that important?
Stopping 3,000-4,000 vehicles throws up brake dust and wastes fuel. Maybe Monroe Street is different and has some five-minute waits. That doesn't mean the whole city has to get bent out of shape.
Park Street views
Kudos on the great article on Park Street ("Welcome to Park Street," 7/20/2012). Your treatment brings welcome attention to this diverse and growing neighborhood. I was startled, though, that none of our vibrant Hispanic businesses and restaurants were mentioned. They line the corridor, and I hope you and your readers will take the time to visit them.
I enjoyed Jay Rath's article on Park Street. However, I did find his description of the offerings at Asian Midway Market to be unhelpful and offensive. Unhelpful in the sense that it did nothing to provide any sense of what the market and other Asian markets on Park Street had to offer. It was potentially offensive in the sense that by highlighting the "fresh pork skins for $1.56 per pound, pork tails for $2.63 and pork snouts for $1.69," it served merely to highlight yet again the "foreignness" and "strange eating habits" of Asians. The description of Asian Midway Market in contrast to the warm and familiar descriptions of Lane's Bakery, in which longtime patrons were actually quoted, seemed to highlight for me how this author has fallen into the trap of portraying Asians as "exotic" and "other."
Jay Rath wrote, "at the corner of Fish Hatchery Road, piles of brick, rebar and sun-baked earth are all that's left of the Bancroft Dairy…. A $25.2 million, four-story medical center is being built on the spot." The Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority (WHEDA) is delighted to play a major role in this project.
WHEDA and the Wisconsin Community Development Legacy Fund have allocated $9.5 million in New Markets Tax Credits to the Wingra Family Medical Center Project at 1102 S. Park St. Funding will be used to redevelop the abandoned Bancroft Dairy site by constructing a 76,000-square-foot, four-story medical facility with 300 parking stalls that will serve low-income and underserved residents. Madison residents in need will be the big beneficiaries, future recipients of critical health care that will be provided. Approximately 18 full-time jobs will be created at the facility, along with approximately 160 direct full-time positions during construction.
Wyman Winston, Executive director, WHEDA
I was a dentist on Park Street for 45 years and never once thought of it as a blighted area. My father started our practice there in 1950, so we go back a few years. Our practice was next door to the Park Street Shoe Repair, which is one of Madison's more interesting and diverse businesses. The Fabians were also a father-and-son business, and they go back to the 1940s on Park Street. One can still see the remnants of the Park Street culture if you drive by on a summer day and see the "boys" out in front of the shoe repair shop.