ABOVE: Would you let your child walk this gauntlet to school, even if it's only 1000 yards?
Nice little bullet point for a brochure touting Franklin, huh? That was the answer a citizen got when she asked school board president Jim Milzer about possibly saving money by not busing kids who live practically next door to their school.
Let's repeat that astounding-but-true statement:
"The County Sheriff has determined that all of Franklin School District is in an unusually hazardous transportation area."
(You can listen to the statement at Janet Evans's Righty Blog; it's under "A Franklin citizen makes a comment ..." ).
Sounds like a wonderful place to bring up kids. Henceforth, when you Google Franklin, Wisconsin you will likely encounter this blog entry and the statement:
"The County Sheriff has determined that all of Franklin School District is in an unusually hazardous transportation area."
Busing is just another
consequence of poor neighborhood design that comes back to us in the
form of higher property taxes and transportation costs. You can pay
now when a neighborhood is built, or pay more later. The attitude is
focused on saving in the short run in Franklin, and that's a shame.
Taxes go up. Or they don't; we can proclaim "tax freeze" and just let things like parks and infrastructure continue to crumble.
But houses will be cheaper!
McIlheran points out:
Houston’s been getting a lot of buzz lately, with Chicago and New York
newspapers reporting how well it avoided the housing bubble.
Ah, "Houston buzz." From the Houston Chronicle:
Motorists in this region drive more miles per capita than residents in
any other U.S. metropolitan area, eating a big chunk of the family
budget. The average Houston-area family spends $9,566 per year on
transportation, more than any other metropolitan area except
Dallas-Fort Worth and Anchorage, Alaska. The U.S. average is $7,633.
"Far-sightedness" is not in Mr. McIlheran's skill set, evidently, when molding the issues to fit his worldview. Nor is relevant sourcing: calling Demographia, his "source" for the claim that median home prices are rising in Milwaukee, "a St. Louis-area consultancy" without mentioning its relationship to right wing extremist (and bought-and-paid-for anti-transit zealot) Wendell Cox is par for the course.
Go ahead and Google Mr. Cox. Let the nuttiness sink in. That nuttiness is amply funded by a collection of pro-highway, pro-petroleum organizations and lobbies, of course. He personally profits from his viewpoint, so why change it to reflect reality? Grain of salt, anyone?
In other news: Franklin's mayor is relieved that the 76th Street reconstruction (for the portion of the road that serves, for instance, the Little League Complex) will be "no frills" - a four-lane undivided rural highway with culverts but no sidewalk or streetlights. No money in the budget to pay for a roadway that can be useful and safe for non-vehicular traffic.
Sprawl 101: If your child has a ball game or would like to play some pick-up ball at the Complex, you'll be giving him or her a ride to and from the diamond in your SUV.
"When people bought homes, they punched the numbers and said can we
afford the mortgage payment and taxes," [Bruce] Katz [director of the Metropolitan Policy Program at the Brookings Institution] said. "This new paradigm
is going to have families being more deliberate about the cost of
transportation spending and energy costs. That's a new phenomenon in
the United States. That will be the change that will change development
Katz and others said high fuel prices will increase demand for
transit-oriented development, where homes, townhouses and office
buildings cluster around transit hubs that link jobs with population
But, Mr. Katz, you don't understand - - the houses are cheaper, you see ...
I've worked out of my home for the past 16 years. This means that for almost two decades I've had an established space in whatever apartment or home I happened to live in that was set aside for me and my work debris. My latest space was in my basement - - for the past seven years; time enough to accumulate quite a bit of "stuff" and the urge to purge.
A digression: My friend Doug owns a dump truck (which is pictured at right; and, yes, my stuff filled the dump truck and the dumpster seen in the picture, plus another dumpster). He was nice enough to bring it over so we could fill it with the accumulated debris of my career-to-now. When he returned from his trip to the dump, Doug walked over to me where I stood. I was exhausted and probably looked like a man who needed an encouraging word.
After a beat, Doug said; "On the bright side, your stuff slid out really good at the dump. No snags or nothing."
As I buy replacement stuff, I confess that my purchasing decisions are ever-so-slightly swayed by whether the item will "slide out nice" if disaster strikes again...
Anyhoo, with my basement now a bare-to-the-walls construction site, I have to get out of the house to work. My desktop Mac is in my bedroom now, but there's just no way to work there while the kids are on Summer break. So, being a two-Mac sort of guy, I get out with my laptop and do the digital nomad shuffle, camping at coffee shops and bookstores.
After over two months of being a cafe hobo, I've become quite discerning in what spots are most conducive to productivity. That's why I read with interest Greg Kowalski's speculation that 5-Star Coffee might be closing (not confirmed. 4/25/UPDATE: The employees on duty this morning report that the owner has assured them "not to worry about anything." Is that comforting when 5star.pdf is online?).
I'm a guy who tries to support local businesses when given a choice, but as I noted mere days before the flood, Starbucks made itself very attractive by offering free Wi-Fi at their locations after years partnering with T-Mobile for goofy pay Wi-Fi. Just get and register a Starbucks Card and you get Wi-Fi (plus free syrup shots or something; I just get black coffee so I'm not up on all that).
Here's a meta-moment: a shot of my little digital hobo camp as this very second as I compose this post:
5-Star offers free Wi-Fi as well - - so why don't I always go there? Turns out that, in addition to my desire to "mix it up," there are a great many subtle features that make one coffee shop or book store cafe better than another on a given day. I'll list them here in Part II - - but, right now, I really have to do real work; I have a basement reconstruction to pay for, you know.
This will be the background post, with more to follow.
This past Tuesday's Franklin Common Council meeting focused on a letter written by Lyle Sohns, 5th district alderman, to Mayor Tom Taylor regarding what he alleges is the city's willingness to ignore ordinance violations on the Fox property, which bisects the area where developers are struggling to create a cohesive commercial site called Fountains of Franklin. Trouble is, as long as the Foxes refuse to sell their property, the Fountains of Franklin site will be hopelessly severed in two with Rawson Avenue on one side and a residential subdivision on the other; both immovable objects.
As per typical oddball suburban road plans, there is no way, given the Fox property's location, to move from one end of the proposed F of F site to the other without getting back out onto Rawson and driving the 500 yards-or-so. Wonderful - see why good master planning is important?
It's my understanding that various financial offers have been made to the Foxes by the developer to purchase the property, but the Foxes prefer not to sell. You can imagine the developer's frustration.
Why not sell? It's not for us to judge why people grow attached to a certain location, but the Foxes apparently want to stay put on a strip of land that abuts a road thickly populated with noisy, dusty dump-truck traffic from the quarry across the street. To their left and right will soon be commercial development of one sort or another that does not compliment their current storage and concrete business (and vice-versa).
Now we come to find out that the Foxes have been taking certain liberties - - unknowingly, I assume - - with their property that conflict with local ordinances, and these ordinances have not been enforced, hence the letter from alderman Sohns to the mayor. Three businesses - a concrete company, mini-warehousing, and outdoor storage - are operated on the property. Two out of three of the businesses have never been approved; sort of a "look the other way" situation, because, after all, Franklin was but a small town back in 1980 when the unapproved businesses began operation.
During the public comment period at Tuesday's Common Council meeting, the Foxes - - clearly distraught - - expressed their fear and confusion over the matter. You'd have to be made of stone not to empathize with them; I sincerely doubt they ever consciously set out to pull the wool over the city's eyes. (In their own words; "We're not developers.") They say they had a lawyer involved but have since dropped him or her as the lawyer "seemed to only make things worse and more confusing for us."
So who's to blame for their predicament? And, make no mistake, it very definitely is a predicament if Franklin hopes to enforce any other ordinance with any other business or homeowner. Everybody's watching.
More later. In the meantime, listen to meeting podcasts at Janet Evans' Righty Blog (where you will hear the phrase "emminent domain" for no reason I can discern).
Mayor Taylor and Aldermen Wilhelm and Taylor greet the Franklin All-Star girls' teams.
Yes, I'll have to discuss the Fountains of Franklin/Fox Property/Alderman Sohns letter sooner or later, but in the short time I have today I wanted to post one of the more encouraging moments from Tuesday night's Common Council Meeting, when the Franklin Little League All-Stars were honored for winning the District 6 All-Star tournaments in the 9, 10 and 11 year-old brackets.
It was wonderful to see the community recognizing their achievement - - especially with the wide range of ages in attendance. It's extremely worthwhile for Franklin's seniors and younger folks to see one another in this context.
We'll deal with the eminent domain (!) and calls-for-resignation (!!) stuff another time; for now, let it be known that August 24th is hereby proclaimed Franklin Little League Girls Softball Day.
Via Daily Sprawl, this New York Times article about how "second mortgages" became more benign-sounding "home equity loans," greatly encouraging the current unprecedented levels of debt among average Americans.
That catchy slogan, dreamed up by the Fallon Worldwide advertising
agency, was pitched in 1999 to executives at Citicorp who were looking
for a way to lure Americans to financial products like home equity
loans. But some in the room did not like it. They worried the phrase
would encourage people to live exorbitantly, says Stephen A. Cone, a
top Citi marketer at the time.
Still, “Live Richly” won out. The advertising campaign, which cost
some $1 billion from 2001 to 2006, urged people to lighten up about
money and helped persuade hundreds of thousands of Citi customers to
take out home equity loans — that is, to borrow against their homes. As
one of the ads proclaimed: “There’s got to be at least $25,000 hidden
in your house. We can help you find it.”
Not long ago, such loans, which used to be known as second
mortgages, were considered the borrowing of last resort, to be avoided
by all but people in dire financial straits. Today, these loans have
become universally accepted, their image transformed by ubiquitous ad
campaigns from banks.
Since the early 1980s, the value of home equity loans outstanding
has ballooned to more than $1 trillion from $1 billion, and nearly a
quarter of Americans with first mortgages have them. That explosive
growth has been a boon for banks. Banks’ returns on fixed-rate home
equity loans and lines of credit, which are the most popular, are 25
percent to 50 percent higher than returns on consumer loans over all,
with much of that premium coming from relatively high fees.
However, what has been a highly lucrative business for banks has
become a disaster for many borrowers, who are falling behind on their
payments at near record levels and could lose their homes.
Surprise - turns out you don't know as much about how traffic works ("I've seen the driver ahead of me confused by a roundabout!!") as guys who have spent their lives studying the relationships between vehicles and they roads they travel.
In "The Traffic Guru," Tom Vanderbilt (who must have the best PR firm in the country working for his book, Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do) profiles Hans Monderman, a traffic engineer who has found a way to make traffic safer and more accommodating to non-vehicular life forms by removing signs and street guidelines.
Monderman suggested to the villagers, who as it happens had hired a
consultant to help improve the town’s aesthetics, that Oudehaske
simply be made to seem more “villagelike.” The interventions
were subtle. Signs were removed, curbs torn out, and the asphalt replaced
with red paving brick, with two gray “gutters” on either side
that were slightly curved but usable by cars. As Monderman noted, the road
looked only five meters wide, “but had all the possibilities of
The results were striking. Without bumps or flashing
warning signs, drivers slowed, so much so that Monderman’s radar gun
couldn’t even register their speeds. Rather than clarity and
segregation, he had created confusion and ambiguity. Unsure of what space
belonged to them, drivers became more accommodating. Rather than give
drivers a simple behavioral mandate—say, a speed limit sign or a
speed bump—he had, through the new road design, subtly
suggested the proper course of action. And he did something else. He used
context to change behavior. He had made the main road look like a narrow
lane in a village, not simply a traffic-way through some
If you were asked to name a famous traffic engineer, in some pub quiz gone horribly wrong, chances are
slight you could hazard a good guess. It is true that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad,
president of Iran, was trained as a traffic engineer, but his notoriety
does not derive from tinkering with the streetlights in Tehran. Bill Gates
got his start developing software for a device to count car traffic, but he
was a computer boffin more interested in the technology than the traffic.
Your memory might flicker in recognition at the names of William Phelps
Eno, the putative “father” of traffic control, or Henry Barnes,
the onetime New York City traffic czar credited with inventing the
“Barnes Dance,” wherein an entire intersection, for a moment,
is given over to a four-way pedestrian crossing.
Traffic engineers are rather obscure characters,
though their work influences our lives every day. A geographic survey of
East Lansing, Michigan, for example, once found that more than 50 percent
of the retail district was dedicated to “automobile
space”—parking, roads, and the like. By and large, the design
and management of this space is handed over to traffic engineers, and our
behavior in it is heavily influenced by their decisions.
In the last few years, however, one traffic engineer
did achieve a measure of global celebrity, known, if not exactly by name,
then by his ideas. His name was Hans Monderman. The idea that made
Monderman, who died of cancer in January at the age of 62, most famous is
that traditional traffic safety infrastructure—warning
signs, traffic lights, metal railings, curbs, painted lines, speed bumps,
and so on—is not only often unnecessary, but can endanger
those it is meant to protect.
As I drove with Monderman through the northern Dutch
province of Friesland several years ago, he repeatedly pointed out
offending traffic signs. “Do you really think that no one would
perceive there is a bridge over there?” he might ask, about a sign
warning that a bridge was ahead. “Why explain it?” He would
follow with a characteristic maxim: “When you treat people like
idiots, they’ll behave like idiots.” Eventually he drove me to
Makkinga, a small village at whose entrance stood a single sign. It
welcomed visitors, noted a 30 kilometer-per-hour speed limit, then added:
“Free of Traffic Signs.” This was Monderman humor at its finest:
a traffic sign announcing the absence of traffic signs.
Monderman wasn’t an obvious candidate to become
a traffic revolutionary. Born in the small Friesland village of Leeuwarden,
son of a headmaster, he worked as a civil engineer, building roads, then as
an accident investigator, examining how crashes happen. But he was an
unusually fluid thinker. Over lunch during my visit, he excitedly told me
that he had been reading about the theory that delta societies tend to
foster innovation because of their necessary flexibility in dealing with
potentially changing landscapes. He saw a parallel with the
low-lying Netherlands. “I think the Dutch are selected for
that quality—looking for changes—by the
And Monderman certainly changed the landscape in the
provincial city of Drachten, with the project that, in 2001, made his name.
At the town center, in a crowded four-way intersection called the
removed not only the traffic lights but virtually every other traffic
control. Instead of a space cluttered with poles, lights, “traffic
islands,” and restrictive arrows, Monderman installed a radical kind
of roundabout (a “squareabout,” in his words, because it really
seemed more a town square than a traditional roundabout), marked only by a
raised circle of grass in the middle, several fountains, and some very
discreet indicators of the direction of traffic, which were required by