Friday, August 15, 2008

They're listening at City Hall (or at least reading)

I got this e-mail from the city's transportation director, Chris Strong, (with a cc to his new boss, City Manager Mark Rohloff):

Dear Mr. Maguire,
I read your blog entry about the new pedestrian/bicycle flashers at Congress Avenue and Arboretum Drive/Summit Avenue, along with some of the comments that have been posted. I wanted to give you some background that hopefully helps to explain the city's approach.

First, we had considered designing the system to permit crossings on both the west and east sides of Arboretum/Summit. However, since there is no sidewalk on the west side of Summit Avenue (south of Congress), we thought it was better to encourage crossings on the east side of the intersection. Moreover, adding the push button on the west side of Arboretum (north of Congress) would have resulted in significant additional cost due to the need to trench under the road.

Second, you expressed concern over pedestrians and bicyclists having a "false impression" of safety. By state statute (346.24), bicyclists and pedestrians have the right-of-way in the crosswalk. Unfortunately, many drivers do not observe that. We want to use the least intrusive means necessary to encourage drivers to obey the statute. We plan to monitor the effectiveness of this system over the next few weeks. If the system does not seem to be effective, we have some ideas about other approaches we can try.

If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me.


Here's my response:

Dear Chris:

Thanks for your note. I appreciate your willingness to take the time to explain your thinking.

I have to say, though, that when it comes to safety I'm not sure that using the "least intrusive" method is necessarily the right approach.

I avoid that intersection, whether biking, walking, jogging or driving, as much as I can because it is so dangerous, and I suspect that the main reason it doesn't show up in accident statistics as a dangerous intersection is that lots of other people avoid using it as well.

Westbound motorists wing around from Algoma/High and accelerate to get into position so they end up in the lane they want to be in after crossing the bridge. Eastbound drivers come racing down from the bridge, again jockeying to be in the correct lane(s) as they pass the Public Museum.

I don't mean this comment to be flippant at all, but I really think you should turn the signs away from motorists and direct them to bikers/pedestrians with the warning that they should look for another place to get across the street.

In all seriousness, I would love to know more about how you plan to monitor the effectiveness of the lights. I mean you could say that they are effective because I haven't been hit by a car (although I am still in my office at the moment).

But as far as I can tell, nobody has seemed to notice the lights.

Some OPD enforcement of the speed limit and/or pedestrian right-of-way law might help!

Thanks again!


Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Making a bad situation worse

In an apparent attempt to kill all of the pedestrians and cyclists who use the Wiouwash Trail where it crosses Congress Avenue (just kidding), the city has installed user-activated flashing lights at the intersection.

Why is this a bad idea?

The main reason is that it gives those on foot or on wheel the false impression that drivers will pay more attention to the pedestrian cross walks than they do when the lights are not flashing when in fact the lights have no apparent effect.

I tested this twice yesterday.

On my first test, drivers heading eastbound did not slow down at all. One driver in a pickup truck swerved around me as I crossed the street and cursed me as he went by at a speed well above the posted limited.

On my second test, a driver heading west slowed down but only after I waved my arm to point out the flashing light overhead.

Another problem with the installation is that lights are on the wrong side of Arboretum/Summit. In other words trail users heading southbound have to cross over to the east side of Arboretum to activate the light while northbound users have to cross to the west side of Summit. (Southbound users following normal right-of-way rules would be on the west side of the street.)

Once again, the notion that the city cares about the safety of trail users is cast in serious doubt.

Sewer story

The Northwestern reports this morning that the city has nothing to fear from sewer claims since the city "has a regular sewer maintenance program in place, undergoes inspection and repairs [sic] and provides timely reports to it's [sic] insurance carriers on the status of it's sewage system."

Maybe, maybe not.

It seems to me that the big flaw in this argument is that the city has known, or should have known, that the sewer system is compromised because the city fails to enforce its own rules against illegal hookups.

Thus many of these basement backups over the last couple of years have been preventable.

Sounds like negligence to me.

My guess is that some smart lawyer can take that to the bank, and all of us taxpayers to the cleaners.

Friday, July 18, 2008

RIP: Jacques (the Shock)

It's hard to describe in words the death of the family pet.

We called him Jacques (named after the French philosopher Maritain), and we had him for 14 years.

He had slowed considerably in recent months, and so we knew this was coming.

In many ways, he was the classic bad dog: tipping over the kitchen garbage, barking at the neighbors, sneaking out an open gate every chance he got, stealing Christmas chocolate.

But he had that canine way of charming, soothing, comforting.

He could always make you feel better, which is why we called him "Prozac on paws."

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Barack Who's Sane Obama

I was in New York City last week and spotted a street vendor selling T-shirts with that slogan.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Nonprofit journalism 1, ABC News 0 (or maybe -1)

Here's a message from Mother Jones magazine:

Friends, we need your help getting credit where it's due: Yesterday, ABC reported an "exclusive" video about anti-Muslim McCain backer Reverend Rod Parsley. Only problem? MoJo showed that video two weeks ago. Here's where you can stand up for scrappy independent investigative reporting and help mainstream media do the right thing: Email this newsletter, our original video, and the whole sordid backstory to three people who should know what happened. If enough people stand up for MoJo today, we might get an on-air apology.

Here's the story.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Which local hospital is best?

As reported in the Journal Sentinel today, the federal government is starting to promote a Web site that allows for comparisons between hospitals on such things as medical procedures and patient care.

You can search by county and compare Mercy, Aurora and Theda Clark here in Winnebago.

Just eyeballing things, it looks like Aurora ranks a little higher in most categories than Mercy, although there is one whole category where Aurora has no data.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

OSAB V--Can you hear me now?

An alert reader pointed this one out to me.

Non-Oshkosh Twin

Oshkosh Twin