ZCRAC and Cars

Carol Schaeffer, as head of Smart Growth, speaks what's on many area developer's minds. She's the one who sits through the meetings and keeps her eyes on zoning changes. In "Developing Inroads," we'll get a better idea of the roadblocks and inroads developers have when building in Dane County.

Instead of Zoning Code Rewrite Advisory Committee, I have decided that the ZCRAC should really stands for the Zero Cars Riding Around Committee. As someone who is completely dependent on her car for getting around due to the abysmal regional transportation situation and a myriad of other life situations that are mostly out of my control; I find the attitude and cavalier disregard for pragmatic implementation disturbing. Why do they have to hate on cars so much?

When I lived in Washington D.C., I did not have a car. I never missed it. I was also 20, single, childless, and lived within the city — only two blocks from a metro station. The metro ran frequently and reliably from an underground station out of the elements. It was clean, inexpensive and mostly safe. If I did really need to go somewhere in a cab, it was cheap enough for an unpaid intern to scrape up the cash for a ride. In Madison, you have sell one of your children to ride farther than two miles more than once a week. If you go on the bus anywhere outside of downtown, you better allocate an additional 2 or 3 hours to do anything. I can get to Chicago on a Badger Bus faster than I can get from the east side to the west side. How we end up resolving mass public transit in Dane County is a whole different kettle of fish; but until we do, the vast majority of people are dependent on cars to function.

Someone on the ZCRAC said we should severely limit parking because, if you build parking, people will drive. Thank you, Captain Obvious. However, if you have businesses and retail without parking(thus no drivers) and no moderately convenient way to get there, you will see a lot more vacant storefronts and Middleton office parks. Should we encourage more pedestrian-friendly, dense, live-work communities? Absolutely! Should we put in place Draconian parking maximums without knowing the impact it will have on commercial, retail and residential life in Madison? I vote no.

It is certainly a chicken and egg sort of situation. On one hand, folks are concerned about continuing to develop car-centric anythings. On the other, we have a very limited geographic area that is conducive to killing car-venience.

So how do we deal with this?

In my opinion we go with the P.I.E. method, rather than pie-in-the-sky. What is this P.I.E.? Pragmatic, Incremental, Enabling. Crippling businesses by insisting that if you don’t build it, they still will come and disregarding current transportation realities is bad policy. Eliminating minimums, enabling transit-oriented districts, encouraging creative ways to handle parking and driving issues, providing financial incentives for expensive, but environmentally friendly alternatives, and making these change incrementally makes a lot of sense. What doesn’t make sense is doing things that theoretically sound good but will end up exacerbating what we are trying to curtail by driving businesses (pun fully intended) to the surrounding communities.