Thursday, January 20, 2022

Speak up by January 24!

"The squeaky wheel gets the grease." 

Sometimes, it seems like this old adage has it all wrong. It seems, more often than not, the squeaky wheel gets replaced with a quiet one bought with money from people who don't want anything to change.

The recent surprise announcement by the Wisconsin Department of Transportation--that it will drop its decades-long push to build a new highway through the marsh--does give hope that constant, relentless, uncompromising noisy advocacy can make a difference.

But, there are mountains upon mountains of projects that, without scrutiny and comment, will continue down the path of inequity, wasteful spending, unhealthy priorities, and environmental degradation. And, often, you must comment decades before a project reveals its idiocy or inadequacy, because the process is so compartmentalized and circuitous, that something decided in 1998 cannot be undone or fixed in 2023 when it is unveiled for a final review.

A new disaster-in-the-making requires our attention now. This is from Mary Pustejovsky, a Wisconsin transportation equity advocate. 

I wanted to remind everyone that Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WisDOT) is collecting comments on their draft 2050 plan.The website is here:
The last day to submit comments is January 24th, so there is not much time.  I am sharing my comments here in case anyone wants talking points. There is a lot more that could be said, and your comments would be helpful. The more voices they hear, the better. If it's not obvious from my comments, I think the plan is more of the same that we've gotten from them for years. It's time for them to do better.

--------------------
My comments: 

As a citizen of Wisconsin, I welcome the opportunity to provide feedback on the Connect 2050 plan.


Goal 4 states that “The department will continue to prioritize reducing congestion”. A few things: it was *not* a priority from looking at most of the comments from Wisconsites all over the state. The most common priority was “alternatives to driving”, with 700 comments mentioning it, more than any other comment type (https://connect2050.wisconsindot.gov/outreach). It’s embarrassing that WisDOT states its priority is to reduce congestion yet ignores the cheapest option: reducing vehicle miles traveled. When people have alternatives to driving alone, congestion decreases. Yet in your own documents, you show VMT continuing to go up! At least Minnesota DOT has made decreasing VMT a priority. Wisconsin should look to their plans, as our states are similar and have similar challenges.


Also on the interactive website, when selecting Goal 4, then Mobility, you tout “what we are doing now” by presenting a bicycle plan from 1998. REALLY? A 23 year old plan is what you are doing now? You should be ashamed of yourselves. It would have been better not to show it at all because it shows how little you are doing for people outside of motor vehicles.


For Objective 8b: Prioritize emissions reduction and alternative fuels to improve air quality.

Again, WisDOT ignores the most straightforward way to do this: reduce VMT. With fewer miles traveled, emissions go down, and air quality improves. Even electric vehicles won’t save us as they have tires that turn into micro particles that pollute our water (https://www.greencarreports.com/news/1131916_report-microplastic-pollution-from-vehicle-tires-is-a-serious-global-issue).


WisDOT states “Balance transportation needs with those of the natural environment, socioeconomic, historic and cultural resources.” Yet the federal guideline states: “Protect and *enhance* the environment, promote energy conservation, improve the quality of life, and promote consistency between transportation improvements and state and local planned growth and economic development patterns.”


WisDOT’s statement is NOT actually what the federal guideline calls for. What does “balance” mean here? If vehicular delay is reduced by 1 minute is that a “good balance” with the environment? It is so vague as to be meaningless, and allows for vehicular delay to be seen as equivalent with our need for a livable planet.


Federal guideline: 8. Emphasize the preservation of the existing transportation system.


WisDOT:

  • Pursue continuous improvement and expand data-driven decision-making processes.

  • Maximize technology benefits.


This is NOT the same! WisDOT should be focused on repairing existing systems rather than expanding them. We do not have infinite money, and we need to keep our existing system in good repair. Even WisDOT states that it’s important to pay attention to funding sources (goal 1).


Your section on safety is disappointing. You use the talk of Vision Zero “zero traffic deaths” and “5 Es” yet you don’t seem to properly understand them, nor how they work in a hierarchy. The standard 5 Es are: Evaluation, Engineering, Enforcement, Education, and Encouragement. Some have swapped out Enforcement for Equity because it has been well established that the current system of traffic enforcement in our country can result in discriminatory outcomes. Still, I have NEVER seen anyone state that EMS or “Everyone” is part of the 5 Es. It is a complete abdication of your responsibility as a state transportation department to say that “everyone” is responsible. You continue to design roads that encourage speeding. You prevent ENGINEERING changes to East Washington in Madison that would provide more safety on a road where multiple people are killed each year. Yet “everyone” is responsible? That is some next level gaslighting, or maybe you truly are that oblivious to transportation research on appropriate traffic engineering measures that have measurable impact in reducing road violence. 


Your idea of safety is laughable. You state that you want to decrease traffic deaths, yet your own GOALS for 2021 were *higher* than 2020! Your scorecard (https://wisconsindot.gov/Documents/about-wisdot/performance/mapss/scorecard.pdf)  stated that the goal for traffic crashes was 127,892. In the same line it states that 2020 was 114,697.  I realize that this 2050 plan does not have individual metrics, which will be found in other plans, but you can see why I am skeptical of your “goals” and “objectives”. Your goals clearly state that you will do worse than before, then if you come in under your absurdly high goal, you will get a green arrow showing what a good job you’ve done. This is unconscionable.


Finally, the second most common comment was around funding. As I’ve mentioned previously, decreasing VMT is the fastest, cheapest way to ensure that our roads are able to last longer and stay in good condition. The next area that needs to be explored and proposed by WisDOT to the legislature is increasing fees based on vehicle weight. Any engineer will tell you that more weight causes more road damage. It is simple physics. As people switch to (heavy) EVs that do not pay gas tax, they need to pay for their use of the road. As drivers choose heavier vehicles such as oversive SUVs, they need to pay for the damage they do to roads. France is doing this and it is one of the only ways to make it fair for all road users. People who do more damage to the road need to pay for funding the improvements. It is as simple as that. This needs to be considered in all your discussions around fiscal responsibility (ie Goal 1).


Monday, January 10, 2022

Transit Equity Days update - resolutions and proclamations

 

We are fortunate to have many great advocates for public transportation among our city and county elected officials and government professionals. Thanks to them, we have one of the best bus systems in the state, a regional transportation system (SMRT) even without a regional taxing authority, and an MTU that is a leader in transitioning to renewable energy.

Thanks to some of these great allies, the City of La Crosse will pass a resolution supporting Transit Equity Day at its January meeting next week. The resolution, co-sponsored by Council members Mackenzie Mindel and Justice Weaver, highlights the importance of public transportation and transit equity in our community. It passed unanimously in the Judiciary and Administrative Committee on January 5. A Mayoral resolution is also in the works. 

At the county level, thanks to County Board members Maureen Freedland and Randy Erickson, a proclamation supporting February 4 as Transit Equity Day is on the agenda for tonight's meeting

If you have time, please email the county board to thank them for supporting public transit through passage of this proclamation. Assuming the city's resolution passes next week (!) please contact our  La Crosse city council representatives and mayor, too, to thank them for their support.

We are still planning for the following events and actions. If you would like to help, please email us at lacrossetransitadvocates@protonmail.com.

Display at La Crosse Public Library from January 31 through February 4. Thanks to the MTU circulator, you can ride the bus from the library to the Grand River Transit Center where a Municipal Transit Utility display will be hosted!

Collecting Riders' Stories   Our online form is ready to collect your stories! You may submit info anonymously or add your contact info if you wish. We will soon have paper forms available at the library, Transit Center, and other places around town.

Ride with your Rep   We are sending invitations for elected officials in our area asking them to pick and ride one bus circuit. We will post a schedule so you might be able to ride with your rep and talk transit. Remember, all riders on public transportation must wear a mask! 

Thank you drivers!   We'll have Thank You Driver signs you can download (or make your own!) and wear or show when you board the bus or at your local bus stop. Our wondersul essential worker drivers are that backbone of our public transportation system.

Letters to the Editor   Let others know why you love and support public transportation, how important it is to you, and why we celebrate Transit Equity Day. If you've never written a letter to the editor before and want some tips or proofreading help, please email us at lacrossetransitriders.org.

Stay tuned for more updates, and please share the event page with your contacts!

Monday, January 3, 2022

Include transit in N-S transportation planning



[2020 Mobility GIF of the Year from @urbanthoughts11]🥂

The good news at the end of 2021 was that the Wisconsin DOT has decided to stop planning for another roadway to help individuals in private vehicles get from north of La Crosse into the city faster. We never needed it. We don't need it now. The dire congestion predictions never came to pass. And now we have new priorities like getting people out of their single occupant, fossil-fueled cars and reducing private-vehicle greenhouse gas emissions.

Unfortunately, so far, reporting and quotes about this pivot leave out any mention of PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION. That must change. The project web page is, so far, just a map and brief description of the update plans. Now 8s the time to start talking about transit.

Let's make sure public transportation is one of the top solutions considered, planned, and budgeted as new planning goes forward.

For starters, please email or call Rep. Jill Billings, Sen. Brad Pfaff, Mayor Mitch Reynolds, and WisDOT project manager Josh Koebernick ((608) 246-3859 joshua.koebernick@dot.wi.gov) and Michael Bie, WisDOT Southwest Region Communications Manager(608) 246-7928 michael.bie@dot.wi.gov. Let them know public transit is an important part of this planning.


Saturday, January 1, 2022

Your public transit resolution for 2022

Among the many benefits of public transportation, switching from a fossil-fueled private vehicle to public transit is one of the quickest, least expensive ways to immediately reduce your household carbon emissions. 

While New Year's resolutions are often dismissed by social media and pindits because it is hard to change habits and many people don't follow through, if you don't make a decision to change, you probably won't. If it's important for you to replace a less ideal behavior with a healthier one, then it's important to start and to try.

So, make a goal for 2022 to take public transportation when you can. As La Crosse greens its fleet with newer hybrid buses and electric buses, you will not only save money but you'll also help clean the air, increase public safety, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Here are some tips for new public transit riders.

  • Download and read the MTU route map AND circulator map 
  • Also pick up a paper copy of this map from the MTU Transit Center at Third & Jay. Having a paper map is recommended as you get started; you can mark where you live and where you want to go to get a better idea of which buses you want to use.
  • Decide how you will pay. A phone option will be coming later in 2022. For now you will need to pay by cash, token, or pass.
  • If you use a smartphone, get the MTU DoubleMap app from the Google Play Store or Apple Store. This will show you where buses are in real time and when the next bus is expected at a particular stop.
  • Pick a ride to try or a route to explore. (If you want to  explore by riding a complete circuit, please mention this to the driver when you board the bus.) Figure out where to catch the bus. Use your app to track your bus before your ride day and time how long it takes you to get to the stop. Plan to get there a few minutes early. Have your fare ready. If you don't use tokens or passes, rolls of quarters are good to have on hand because exact change is required. Dress for the weather. Make sure you have your good mask. Go!
If you want help or want someone to ride with you the first time, please contact us! We'll find a Bus Buddy who can meet you and go through the whole process, answering questions as you ride. Email LaCrosseTransitAdvocates@protonmail.com or text or leave a message at 608-315-2693.

Behaviorists say new habits can be formed if your goal is targeted and reasonable (ride the bus instead of driving at least one time per week, say) and if your motivation is strong (like, fight the climate crisis!) If you have thought about, visualized and plan for changing your habit, you'll have a better chance to succeed. If you anticipate challenges when you are planning, you won't be as likely to give up before you start. If you give yourself a pep talk while you are doing the new thing, you will help reset possible negative internal dialog. And, successfully completing the new behavior will increase your chances if future success.

Taking the bus is a great (new) habit. We encourage you to try it and repeat it.

One last thing - if you find it hard to take the bus because of current routes, schedules, or frequency, please join our effort to support and improve and local transit!