Saturday, November 21, 2009

Round about on roundabouts

I'm struck by how, in these days of ultra-conservative extinction bursts, everything, apparently, is a communist plot.

Saturday's column

Round about on roundabouts

They’re driven to become our new best friend

They’ve been installing roundabouts here in Washington County at an increasing rate, with more planned. I like them. They’re fun and they accommodate, better than any other intersection, the Wisconsin Rolling Stop. No more tickets for rolling, no matter how slowly, through a stop sign.

I would never have thought it possible to politicize these well-established, cost-effective, and vastly safer traffic control methodologies as some kind of Soviet apparatchik intrusion into the comfortable stop-and-go lights of suburban life, but one of our other Opinion page columnists has come out against them on the grounds that they’re inconvenient and confusing -- and an example of a socialist/communist state bureaucracy run amok.

It seems a big new roundabout at I-43 and Moorland Road in New Berlin has had a steep learning curve that puts it out of step with the statistics that make roundabouts both fashionable and desirable. Even though the rate of accidents with injuries has been cut in half, this new interchange is still having a lot of fender-benders, nearly three per month over the past year and a half, including during construction.

For all this inconvenience, the transition to roundabouts is not being driven by a bunch of Bolshevik lawyers in Madison, but by economic considerations. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has developed some well-tested projections about what kind of savings roundabouts can provide in terms of accidents, injury and drive times. These are the figures the DOT thought would be worth pursuing.

First, think about this: In a normal intersection there are about 32 ways one car can run into another one. In a roundabout, there are only eight. In a study of 23 intersections where roundabouts replaced stop signs, the IIHS found total crashes decreased by 39 percent, but that crashes involving injuries decreased by 76 percent and those involving fatalities or permanent injury were cut by 90 percent. When the insurance industry issues numbers like this the only wonder is that the DOT didn’t install these circles all over the state.

But there’s more. Roundabouts save time and money for drivers. Figures from the same study showed that in about half the locations vehicle delays were cut by 62 percent to 74 percent. Working out the math suggests that drivers saved 325,000 hours in wait-time over one year and, because you don’t have to come to a complete stop and idle at a stoplight or stop sign, saved 235,000 gallons of gas.

The municipalities that removed stoplights saved, on average, $5,000 per year per intersection on electricity and maintenance. A real world example is the city of Golden, Colo. with a population of just under 20,000. I found a consultant’s report from 2004 that showed accident rates had dropped by 88 percent. Better yet, their roundabouts reduced the number of accidents with injuries from 31, in the three years before installation, to only one in the four and a half years after.

When you’re hunting down Bolsheviks responsible for making your life less convenient, it’s easy to overlook history. Our local roundabouts were by no means the first ones the DOT trotted out. The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reported, more than two years ago, that despite some initial reluctance, they tried roundabouts in Madison and Eau Claire first. The DOT found that, indeed, roundabouts “kept traffic moving and resulted in fewer injury accidents.” Even in West Bend, the city Planning Department tells me the roundabout out at Highway G and Paradise Drive has cut accident rates dramatically.

So they’re safer, but what if we still don’t like ‘em? Well, people do like them.

Everywhere they’ve been installed satisfaction rates among motorists jump after a few months. In 2002, another IIHS study found that while only 31 percent of drivers supported roundabouts before construction, support climbed to 63 percent within a few months. When they followed up a year later, “the level of public support increased to about 70 percent on average.”

You could still argue that roundabouts are just too confusing – that would explain some of the trouble they’ve been having down there at I-43 and Moorland. On the other hand, the roundabout isn’t confused, it’s the drivers. They’re turning the wrong way and even stopping in the middle of the lane when they can’t figure out what to do next. All this will pass with experience and, in the meantime, remember, they’re only driving at about 10 mph.

My grandfather was an engineer for the city of Minneapolis back in the ancient days, and liked to reminisce about the year they rearranged their downtown into one-way streets. People were furious for years afterward and yet, today, those changes made all the difference in traffic flow and driver convenience. Roundabouts are annoying for some people when they first go in but, eventually, your exit will appear and you’ll wonder why we ever went round and round on roundabouts and what we ever did without them.

I'm waiting for fluoridation to come back around.


ps: Roundabouts, the whole truth.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Poor Pay More in Wisconsin.

As predicted.

One Wisconsin Now | Cody's Web Log: The Poor Pay More

Details from a new report from the Institute on Taxation & Economic Policy

Tiddly pom.

A reader responds.

Mr. Schille over in Saukville responds.

God will have the last word

On Saturday, Nov. 14, Mark Peterson had one of his intellectual editorials printed. Three cheers. He knows how to use the dictionary.

Too bad he doesn’t know how to use the Bible as well. If he did, he’d know that many of the words we use today are derived from the Bible. “Sodomy” happens to be one of those – from Sodom and Gomorrah and the lifestyle those people tried to enforce on everyone until the triune God of the Bible was fed up and annihilated the whole countryside. See Genesis 18:20-33 and 19:1-29. You might continue reading on through verse 38. It’s pretty interesting and gives an insight of the people who are descendents of Lot and who still live there today.

In regard to all the free speech Mr. Peterson advocates, let the people say what they want. God is still going to have the last word anyway.

Fredric Schille

Town of Saukville

It is a bit odd to be accused of being an intellectual, and then accused of not knowing the etymology of the words I'm analyzing, but I am grateful for Mr. Schille's correction and it might not be gratuitous to call his attention to Malachi 4:1 and check his leaf blower.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Can you shout "Sodomite!" in a crowded theater -- when children are present?

Hi everyone,

It started when a friend called this sign to my attention. It's on Hwy 167 a 100 yards or so from the Richfield Elementary School.

"Hmmm," I said.

Saturday's column.

May one shout sodomite in a crowded theater?

Just west of Richfield Elementary School along Highway 167, someone has erected a sign that reads SODOMITES WILL STILL BURN IN HELL REGARDLESS OF NEW ‘HATE CRIMES’ LAW. It reminded me of the huge OBAMA IS THE ANTI-CHRIST sign that appeared on a front lawn in West Bend just before the election last year, right beside an even bigger Halloween display – I guess it’s OK to celebrate pagan festivals, if candy is involved. That sign seemed to be a clear case of protected speech, even if I am left unable to distinguish it from a Taliban press release.

Sodomites, too, is a phrase of religious origin, but its presence in big capital letters near an elementary school raises some interesting questions about the limits of free speech.

For instance: what if, instead of using words, the landowner had used pictures to deliver his message? Would a picture of two people engaged in sodomy, burning in hell, be acceptable. Would the picture be OK if it was an abstract painting of sodomy? Or would stick figures be more acceptable, say, than a high definition photograph? Shoot, how about a giant JumboTron video screen with a live action DVD playing on a continuous loop during school hours?

In some weird way, the stick figures might be more unsettling.

However you draw it, someone would have complained.

But where do we draw the line on offensive speech shouted in public?

What if the sign contained other, even more obscure, sexually explicit terms? Does lack of familiarity with a word make it less offensive? Or what about one of George Carlin’s “Seven Dirty Words You Can’t Say On TV?” I mean, if the newspaper can’t print them, should neighbors be expected to tolerate them on a yard sign?

I thought of other avenues of protest and wondered whether the sign maker could get vanity license plates that say H8SODOMY? Probably not. The relevant Wisconsin Department of Transportation statute says the DOT may “refuse to issue any combination of letters or numbers, or both, which the department determines may carry connotations offensive to good taste and decency or which may be misleading.” (Sec. 341.145 (7), Stats.). There are some sneaky and amusing, but mostly unprintable, examples at The Smoking Gun Web site, which has a collection of letters complaining about Wisconsin license plates from over the past 20 years. Frankly, if some of those terms weren’t allowed, sodomy is probably off limits too.

Even if you can’t put SODOMITE on a license plate in Wisconsin, the sign in Richfield protests recent legislation and thus remains protected political speech. The only time government should step in is when someone starts shouting fire in crowded theater. So, does the right to free speech protect someone who shouts sodomite in a crowded theater? Yep.

The phrase, “Shouting fire in a crowded theater” originally appears in the 1919 U.S. Supreme Court case Schenck v. United States. What Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes actually wrote was this: “The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man falsely shouting fire in a theater and causing a panic.” This test was overturned in 1969 by Brandenburg v. Ohio which imposed even stricter constraints on when the government can restrict speech; specifically, the Brandenburg case limits the scope of banned speech to language that is intended and likely to “incite imminent lawless action” – like a riot. I don’t foresee rioting in Richfield.

So, vanity plates notwithstanding, it looks like sodomite is shoutable in a crowded theater and is, thus, protected under the Constitution.

There is one wrinkle worth considering, however.

Like most protests that depend on sexual (or racial) bigotry, the sign in Richfield trips over its own feet. Think about it: the sort of people who write things like “SODOMITES WILL BURN IN HELL” typically don’t want fourth-graders thinking about sodomy. But in the same way that trying to ban books simply encourages kids to read precisely those books, a big whopping sign with the word SODOMITE on it will encourage every kid who saw it from the school bus to immediately locate a dictionary and look it up – and then tell their friends.

Merriam-Websters online dictionary has: sodomite: “one who practices sodomy.” Kids are smart. They’ll look up sodomy next, which Merriam-Websters online defines as “anal or oral copulation with a member of the same or opposite sex; also copulation with an animal.” Next they’ll look up “copulation.”

I confess I’d forgotten that sodomy includes sex with animals, but I’ve probably lived a more sheltered life than the sign writer. We can, however, safely assume that copulating with animals will now be cemented into the psyche of every child at Richfield Elementary school who looked it up, and we have this sodomite-hating protester to thank for increasing their vocabularies.


Sunday, November 08, 2009

Sensenbrenner senseless again on health care.

Hi everyone,

Right, Rep. Sensenbrenner spilled milk and then cried about it in the Daily News on Saturday under the headline: "Americans give a thumbs down on health care."

-- except, they don't. Recent Gallup numbers suggest otherwise: despite what the guy in Elm Grove holding up the cardboard TeaBagger sign said, most Americans are giving Congress a big thumbs up on health care and Rep. Sensenbrenner ... well, they're using a different finger entirely.

Now, it is true that most Americans want to take time to do this properly, but Rep. Sensenbrenner's mere ditto-heading the Rush/Beck/Fox/Insurance company talking points that the government is going to take away medical decisions from your doctor -- something the insurance companies have *now* -- is a clear indicator of who is buttering the Representative's toast.


Saturday, November 07, 2009

Recycling Dick's Pizzaria

Hi everyone,

Everything changes. The Binkery's been relocated and the building next door, Dick's Pizza, was razed to make way for a new Walgreens.

I had a great conversation with the construction manager about new protocols for managing the debris economically and environmentally. They did a nice job on minding the environmental p's and q's, but West Bend, like cities everywhere needs to start thinking more seriously about adopting LEED standards for new construction.

Saturday's column.

Recycling Dick’s Pizza a brick at a time

West Bend can follow environmental LEED

Last week I watched a giant back-hoe claw Dick's Pizza into rubble. Rest in pieces, Dick’s Pizza. The first pizza I ate in West Bend was one of their specials with everything. I had just moved into one of the bunker-style apartments on Morgan and, on that day, all my worldly possessions consisted of eight boxes of books, a brick and board bookshelf, a futon and a wok. And a Dick’s pizza. That pizza, I’ll confess, made me hopeful.

With the entire northeastern corner of Washington and 18th now bulldozed flat, I wondered where the pieces had gone. I watched The Binkery roll down Highway 33 to its new home, but where did Dick’s end up?

The project manager at the Redmond Company (the group now installing our third Walgreens) and the city engineering and planning departments helped me track down the pizza crumbs of aggregate, steel and asphalt.

They’ve taken good care of the site. For starters, nothing was wasted: more than 50 percent of Dick’s Pizza was recycled.

About 15 tons of steel was sold to salvage, around 2,100 tons of the old parking lot was pulverized and reused onsite as fill, and about 1,300 tons of concrete block is being stored near Fond du Lac and will eventually find its way into new construction projects. The aluminum cooking hoods were recycled and the old Dick’s Pizza sign was sold to the folks at Clothes Clinic who plan to retrofit it into a new sign for their business. Wave as you go by.

The interior furnishings were auctioned off last year. I was told the Hartford Jaycees came through and grabbed four 16-foot fake beams from the ceiling over the bar to be used in their annual Haunted House. That’s a nice retirement for those beams – helping to scare the dickens out of little kids. It’s poetic.

Recycling demolition debris is still largely cost driven so, if recycling facilities were close enough to offset the costs of hauling, the contractor used recycling. That’s economically important because landfills aren’t as cheap as they used to be.

On Oct. 1, Wisconsin added a surcharge on landfilling debris which the Associated Recyclers Of Wisconsin puts at a 67 percent cost increase. It looks like a lot, but the dollar cost is still significantly lower than neighboring states – one reason why Wisconsin has become a popular place for both Minnesota and Illinois to dump their garbage. In the big picture, the surcharge encourages recycling and will help to limit the garbage from Illinois entering Wisconsin – and I don’t just mean when the Bears play at Lambeau.

They also took good care of Silver Creek, which runs right behind the site.

Some of you may remember when runoff from construction of the Walmart Superstore damaged the headwaters of Quaas Creek. Nobody wants that to happen again, so the environmental assessment, completed prior to demolition and construction, was a strict one. The construction site required a DNR Chapter 30 individual permit (the most restrictive kind) because Silver Creek is, technically, a navigable waterway. Yes: a navigable waterway.

Here’s the DNR’s definition: “Public lakes, rivers, and streams have a bottom (bed) and side (bank), and enough water to float any boat, skiff, or canoe of the shallowest draft on a reoccurring basis.” I suppose a plastic duck, painted to look like Louis Armstrong, floating down Silver Creek through Regner Park during the annual Fourth of July Duck Derby races, constitutes a shallow draft vessel.

More seriously, the creek is listed under the DNR’s Areas of Special Natural Resource Interest (ASNRI) designation because it’s vital to the health of those ponds in Regner Park and, remember: no Silver Creek, no Duck Derby.

Recycling Dick’s Pizza embodied good economic sense, with environmental and social responsibility for toppings – that didn’t cost extra. Most companies now recognize that the triple bottom line (which expands the measure of success from economic, to include environmental and social implications) saves money in the long run. It’s a great start on economic, environmental and socially responsible construction methods.

As a community, we can do more. We can adopt the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) accreditation standard developed by the U.S. Green Building Council. LEED standards provide architects and developers with guidelines for making their buildings economically, and environmentally, friendlier.

The usual cities have already adopted LEED standards, places like Seattle, San Francisco and Portland, but even here in West Bend we have some famous examples: the new Gehl building and West Bend Mutual’s recent addition both implemented LEED standards. West Bend Mutual has even been recognized as an early adopter of green building methods, which are as good for the bottom line as they are for the environment. Maybe it’s time for the city of West Bend to be recognized for taking the LEED in construction and innovative development.


Friday, November 06, 2009

Republican leadership couldn't get insurance under its own proposal.

Irony irony irony,

From Thom Hartmann:
In a great Republican Irony - the Republican House Leadership would not be able to find affordable insurance under their own proposal. The six Republican legislators have an average the age of 52 and, as a group, are more susceptible to cardiovascular disease, different cancers, high blood pressure, and a host of other chronic diseases. Their Republican healthcare alternative would permit insurers to discriminate against them and price these Republican leaders out of the market. Off with their healthcare!
How many teabaggers would have showed up in Washington without Right-Wing Billionaire David Koch helping to pay for 40 buses to haul them free of charge to the anti healthcare rally organized by Rep. Michele Bachmann? Inquiring minds want to know, but given that 40 subsidized busses showed up it may be that without the help of millionaires and billionaires, Michelle would have been talking to a dozen hardcore true believers.

Or simply justice.


Sunday, November 01, 2009

Son of Eagle Forum founder to rewrite the Bible.

Hi everyone,

Just because Ms. Schlafly has been on the radar here lately, and because her local followers called her in, I thought it'd be useful to get a closer look at the consequences so, for instance:

Conservative to reinterpret the Bible
FAR HILLS, N.J., Oct. 19 (UPI) -- A New Jersey man says he is reinterpreting the Bible to excise what he considers two objectionable passages.

Andrew Schlafly, the son of conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly and head of the Conservative Bible Project, also wants to replace certain terms with language that would make the Bible more masculine, The (Nashville) Tennessean reported Sunday.

Schlafly's Bible would omit verses about snake handling and the story of the adulteress, about whom Jesus said, "He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her." Schlafly said these verses should be cut because they portray Christ as being too easy on sinners.

"..because they portray Christ as being too easy on sinners"?

What's clear is that this kind of Wild West exegetical hubris walnut didn't fall too far from the tree.

If this is the sort of Jesus we can expect from the Eagle Forum, what's their public policy going to look like?

I'm just sayin'.