Tuesday, October 25th, 2016

How to get stuck on the wrong side of the tracks – drive a car in Madison


Peter Theron, Republican candidate for congress in the second district, came up with the ultimate show-stopper for a campaign event. He wanted to stop traffic in downtown Madison to show that while Governor Jim Doyle is making empty trains run on time, you’ll be late for work.

Theron, a Republican running in Wisconsin’s Second Congressional District, proposed simulating the combined effect of Madison’s proposed commuter rail line and the rail line from Madison to Milwaukee. Theron asked the City of Madison for permission to shut down the intersections where John Nolen Drive, South Blair Street, East Wilson Street and Williamson Street meet the rail line twenty-six times in a two-hour period during the afternoon rush hour.

Theron said he used the city’s information to figure out how many times traffic would need to be stopped.

“What I looked at was the application that the city made,” Theron said. “The city assumed a ten minute wait time at peak times for the train.”

Theron said that would mean six eastbound trains plus six westbound trains every hour through the intersection, plus the additional rail traffic of the Milwaukee to Madison train.

When asked what kind of reaction Theron was getting for his experiment, he said it has been mostly positive. One person even said to him, “Wow, why doesn’t the city do it?”

Perhaps the city should. A 2008 application for preliminary engineering for the Transport 2020 plan that was sent to the Federal Transit Administration indicates that if plan is not followed (including a commuter rail line), travelers at the intersection in question can expect an additional one to six minute delay by the year 2030. The application does not indicate the amount of delay that would be caused by the proposed commuter rail train and the proposed high-speed rail line.

Theron applied using the process to close streets for block parties, rallies, parades and other events. “We do it all the time,” he said. Theron chose the intersection because of the amount of traffic and because it “has a fairly sophisticated set of lights,” adding that the lights have left turn signals.

The Street Use Commission rejected the application, largely for reasons of safety. Theron said Commission members were mainly concerned with the safety of stopping and starting traffic in the intersection. Chairwoman Kelli Lamberty also expressed a concern over the appropriateness of the use of the permit for a traffic experiment.

Theron said he will continue to raise awareness on the issue. He is planning on an informational picket at the intersection on the day he planned to stop traffic, August 27th.

Every resident of Waukesha can sympathize with Theron as we wait for the trains to roll through every fifteen minutes. But as Theron pointed out to me, at least they’re freight trains.

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