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Leadership needed on downtown street closings

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Publication:Waukesha Freeman (Conley); Date:May 26, 2011; Section:Opinion; Page Number:8A

Leadership needed on downtown street closings

City already has reputation for being a maze

A long, long time ago in a not-too-distant galaxy, I got lost driving around Waukesha. It was my first political campaign in the area and I had to find a house on East Avenue. I stopped and asked for directions and I still ended up on the wrong side of the river.

I learned a couple of valuable lessons. One, never trust a native of Waukesha to give directions. Two, Waukesha deserved its reputation for confusing streets.

An acquaintance considered buying a house out here in Waukesha. He asked me if the streets are as confusing as people think.

“No, but you should know compasses don’t work out here.”

“Really?” he said, before realizing that I was joking.

We all know the reason Waukesha has such a crazy street plan. It’s so bank robbers get confused trying to leave town. Hey, it worked the last time someone robbed a bank downtown.

And so Waukesha’s reputation goes.

I remember the first time I drove through downtown and had to make the right turn at the Five Points. My wife, the lovely Doreen from Waukesha, had to coax me into driving over the cobblestone walkway past the Springhouse.

This is crazy, I thought.

It’s gotten better since I moved out here. I moved to Waukesha just in time to see the Springhouse removed from the Five Points and streets changed to accommodate two-way traffic.

That is why I cannot understand the desire of some in the downtown business community to see any closure of Main Street for any length of time as acceptable.

This city already has a terrible reputation for being unnavigable. Why would we want to reinforce that impression on Friday nights when we are trying to encourage people from far and wide to come downtown?

This is not just a downtown issue. Waukesha’s reputation for being difficult to get around affects the entire community. Telling someone that Sunset Drive isn’t downtown and, oh, by the way it’s Saturday, isn’t going to change their minds if they couldn’t get to The Clarke Hotel the week before for a wedding. Or if they couldn’t get to the hospital to visit someone because they had to detour around Friday Night Live.

I know golf carts, pedicabs and bicycle racks all sound wonderfully new urban, but this is Waukesha. We drive cars. We can load up our purchases and our passengers without breaking a sweat. That’s just the way we roll.

As for the silly suggestion that people will be happy to park their cars blocks away and walk to Friday Night Live because that is what they do at shopping malls, let me know when we open a Cheesecake Factory and Van Maur downtown.

The excuse, we’re told, is that the police want us to close down Main Street for safety. I’m sympathetic to making the jobs of our police officers easier, but we are just going to have to make their jobs a little more difficult in order to meet the larger needs of the community.

If the conditions are just impossible for the police to manage, then the problem is for those few bar owners to figure out how to manage their live acts and the crowds better. The bar owners may think it’s unfair, but they should have thought of entertainment staging when they chose the locations for their bars.

Because the problem is so much bigger than just the downtown, this is a situation that calls for real leadership from the mayor and the Common Council. Unfortunately Mayor Jeff Scrima is too busy putting his finger in the air to see which way the wind is blowing to actually demonstrate the leadership required in his job.

By the way, it’s funny how we have another situation where members of the community remember a meeting with Scrima that he conveniently wiped from his memory.

As for the Common Council, hoping that the Business Improvement District and the Waukesha police will somehow work things out is just not going to do. The council does not have a competent mayor they can rely on, so they are just going to have to take an active role themselves.

(James Wigderson is a blogger publishing at http://www.wigderson.com and a Waukesha resident. His column runs Thursdays in The Freeman.)

JAMES WIGDERSON

 

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