Sunday, February 22, 2015

How to Fix Walker's Budget Problem

Here we go again. Greedy people are using a budget deficit to dismantle the things that make our civilization civilized. The result would be a transfer of wealth from the middle class to rich overlords. A similar problem was addressed in Pedestrian View in 2011. The difference is this time they might get away with it.

It would not be difficult to create a budget that is better for Wisconsin than the one Governor Scott Walker recently proposed. So that's what Pedestrian View set out to do. Mind you, what follows addresses only a dozen specific items and without the benefit of a professional budget analyst. Unlike Walker's almost two thousand page budget that is scoring him millions of campaign dollars from greedy billionaires and dark money groups, this is a regular person's budget. If you have your own ideas, great, please make suggestions in the comment section below. We need to work together if we are going to make progress against the warfare being imposed on us from the likes of the Koch Brothers.

For starters, Walker's errant tax cutting
two years ago turned a small budget challenge into a big budget problem. As predicted, he turned a projected surplus into a deficit. Now Walker is using the $2 billion (yes, billion with a "B") deficit he created as the excuse to cut programs that greedy people want eliminated.

So here is how to flip almost $2 billion in the budget and pay bills on time without cutting sensible programs and without borrowing any money.

According to the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau, Wisconsin could save $345 million over the next two years if it adopts a full expansion of Medicaid under the federal Affordable Care Act. But our Governor is refusing to do so. The Pedestrian View is to accept the $345 million to help more people have affordable health care and create a balanced budget.

Instead of borrowing $1.3 billion (yes, again, that's billion with a "B") to help cover costs of transportation projects over the next two years, as Walker proposes to do, Wisconsin could prolong some highway construction and implement mileage-based, vehicle registration fees (with a 20,000 mile cap) which would generate an estimated $390 million/year. (Source: http://www.dot.wisconsin.gov/about/tfp/docs/mileage-based-regis.pdf)

Instead of borrowing $220 million to help build a new stadium in Milwaukee, as Walker is proposing, the state should accept the Menominee's offer to pay for it. In return they would get to build a new casino in Kenosha that would bring jobs and more Illinois money to Wisconsin. Seems like a no-brainer, especially since job creation in Wisconsin lags so far behind neighboring states and more than 100,000 jobs behind Walker's 2010 campaign promise.

Walker wants to eliminate the small state agency that oversees for-profit colleges. The problem is doing so would actually cost taxpayers $70,000/year and make Wisconsin the only state in the country without such oversight. For-profit colleges are characterized by high loan debt and high dropout rates. (Source: http://m.lacrossetribune.com/news/state-and-regional/scott-walker-proposal-to-close-for-profit-college-board-would/article_b99fef8f-7846-5e50-9ace-d1373ecfaf13.html?mobile_touch=true)

Walker's proposed budget skips a
$108 million debt payment. What kind of leader does not pay their credit card bill on time? The Pedestrian View is that you pay bills on time. (Source: http://www.bloomberg.com/politics/articles/2015-02-18/wisconsin-to-skip-debt-payments-to-make-up-for-walker-s-tax-cuts)

Walker's budget would cut $15 million from SeniorCare, resulting in the loss of a matching $15 million in federal dollars and $66 million in program revenue. Seriously, why in the world would we cut funding that takes care of our grandparents?

Walker is even proposing to eliminate the IRIS program which helps people with disabilities. What kind of Governor hurts people with disabilities? Do we really want our civilization to be one that leaves behind people with disabilities? No way.

Walker's budget would eliminate $2 million in state funding for transportation alternatives which is the main source of state funding for local pedestrian and bicycle projects. This program is money well spent by making our communities safer for kids and more livable for everyone. Additionally, he is also proposing to cut a $75,000/year program that helps volunteers make the Ice Age Trail safer. It's a bad idea. Pedestrian View would leave both funding programs intact.

Walker proposes $5 million in cuts to
Wisconsin Public Broadcasting over the next two years. It's hard to imagine growing up without Big Bird and Carl Sagan but Governor Walker's budget would hurt this kind of important educational programing. Leave Educational Communications Board funding alone.

Walker wants to require recipients of certain benefits to undergo drug testing but not require the same tests of others also receiving benefits, such as legislators. The budget offers no funding for this testing so it would fall to local governments to pay the costs of the tests. This would lead to higher local taxes and a very small number of people kicked off the program. Walker also isn't telling us that his move would add legal costs to our state taxes because a similar program in Florida was deemed unconstitutional. Pedestrian View would not mandate misguided testing like this.

Walker's budget would spend $250,000 to study wind turbines but cut 18 science positions at the DNR. Half of those DNR positions are currently vacant. Pedestrian View would skip the politically motivated $250k study and instead keep the 9 currently filled science positions for an overall budget impact of only $400,000.

After taking $1.6 billion from our public schools just a few years ago, the Walker budget proposes an additional cut of $98 million. Terrible idea. Many public schools are already buckling with class sizes of 35 kids. How does this help our children? It doesn't. No more cuts to funding public schools.

Walker proposes to cut $300 million
from the University of Wisconsin system and turn the system over to a "public authority." Both ideas are bad for Wisconsin because they will lead to significant tuition increases and hurt Wisconsin's economy. Pedestrian View would do the opposite.

Walker proposes to end funding for the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program for the next decade. That would hurt Wisconsin's forestry and tourism industries and prevent dozens of miles of Ice Age Trail from being relocated to safer, off-road locations. Instead, Pedestrian View would cut the program by 75% and fund it with a new fee on the sale of certain outdoor equipment. A $1 fee on running shoes and backpacks, $3 fee on fishing poles, hiking boots and hip boots, $5 fee on bicycles and tents and $10 fee on truck and trailer campers would provide an estimated $15 million annually for the Stewardship Program. Plus, since most of the opposition to the Program is coming from the northern part of the state where most of our public land is located, the Program should be tweaked so that only 8% of its funds would be available to projects in the Northern Region.

Walker’s proposed budget would cut recycling grants to local communities by $4 million. That would be foolish since it would only make the landfill problem worse for our children to sort out. Spend it now or spend more in the future. Pedestrian View sees those $4 million as a smart investment.

Walker's budget would give the
average household a $5 discount on their taxes. Gee, cut $135 for each kid in school but give me $5. That would be just plain stupid, or a political stunt. No thanks. Keep the five bucks/each in the state budget.

There are so many other bad things for Wisconsin in Governor Walker's budget that this fix could go on for hundreds more pages. But only a handful of people would read it. So let's stop there and review, leaving it short of an actual budget.

By not borrowing for roads, refusing to accept federal funds to expand Medicaid and refusing the Menominee's offer to pay for a new Milwaukee arena, Pedestrian View would flip $1.87 billion in the state budget while creating modest community funding mechanisms, paying our bills on time and keeping these (and many other) important programs working for Wisconsin taxpayers.

There you go. Try doing it yourself. It's really not hard to do a better budget than Governor Walker.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Heroes

by Drew Hanson

There is a game played this time each year in which the athletes are getting a lot of attention. Honestly, it would be hard to understate the amount of media and money these people are getting. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy watching a good football game too but step back and ask if so much attention is warranted. Are their physical feats really deserving of so much fanfare?

Let’s take a few minutes for some perspective, stop short of hero worship and peek at some heroes in other arenas of physical strength or prowess.

My youngest daughter has cancer. So she is my #1 hero. Her cancer and chemotherapy are ravaging her body at least as much as anything a football game delivers. Yet she keeps bouncing back and lighting the world with her joyful personality.

Now I’ll take off my proud parent hat.

Lint after walking the 2,600-mile Pacific Crest Trail
This being Pedestrian View, atop the list of heroes must be thru-hikers. These are people who complete epic end-to-end pilgrimages of long-distance hiking trails. They don’t do it for money, parades or Good Morning America interviews. Sure, a few of us follow their statistics because, well …, thru-hikers accomplish amazing things.

But who are they? You ask.

Well, first, there is no one kind of thru-hiker. They are old and young and of all political stripes and vocations. They are a cross-section of America. The few I mention next are extraordinary, even among thru-hikers.

One of my favorite thru-hikers is Lint. Oh, by the way, thru-hikers have trail names. Lint’s first thru-hike was of the Ice Age Trail in 2003. He has gone on to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail (three times!), Pacific Crest Trail (three times!), Continental Divide Trail (twice), Colorado Trail and Arizona Trail. This adds up to somewhere around 20,000 miles! So this guy averages hiking 30-40 miles a day for the weeks or months of a thru-hike. Wow! Now that’s strength and endurance. Check out his website at http://www.linthikes.com/

A fun thru-hiker I recently discovered is the The Real Hiking Viking. He is an Iraq War veteran with a thru-hiker resume that is shorter than Lint’s but he’s got some serious splash. In addition to his website, he’s active on Facebook and Twitter.

Luke, Jingle and Ya Comi,
the 10th, 8th and 3rd people to thru-hike the Ice Age Trail
Most thru-hikers prefer a low profile, like another of my favorites: Jingle. She has thru-hiked the Ice Age, Appalachian, Continental Divide, Pacific Crest and several other long distance trails. But she’s not just a hiker and registered nurse. She volunteers a lot of her free time to improve her local trail, the Ice Age Trail. Wow!



Like Jingle, most thru-hikers humbly accept the recognition that non-profit trail clubs offer and seek no other attention for their amazing accomplishments. They’re not looking to be heroes but we can find many of their names on the web. Here is a sample of thru-hiker lists:

http://www.iceagetrail.org/list-thousand-milers/

http://www.coloradotrail.org/completers.html

http://www.appalachiantrail.org/about-the-trail/2000-milers

http://www.pcta.org/discover-the-trail/long-distance-hiking/2600-miler-list/

There’s no chiseled granite statue of any of them. But their accomplishments are truly impressive feats of human strength, prowess and achievement. If you haven’t already, you really should click on some of the above links, pause for a moment and ponder the journey each of them endured as they covered hundreds or thousands of miles on foot.

If you are inspired by thru-hikers and curious about long-distance hiking, there are, of course, resources on the web to help. Here are a few:

http://thru-hiker.com/articles/

http://www.aldha.org/

http://theultralightbackpackingsite.com/

In closing, maybe something us regular folks can learn from thru-hikers is that this business of heroes is overblown. To paraphrase a line from Ray Zillmer, spend more time using your own body and less time watching other people use theirs.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Top 10 U.S. Long Distance Hiking Trails

by Drew Hanson

On Monday The Guardian ran a story under the heading, “Top 10 long-distance hiking trails in the US.” Having hiked parts of most of these and many other trails, this hiker likes The Guardian’s list.

above the John Muir and Pacific Crest trails,
Cathedral Range, CA, 1999
Some of the trails on the list are well known, like two outside of Wisconsin I’ve explored the most: the Pacific Crest Trail and John Muir Trail. While the Appalachian Trail is of course also listed it is a few of the lesser known ones that I'd like to give a little more attention.

I was glad to see the Ozark Highlands Trail on the list. Two of my four Ozarks trips included hikes on portions of this fairly unknown trail. It is especially awesome to explore in spring while the redbud and dogwood are in bloom.

Seeing the Long Trail on the list brought to mind some of its fall line routes up the side of one Vermont-version-of-a-mountain and down the fall line of the other side. A friend and I spent a memorable night at The Inn At Long Trail, which offers the sort of hiker services a few more trails need.

There is one small correction I would make to The Guardian’s write-up on the Ice Age Trail. It states, “Only a handful of people hike the entire trail each year.” Actually 50 people completed the entire Ice Age Trail in the past 4 years. That’s more than who hike some of the other trails on the list. If you look at the 5, 10 or 20 year trend line, the rate at which people are completing the entire Ice Age Trail is going up. Someday more people will hike the entire Ice Age Trail than perhaps even the Appalachian Trail.

The Guardian article is major news for the lesser known trails. The international newspaper based in England has a daily print and online readership of over 9 million. In 2012 its online edition was reportedly the third most widely read in the world. If you live near one of the lesser known trails but are not involved in any way with them, this news should be a hint that you might be missing something. The lesser known trails are not crowded to hike and could likely use your support to make them even better.

If ten or twenty years ago you had a mediocre experience on one of the lesser known trails, it is time you come back for a second hike. I strongly recommend hiking any Ice Age Trail segment constructed by the Mobile Skills Crew in the past dozen years for it is these segments built using advanced design and construction techniques that are an absolute pleasure to hike and undoubtedly part of the reason the IAT landed itself in such worldly news.

Monday, January 5, 2015

The Best Hiking in Dane County (Someday)

by Drew Hanson

There are some nice places to take day hikes in Dane County. The Montrose, Lodi Marsh and Table Bluff segments of the Ice Age Trail are some of the best. But I think these will all be eclipsed someday at an area between Madison and Cross Plains known as the Cross Plains Reserve.

Purpose

One of the questions a person might ask about the Cross Plains Reserve is, “What’s so special about it?”

The person who knew the area of the Cross Plains Reserve best was Frederick Thwaites. His 1908 master’s thesis was on the geology of the Cross Plains, Verona and Middleton areas. He worked for a period doing fieldwork in southern Wisconsin for eminent glacial geologist William Alden of the United States Geological Survey (USGS). Most of his distinguished career—38 years—was spent teaching geology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison where he authored the standard textbook on glacial geology that was used by college students around the United States for decades.

Not surprisingly, Thwaites and Ice Age Trail founder Ray Zillmer corresponded with one another. Click here for the text of a letter Zillmer sent to Thwaites in 1958.

When the National Park Service was studying Ray Zillmer’s proposal for an Ice Age National Park in the late 1950s and early 1960s, the body of work by Frederick Thwaites factored heavily in their research. Specifically, with his master’s thesis focused on the area and years of leading geology classes on field trips through the area, Thwaites was the undisputable expert on the area of the Cross Plains Reserve.

In 1961 National Park Service geologist Robert Rose completed a report on areas under study for an Ice Age National Park in Wisconsin. The following excerpts from his report, “Preliminary Geological Report on 1961 Field Study of Proposed Ice Age Area in Wisconsin”, clearly outline the uniqueness of the area he called the moraine-driftless area, between Madison, Verona and Cross Plains.

“This report is based on a field study conducted during the last half of April, 1961. Its purpose is to identify and describe more specifically the more important segments considered in a proposed area of the National Park System which would feature the story of continental glaciation in America.

Among the localities or segments evaluated there are four which are regarded as basically essential in the adequate presentation and interpretation of the story. These so-called key areas are: Kettle Moraine [Northern Unit], the moraine-driftless area near Cross Plains, the Devils Lake-Baraboo Range segment, and Interstate Park.

The driftless area of Wisconsin is world famous because it is an unglaciated area of considerable size … lying far within extensively glaciated territory.

Several eminent geologists who have been consulted are unanimous in the view that a segment embracing a good example of the moraine-driftless area relationships is highly essential [emphasis added] in illustrating the story of continental glaciation. With the completion of each field study, beginning with the initial reconnaissance of 1958, the desirability of including such a segment becomes more firmly recognized.

The relationships between moraine and bedrock of sedimentary origin are most strikingly exhibited in an area of about 9,000 acres immediately south and east of Cross Plains. Within this area rugged morainal ridges belonging to the Wisconsin [Glaciation] occur while the strikingly eroded margins of the driftless area lie immediately to the west and south. In brief, this key area is a self-contained unit scenically and scientifically.”

A few years later the Cross Plains Reserve was chosen as a unit of the Ice Age National Scientific Reserve, and is most special, because of its two broad landscapes that sit side by side. It is a landscape crossroads with a several hundred million year old landscape on one side and a roughly 15,000 year old landscape on the other.

Since features associated with moraines are common and well-represented along other segments of the Ice Age Trail, the critical role that the Cross Plains Reserve must fill in completing the Ice Age story, i.e. its purpose, is to showcase “the strikingly eroded margins of the driftless area”. To succeed the Cross Plains Reserve must contain a representative portion of the Driftless Area which means the boundary of the Cross Plains Reserve must be expanded.

Size

The 9,000-acre conservation area proposed by Robert Rose, as no doubt envisioned by Ray Zillmer and Frederick Thwaites, cannot be seriously contemplated today. People’s homes are not going to be included. But the current acreage under public ownership does not encompass the nationally significant story of the place. Therefore it should be enlarged as current owners are ready to sell. First, lands to the northeast, north and northwest that cover key parts of the Black Earth Trench should be added. This east-west valley was a glacial river that once drained the area where the city of Middleton and western Lake Mendota now sit. Second, much of the Driftless Area bounded by county highway P and Mineral Point Road should be added. Most important is the Great Dividing Ridge. Finally, a corridor of land along the west side of Timber Lane is needed to protect pro-glacial Coyle Pond and provide an off-road connection for the Ice Age Trail.

In addition to Robert Rose’s 1961 report, support for an increase in public ownership of this area is provided by at least two recent conservation planning documents. One is the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources’ Wisconsin Land Legacy Report which highlights the importance of Shoveler Lakes–Black Earth Trench. Described on page 195, it is one of 229 places identified as important “to meet Wisconsin’s future conservation and recreation needs.” Another is Dane County’s Parks and Open Space Plan which identifies a large area as the Black Earth Creek Natural Resource Area. See pages 26-29. The area "consists of land that is specifically set aside for the protection of a valuable natural environment and/or greenbelt corridor that were identified through a public process."

A dark cloud of new homes at the Cross Plains Reserve
Unfortunately a couple large new homes were recently built on former farm land within the current Cross Plains Reserve boundary. The land for the homes had been purchased from a previous farmer by a developer who made a handsome profit. Such short-sighted dealings need to be preempted by future public agency land acquisition if the integrity and national significance of the Cross Plains Reserve is to be preserved.

Name

The name "Cross Plains Reserve" (i.e. "Cross Plains Unit of the National Scientific Reserve") does not represent the place very well. Although it is a landscape crossroads (hinted at in the "Cross" part of the current name), "Plains" is completely contrary to its landscape. Forty years ago, before there was any public land at the place and when the idea for the place was only a concept, it was convenient to name it after the nearby town. The current name has served the place well enough but now inhibits its growth and development.

The name should be changed to something meaningful and inspiring. The name should give the place standing and context within the National Park System and State Park System of Wisconsin. A couple years ago I recommended re-designating it Driftless Border National Monument. If the President fails to act on this proposal, the name could be administratively changed to "Driftless Border Reserve" (i.e. "Driftless Border Unit of the National Scientific Reserve").

Trails

There are currently no official trails at the Cross Plains Reserve, err, Driftless Border National Monument. But the Ice Age Trail will someday pass through the area which is part of the largest roadless area along the Trail in Dane County. Click here for background on Ice Age Trail roadless areas.

In time, other loop and spur trails and primitive campsites will be added. All told, it could become the best hiking in Dane County and perhaps in all of southern Wisconsin.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Move Reveals Walk Score Flaws

by Drew Hanson

We moved recently. The new house provides us a higher quantity and quality of nearby walks. But walkscore.com rates it 32 points less walkable than our former home. That’s not right.

A couple years ago an article appeared here which bemoaned a decrease in daily walks. Posted at http://pedestrianview.blogspot.com/2012/04/walk-each-day.html, it ended with the goal of a life with walking recast in a central role. We now have that. But in the process of finding our new home, flaws in the “walk score” used by many real estate web sites were uncovered.

According to Walk Score’s website, “Walk Score measures walkability on a scale from 0 - 100 based on walking routes to destinations such as grocery stores, schools, parks, restaurants, and retail.” The web tool “measures the walkability of any address using a patented system. For each address, Walk Score analyzes hundreds of walking routes to nearby amenities. Points are awarded based on the distance to amenities in each category. Amenities within a 5 minute walk (.25 miles) are given maximum points. A decay function is used to give points to more distant amenities, with no points given after a 30 minute walk. Walk Score also measures pedestrian friendliness by analyzing population density and road metrics such as block length and intersection density. Data sources include Google, Education.com, Open Street Map, the U.S. Census, Localeze, and places added by the Walk Score user community.”

Sounds good. So how could my old address receive a walk score of 77, or “very walkable”, while my new address scores only 45?

My old address was on a busy, commuter street through a traditional neighborhood with houses close to each other and the street. Weekday traffic counts averaged over 10,000 cars per day. Its two lanes of traffic were narrow and book-ended by on-street parking on both sides. Traffic tended to include a fair number of aggressive drivers who sometimes unsafely passed slower or turning traffic on the right or left. Getting in and out of a car’s driver’s side while it was parked on-street was scary thanks to unruly drivers—especially when trying to get a child in or out of a car seat.

Because of the preponderance of disrespectful, unsafe and unlawful driving habits on our former street, about half of bicyclists rode on the sidewalk instead of in the street which further diminished its walkability. There were four automobile-related deaths on the street within three blocks of the former house in the past ten years. For these and other safety reasons, we rarely let our children play in the front yard or walk unchaperoned to neighbors’.

From the former house, walking our kids the half-mile to elementary school involved crossing our own busy street plus a street that carried 14,000 cars per weekday. There were no signalized crossings of our street and drivers rarely stopped for pedestrians entering a crosswalk.

Our new home is in a less densely populated neighborhood even though houses on our block are as close or closer together as they were at our previous address. Fewer than 1500 cars pass our new home on an average weekday. Our children are now free to play in the front yard and walk alone to neighbors’ as far as five houses away.

Whereas a walk to the library from the former house took 3 minutes, it now takes 20. Whereas a walk to the pharmacy from the former house took 4 minutes, it now takes 24. Within 5 minutes of the former house were two restaurants we liked and within 20 minutes were several more. We have to walk 12 minutes from the current home to arrive at a restaurant we like, 24 minutes to a second one we like and more than 30 minutes for any others.

For a hardware store, however, it is a 13 minute walk from the new house. A walk to a hardware store from the former house was more than 30 minutes. The former house was closer to most commercial amenities but the walk to many of them meant the unpleasant hassle of crossing and/or walking along our street.

Walking our children to school is where things get more interesting. Like the walk to their former school, the new one is about a half-mile away. But instead of crossing a street with 10,000 cars/day with aggressive drivers who rarely yield to pedestrians and a second busy street with 14,000 cars/day, we now have to cross a boulevard with 22,000 cars/day. This would be six in one, a half-dozen in the other were it not for the fact that drivers on the boulevard very often yield the right-of-way to pedestrians in a non-signalized crosswalk. Accounting for such driving habits is missed by Walk Score.

The most significant difference in walks between old and new is the presence of more nature near our new address. There are more and larger parks, trails and native trees. Our former street terrace was dominated by less interesting young-to-mid-aged locust and ash trees while our new street and neighborhood have many inspiring mature oak and maple. Our former address had parks nearby but they were mostly small or with more developed areas like baseball fields. Our new address is near a large nature park and a walking/biking commuter greenway that are both great for walking. As discussed at sites like http://wellnessiis.com/2011/05/30/forestbathing/ and http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/03/27/easing-brain-fatigue-with-a-walk-in-the-park/?_r=0, walks in nature are good for our physical and mental health. An accurate walk score would account for these factors.

In general, Walk Score apparently omits several positive and negative attributes of good walking. The score seems to be based overwhelmingly on simple distance measurements.
Walking/Biking Path and Greenway Behind Our New Home
As an aside, walkscore.com also provides bike scores. But this rating can be inaccurate too. Riding a bike on our former street was unpleasant at best. Amazingly our former address received a bike score of 99 for “biker’s paradise”. That’s just wrong. By comparison, our new street is nice for biking and our backyard is along a walking/biking path that extends for tens of miles in each direction including to the downtown of our city of a quarter-million residents. Our new address garners a probably accurate bike score of 89.

Walk Score may know something about New Urbanism. But people who know walking know there is more to walkability than proximity. For families with young children shopping for a different home or anyone attuned to walk quality, beware of potentially misleading Walk Score (and Bike Score) numbers.