Mayor’s proposed ordinance changes focus on State Street culture
Post by Emily Mills on 7/24/2012 10:39am
Taxis would have different rules for picking up late night fares on State Street and panhandlers would be all but barred from the street if two proposals from the mayor’s office receive approval from the Common Council.
Both ordinance amendments have undergone intense scrutiny and criticism since they were introduced by Mayor Paul Soglin several weeks ago.
Cab drivers lobbied hard to see changes made to the original proposal, which would have entirely disallowed “cruising” for fares on the downtown street at night. The current ordinance, modified in 1996, allows taxis to wait for potential fares in designated waiting areas, but those cut-outs were removed when State Street underwent a major redesign in the last decade.
New language giving taxis the ability to look for riders between the hours of 10 p.m. and 4 a.m. received a recommendation from the Downtown Coordinating Committee at their meeting last week. Those changes now go before the Transit and Parking Commission at their next meeting on August 8. If the commission votes to adopt the DCC version of the ordinance it will then go before the Common Council for final approval.
During discussion of the changes at the DCC meeting a series of concerns were addressed about traffic on State Street, with most focus on whether or not allowing taxis on for more than just picking up prescheduled riders would violate the terms of the federal grant that helps pay for maintenance of the street.
State Street is what’s called a “fixed guideway,” meaning it is not a pedestrian-only mall, but has limited allowances for buses, taxis, delivery, and emergency vehicles.
Representatives from the City’s Attorney’s Office expressed concerns over whether or not Madison might be running afoul of restrictions in the original federal grant application from the 1970s.
“Our concern was that this process was moving a little too fast,” commented city attorney Adriana Peguero. “There isn’t a clear line” of when you’ve run up against the federal guidelines, she added.
Madison Metro general manager Chuck Kamp was also on hand to explain the mass transit stance on the current traffic on State Street, which almost every bus going from the east side to the west side of the city has to travel on.
“From a practical standpoint we’d like to see more restrictions, not less,” Kamp said. But, he added, taxis weren’t bus drivers’ main concerns – most problems with slow-downs happen because of pedestrians, bicyclists, and delivery vehicles. “It’s not just taxicabs. It’s just access, controlled access to the street” that is of major concern, he explained.
There are only two bus lines that use State Street after midnight and around bar time, which is when taxis become especially important for taking potentially intoxicated individuals away from the area, said cab company representatives.
MPD Capt. Carl Gloede agreed with that assessment: “Their night isn’t over at bar time, it’s just revving up and they’re looking for where the after party is…we want them off State Street as quickly as possible, and both buses and taxis help with that,” he said. However, Gloede also pointed out that special events nights “far exceed” the capacity of the city’s public transit.
At $844,000 a year the money the city gets from the federal government to maintain its fixed guideways is a not insignificant amount, with 40 percent of it coming from State Street.
“We wouldn’t be talking about this but for the mayor’s concerns” over the status of the federal grant, Ald. Mike Verveer pointed out.
An amendment to the panhandling ordinance as introduced by Mayor Soglin and Ald. Verveer has also generated significant discussion at both the city level and among the community most affected by it: the homeless.
Currently panhandling is allowed in certain designated areas along the street, but the proposed change would bar any panhandling within 150 feet of a licensed alcohol establishment – effectively banning it entirely from the area.
The Common Council had been slated to vote on the ordinance at their July meeting, but after concerns were raised about the need to clarify what all constituted asking for a handout, including if street musicians would fall under the guidelines, the item was referred to their August session.
A new, substitute amendment to the ordinance is currently being drafted to address some of the problems and will be discussed at that meeting.
Even so, several people registered to speak at the July meeting, all in opposition to the changes. Early Wilson, a 41-year-old homeless man who frequently panhandles along the street, said he never uses the money he earns for drugs or alcohol, just food and “sometimes a place to stay for the night.”
“I’m not a bad person, I don’t hurt anybody,” Wilson said. “There’s a lot of generous people in Madison because they always seem to come back around to help.”
Emily Mills is Editor-At-Large for Dane101, as well as Editor of Our Lives Magazine. She is also a freelance writer, photographer, actor, and musician (drummer and singer in local band Little Red Wolf). Originally from several states up and down the Midwest Emily has called Madison home since 2000. Contact her at