Wednesday, August 4, 2010

An Eye-Opener, Or A Political Stunt?

Today, a group of city and state officials will gather here in Madison to begin the process of deciding whether Peter Theron will be granted a permit to run a demonstration on city streets the last Friday of this month.

Theron, a Republican who is running against incumbent Democrat Tammy Baldwin for the 2nd District Congressional seat, wants to conduct a train-crossing simulation August 27th between 4 and 6 PM. He wants crossing guards with flags to stop traffic for one minute, 13 times an hour, on John Nolen Drive, South Blair Street, East Wilson Street, and Williamson Street.

This is either one of the greatest political stunts ever attempted, or a potentially graphic demonstration of what it will really be like when the trains that have been talked about for the past 20 years in Madison are running.

Mind you, there’s no clear start date for the commuter rail, because the Regional Transit Authority hasn’t even decided yet when it’s going to hold a referendum on the additional sales tax money it wants to fund the trains. And the so-called “high speed rail” (it really isn’t high speed, more like medium speed compared to true high-speed rail) passenger train from Madison to Milwaukee is expected to start operations early in 2013.

Some say Theron’s idea is no more than a political stunt, and even if the city/state committee allows him to pull it off, it won’t be representative of reality when the trains are actually operating. Others say it’s about time somebody actually gave all these train supporters a look at what they will be doing to traffic on the isthmus.

Theron, who has made eminently clear he’s opposed to train projects of all sort, says his goal is just to see what will happen to traffic downtown if the proposed trains ever do leave the station.

Stay tuned. This should be interesting, especially if the committee allows Theron to do it.


  1. Maybe those concerned about global warming should petition to turn off the air conditioning in government buildings for a day during the summer to "demonstrate" what life will be like if temperatures continue to rise. I'm sure Glen Grothman would have no problem with that.

  2. That is very interesting. I'm with Theron: no train projects. In the Fox Valley there's noise being made about a sales tax bump to cover the cost of commuter rail (plain old trains using existing track running from Milwaukee to Green Bay). Gad!

    The Town Crank

  3. Barry Orton on Paul Soglin's website trashes the idea as a political publicity stunt. It's a shame that this has to be tied to the Theron/Baldwin campaign. I personally think it's a worthy attempt. Of course if there's no MAJOR backup this could backfire on train opponents.

  4. Political theater in America tends to career wildly from kabuki to circus to vaudeville, sparing no sensibilities along the way. That's part of what makes it so interesting to watch. (A lot of folks forget it is really just performance art, and take it seriously - which then tends to make them angry. But that's a digression for another time.)

    Rail transportation has a lot of benefits - not the least of which, I suppose, is its capacity for making more room on the highways for the monstromobile our blogger says he drives.

    But rail's efficiencies ironically require big-bucks expenses. And (reality check here) if the policy makers won't pay to move the road crossings above or below grade, some cars and trains will crash, and people are going to be killed.

    Jill may be on to something with her A/C idea. It has been said that the beginning of the downfall of the republic will be traced to the day air conditioning was installed in the nation's Capitol.

  5. I'll sit in my car patiently as a train passes. I won't sit in my car patiently as some chump with no chance of being elected tries to make a ham-fisted point.