May 2014 Common Council – Fear of change does not justify wasting $450,000

My name is Bob Fisch. The May 12 Public Works meeting discussed deprioritizing the Division/Church project. The associated transfer of funds includes the fate of $300,000 allocated to the environmental assessment.

Eligibility for future external funding requires this assessment. $450,000 has been spent so far. If the remaining $300,000 is withheld, then that $450,000 is wasted.

The Public Works minutes include comments from one alderperson willing to waste this $450,000 out of fear, based on the proposals for Division/Church, that downtown might become a “ghost town”.

Thirty years ago, consensus was that car-centric development was good for cities. Make it as easy as possible to drive everywhere. This was strongly influenced by the allure of the automobile thirty years prior. In the 1950’s, the automobile was the magic solution to economic prosperity.

But the 1950’s are over. We live in a new millennium now. We have suffered too much linear thinking. It’s just like the movie Fantasia, where the Sorcerer’s Apprentice thinks that if one magic broom makes life better, then thousands of magic brooms must be heaven.

For decades, society thought that if the addition of cars to the transportation mix improves our economy, then creating cities where all development centers around cars must yield inconceivable wealth.

But just as all those magic brooms created chaos, car-centric development resulted in major shortcomings. Ugly parking lots wasted valuable real estate. Road maintenance costs soared. Property tax revenue from existing homes failed to keep pace because outlying communities became more attractive. In short, cities were failing.

Urban leaders saw that this path of car-centric development leads to a dismal future. Enlightened leaders made hard decisions in the face of a vocal minority to create balanced transportation systems that gave residents options to get around. Economic powerhouses such as Minneapolis, San Francisco, and New York now benefit from those decisions.

Yet some cities, still dazzled by the glamour of the 50’s, stubbornly clung to car-centric development. The most notable example is Detroit. The story of Detroit, in brief, is that they made it so convenient to live in surrounding communities that its property tax base collapsed. Detroit finds itself bankrupt seeking a path towards solvency.

(Source: “How Sprawl Got Detroit Into This Mess” from StreetsBlog USA, July 2013: )

As the Sorcerer’s Apprentice learned, you can indeed have too much of a good thing.

Change is hard. Remarks about creating a “ghost town” reflect a fear of change. Fear of change generates illogical arguments like claiming that a tiny fraction of traffic making right turns into driveways will cause intolerable gridlock. You might as well claim these right-turners will also bring pestilence to our land, since you are merely making up nonsensical excuses to defend your conclusions based on fear of change.

If your “ghost town” prediction were accurate, then you would have no trouble finding other ghost town stories. Similar projects have been completed in cities big and small all over the US for decades. Even one ghost town would be the poster child for the fear-of-change crowd. Have you heard about even one? Have you even tried to find a single example to support your viewpoint?

There has been much written and spoken criticism of the proposals for Division/Church. Yet among all this criticism, not a single example or shred of data has been cited in support. These outcries are also reactions to fear of change.

As alderpersons of Stevens Point, you must certainly heed opinions of constituents. But like a good parent, you must also make decisions in the best interests of our city, even when you hear cries to the contrary.

Federal and state transportation experts have reams of data and experience from thousands of similar projects to conclude that projected traffic volumes for the proposals for Division/Church fall well below any threshold for unreasonable congestion.

Stevens Point is not on the leading edge with this project. We are merely following a well-trodden path to find balance among all transportation modes. Despite the ubiquitous pre-construction predictions of gridlock, these well-designed projects uniformly result in vastly improved streetscapes while providing efficiently functional roads.

In light of the $450,000 already paid, spending $300,000 to complete the environmental assessment is an obvious choice. It is the fear of change that clouds the objectivity of certain alderpersons.

In this new millennium, transportation needs are changing. The time has come to face that fear of change and admit that the proposed designs successfully strike a balance among the disparate transportation needs of our residents.

A transcript of these and my past comments to Common Council can be found on my website,, under the Speak Your Poky menu.

Thank you for listening.