City News

Backlash from Madison cyclists as state Legislature tightens land seizure laws

The state Assembly passed a bill in early September with a controversial provision that could affect how cyclist and pedestrian amenities in Madison are built.

Image By: Brandon Moe

A provision quietly tucked into a new Wisconsin transportation funding bill could make it harder to build bike trails and sidewalks throughout the state, including in Madison.

The proposed rule bars state and local governments from taking property from private owners for certain projects — a process called condemnation — including cyclist and pedestrian paths, street walkways and other pedestrian spaces.

It could create obstacles for at least one bike path planned to extend to downtown Madison. The Cannonball Trail, which would connect the city of Fitchburg to the isthmus, has one part left until completion.

State and local governments sometimes acquire land through condemnation for projects that involve goods that benefit the community. Affected property owners are, in turn, compensated after professional appraisals.

Some officials in Madison, which invests a significant amount of its budget in biking amenities, see the rule as a public safety issue.

Madison Mayor Paul Soglin — who is considering a gubernatorial run in 2018 — said it’s an example of legislators who “don’t give a damn” about public safety, according to the Capital Times.

"It's just one more example where with millions of people in this state there's one or two property owners upset about the ability to condemn for public safety,” he said.

Ald. Mike Verveer, District 4, told the Daily Cardinal that city council is “very concerned” about the provision, which he added could have “chilling” effects on cyclists and pedestrians in the state.

There have been numerous instances when Madison’s governing body has had to exercise or threaten to use condemnation. In those instances, city council votes on whether taking private land is necessary for the public.

“We don’t like taking anyone’s property,” Verveer said. “But it’s sometimes for the greater public good.”

It is unclear which legislator inserted the provision. The bill has been passed by the state Assembly and will move to the state Senate next week.

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