From new issues with the State Street Redesign Project to a blossoming of smoking bans, there are things people should be tracking.
State Street updates
Amazing how the State Street Redesign Project keeps costing more to all involved. Initially, property owners were reassured that the project would not cost them any extra money, then suddenly found themselves assessed extra fees. The excessively fancy bus shelters to be placed near the Overture Center came in at a hefty $50,000 each. Now that bids are actually in on the project, they're 40 percent over the original estimates.
The cost jump is blamed on various factors, such as a strict time limit requiring completion of construction before the Overture Center's grand opening, as well as the need to keep access to businesses open. Time limits aren't a bad thing-the delayed completion of the Johnson and State intersection last fall is a clear example of what goes wrong when there is nothing forcing a final date. Also, the fact that keeping access to businesses open is necessary but costs extra money seems to be a shock is laughable-businesses need customers in order to make money and survive. Shutting them down for a summer is a surefire way to lose them, and the reduced customer traffic that is the result of continued construction projects has already caused economic damage to many.
Assessments are now supposedly set in stone, and property owners and the businesses who rent from them are again being assured they will not find themselves chipping in any extra money. Given all the unintended effects the project has already had, it makes it hard to avoid skepticism. One has to hope the businesses won't suffer anymore.
Smoking bans galore
Gov. Doyle just signed a bill banning smoking in all UW System dorms and residence halls. This is easy to support, since non-smokers should not have to be exposed to second hand smoke where they live. As the city moves forward with their ban barring smoking in many public places, however, it should make people pause. It's not politically correct these days to come out on the side of smoking and cigarettes, but there's a difference between the dorms and restaurants or bars.
Anyone who goes out on the weekend knows that bars, excepting a few places such as Crave, tend to be smoky dens of inequity, or as close as crunchy Madison will attempt. There are quite a few restaurant/bars that ride a fine line between whether it is alcohol or meals creating the majority of their profits and for places that err just on the side of food they could well lose some business if required to become smoke free (though studies of New York City seem to indicate not). However, for the customer base, smoking is a known quantity and one that most happily embrace by going to those establishments. For workers, their freedom of choice is perhaps a bit more questionable, but it was also a known quantity for them in accepting jobs.
The smoking ban is going to continue merrily upon its way and will in the end be a good thing. It's hard, however, not to wince at the paternal nature of the gesture as the city tries to protect people from themselves. There are already warnings on cigarette packs informing every smoker that cigarettes kill and after the torrent of anti-cigarette advertising blanketing America, so does everyone else. But people still smoke and their friends still hang out with them. Cigarettes will kill you, but it's a false protectiveness that bans them from public places without banning them altogether. If they're bad enough to ban in public gathering places, they're more than deadly enough to ban altogether.
The recent passage of a city ordinance banning phosphorus in lawn fertilizer is a wonderful thing. Currently, algae blooms and lake weeds, encouraged by high phosphorus levels from run off, keep the shores of Madison's lakes less then pretty and unusable by the more squeamish-one of the only places a person can comfortably swim without being bothered by either is out in the middle of the water, and the depth there precludes novice swimmers. By keeping phosphorus out of Madison's lakes, the waterways will once again become increasingly viable sites for recreation.
Spring is here, and it's easy to pay less attention while distracted by lovely weather and looming finals. The disruption on State Street will last the summer and stretch into the next few years and the smoking ban won't be going a way but the lakes will, hopefully, start being a little less green.
Jessica Rane Gartner is a senior majoring in political science. She can be reached at email@example.com