Willy Street Co-Op Vs. Marquette Neighborhood


At times this summer the hum of cicadas in the local trees on the isthmus reminded me of a distant chain saw.  But there was also another sound in the same area that grew in a demanding way over an issue of importance to all who live in the Marquette Neighborhood.  The volume has become so loud over the issue that the whole city is now hearing it.  The outcry is over the desire of the Willy Street Co-op  to make a driveway onto a residential street, and adversely effect the local neighborhood traffic. 

Residents of the Marquette Neighborhood buy houses or rent all in a desire to have a nice home life in one of Madison’s truly remarkable areas.  From the local school to the tall tress, from great shops on Willy Street to the local beach, there are many reasons to gravitate to the neighborhood.  That people take interest in the neighborhood, and comment loudly when things go awry,  is not a new thing.  Both the Wisconsin State Journal and the online Madison Capital Times are reporting on the driveway matter this week.

As they should.

There has been a long-time effort to have traffic reduced on the smaller residential streets in favor of the larger arteries.  When road construction takes place, and driving patterns change, it is sometimes hard to get folks to return to the normal way of traveling.  That is always going to be a problem as was the case when Williamson Street took much of the East Washington traffic during what seemed a never-ending road project.

But when a local business that purports to have the higher interests of everyone in mind sets out to place a driveway into the midst of a residential street, and further change the dynamics of traffic, you can rest assured there is going to be a reaction.  Especially in the Marquette Neighborhood!  These are the most liberal wards of  the city where a reaction to bad ideas and policies are inevitable.  Even if you ARE the Willy Street Co-op, but are on the wrong side of the issue, you can bet there is going to rough sledding.   The residents of the neighborhood have gathered and chatted, and are starting to plot strategy in reaction to the driveway.  From coffee shops to listserves, there are plenty of words and anger.  And hurt feelings.  People truly felt the Co-op was somehow better than what is has demonstrated itself to be.

Leaders in the neighborhood are stern about the actions of the Co-op.

Marquette Neighborhood Association President Scott Thornton acknowledges the co-op as a major asset to Williamson Street, but says this episode has created a breach of trust with many neighbors who have worked hard to revitalize this east-side community.

“In some ways, they’re getting away from their roots,” says Thornton of the co-op. “I have MNA plans from the ’70s and early ’80s that discuss the same issues we’re dealing with now: too much traffic on residential streets, including Jenifer, and how to minimize that. … We’ve been trying to make the street more residential for decades. The idea of now adding a commercial driveway is just going against all of that.”

What smacks so many in the neighborhood like an old wet sock in the face is the statement such as was made in the paper by Co-op general manager Anya Firszt.  She claims that the driveway once built might later be “repurposed into just a bike lane.”  No one thinks that will happen, and to even suggest such a thing reminds too many who read newspapers and follow events that this sounds like every other business that does things the way they like no matter what.  Everyone knows that if the driveway is placed it is not going to be used as a bike lane.

The whole tone and approach from the Co-op to the neighborhood has been so off-setting that all trust seems to be lost.  It is so bad I hear people about to stop being members when the cement starts to be poured.  Problem is the Co-op will not care about the folks who leave, as the bottom line is all that matters, and they see the driveway as a way to ramp up sales.   In the end the Co-op is nothing but a business.  That means that in the end the Marquette Neighborhood will have to look out for its own interests.

But at least now we know who our friends are.

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