Dave Zweifel’s Plain Talk: Drive-through

Dave Zweifel —  7/08/2008 5:20 am

It’s getting so that folks can’t even toss out an idea these days without being vilified by cranks and blowhards and their enabling radio talk show hosts.

Madison Plan Commission member Eric Sundquist found that out recently when he suggested the time may have come for the city to take a serious look at whether it should be approving more restaurant drive-throughs. Idling cars aren’t healthy for the environment, after all, plus we ought to be encouraging energy conservation in an era of $4 a gallon gas, he suggested.

Mike Ivey’s column reporting Sundquist’s idea detailed the context in which it was made. A proposal for a drive-through at a new Starbucks in front of the Crowne Plaza Hotel on East Washington Avenue generated some opposition from area businesses that feared it would create traffic backups at the already congested East Washington-Continental Lane intersection. Sundquist never proposed doing away with any existing drive-throughs, but suggested that maybe future ones ought to get careful scrutiny.

In the end Sundquist supported the Starbucks drive-through, but such minor details don’t penetrate the brains of the shoot-from-the-lipsters.

The infamous Drudge Report, the Web site that regularly turns molehills into mountains for the country’s right-wingers, picked up on the notion of banning drive-throughs and the frenzy was unleashed. Rush Limbaugh and the usual Fox News yappers got into the act and, of course, so did our local radio talkers.

Not only was Sundquist painted as some looney left-winger (as if the pros and cons of drive-throughs have anything to do with political leanings), but, on cue, Madison was held up as this far-out place that “real” people avoid at all costs.

I was particularly amused by the callers to Mitch Henck’s show on WIBA who piously pontificated they had moved out of Madison precisely because of these nutty people and claimed hundreds more are doing so too.

“I had to get away from all this crap,” proclaimed another with menacing disgust.

Henck, who likes to spread the notion that the city is indeed run by a bunch of airheads — it does stir up the restless natives, after all — threw Ald. Robbie Webber into the mix because she supports most anything that decreases reliance on the automobile. Oh, the shame on our city!

It’s not hard to imagine what the afternoon was like on the show hosted by Vicki McKenna, the queen of vilification.

For those who are delighted to have escaped Madison, they need to know there are many more who are just as delighted to have moved in. Despite its looniness — its 77 square miles surrounded by reality — it continues to be one of the fastest growing cities in the Midwest, jumping from 190,000 in 1990 to an estimated 223,000 today. Funny, all those nutcakes in city hall don’t seem to be chasing people away, nor have they been able to reduce the No. 1 ratings that Madison continually receives nationwide.

If you could look closely, you’d see those “we hate Madison” talkers sneaking into the city to take advantage of the arts and entertainment, the shopping and the parks and the rest of the vibrant city that its taxpayers and, yes, enlightened government have built through the years.

I’m not in favor of banning drive-throughs either. They make too much sense in a place that has six months of winter. Plus, I think that if the city took a look at some of its outmoded stoplights and did something to time them better, we could save a lot more gas than the idlers burn in the drive-through lanes.

But we should all be in favor of exploring new ideas and at least giving them consideration. That’s what distinguishes cities like Madison from some of the rest. How many seemingly ridiculous ideas have turned out to be pretty darn good in the end?

At the very least, one would think people would be able to make proposals without being personally attacked and ridiculed.

Whatever happened to an open mind?

Dave Zweifel is editor emeritus of The Capital Times.



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