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Street work PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ozaukee Press Editoral Board   
Wednesday, 24 March 2010 16:58

Reducing the galaxy of lights on the Port’s airportlike Spring Street is a good idea; so are higher speed limits elsewhere and a new pedestrian way

It’s no mystery why Port Washington’s South Spring Street is frequently compared to an airport runway: It looks like one.

A dazzling example of the Wisconsin Department of Transportation’s urban road-building philosophy—“There is no such thing as too much concrete”—this pavement extravaganza looks wide enough for a jumbo jet and is in fact wide enough for four lanes of terrestrial traffic.

The peculiar fact that in spite of its excessive width only two lanes of traffic can use the street—driving in the outer two lanes is forbidden—might lead to the assumption that the DOT paved the earth along the Spring Street right of way (and parts of the front yards of some homeowners) just because it was there.

In any case, South Spring Street as reconstructed earlier in this decade is about as appropriate as an entrance way to a pretty small town as a Boeing 747 would be landing on a rural airstrip.

To their credit, Port Washington officials didn’t let that sort of mistake be inflicted on the city again when North Wisconsin Street was rebuilt two years ago. That street was narrowed, rather than widened like Spring Street, and with its abundant newly planted trees and decorative lighting is every bit the welcoming northern gateway to the city it was intended to be.

The city is stuck with South Sprint Street, of course, and there is little it can do to soften an image as cold as concrete in January, but it is working on one good idea that promises to be at least a small aesthetic improvement—turning off half of the street lights.

One of the reasons South Spring Street inspires airport metaphors is that it’s lighted like a runway, with many more street lights than are needed. The ranks of closely spaced lights not only provide garish illumination of the street’s flaws, but must be an annoyance to residents forced to live in a synthetic version of the land of the midnight sun.

Unplugging 16 of the 32 lights between the Oakland Avenue and Portview Road intersections is proposed as a trial. If it’s deemed an improvement, the lights could, as Public Works Director Rob Vanden Noven has proposed, be removed and installed at the coal dock, where lights will be needed when the property is improved as public lakefront space.

Let it be done. Spring Street and its residents, the coal dock development and the taxpayers will all benefit.

South Spring Street, it must be said, does have one positive feature—a reasonable speed limit of 35 miles per hour for much of its length. This street/highway is built to safely accommodate speeds faster than that, but the 35 zone at least acknowledges that traffic should move faster on some streets.

Other streets taking traffic to and from the city are burdened by a 25 mile-per-hour limit. The slow zone seems endless on the outer reaches of Highway 33 at the west city limits. When that road is rebuilt in the near future a more realistic speed restriction should be applied.

The 25 limit on almost all Port Washington streets is conservative. City police take an enlightened view of enforcement, and it’s safe to say that while serious speeders are arrested, no one gets a ticket for driving 26 miles per hour. But there seem to be two schools of thought among drivers about speed limits. One is that 25 is a guideline, meaning drive slowly and carefully but not necessarily at exactly 25. The other is that 25 means 25, or maybe 23 or 20. The latter group of drivers get to control the speed of the traffic flow, which makes for unnecessarily slow going on many streets.

The 25 limit is right for downtown and residential neighborhoods. Elsewhere a somewhat higher limit would make sense.

The speed limit will not be an issue for Harborview Lane if the plan to turn the little lakefront street into a pedestrian way goes forward. Only two blocks long, Harborview doesn’t carry much traffic and really isn’t needed as a conventional street. And because it’s in bad repair and needs improvement of some kind, the city’s idea of turning it into a landscaped walkway and bike path (a short leg of the Interurban Trail) makes sense.

It would add to the beauty of the downtown by providing a landscaped, motor-vehicle-free connection between the historic Light Station and the marina complex with places for people to rest and take in the harborside ambience.

The project will have to wait until a new TIF district is created next Jan. 1, but planning should proceed now so it can be finished by summer of 2011.

When students love to learn PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ozaukee Press Editoral Board   
Wednesday, 17 March 2010 15:31

Six students and a teacher from Ozaukee High School offer a bright, hopeful contrast to dismal news about American education

Before we comment on a bright, hopeful moment in the annals of education in Ozaukee County, let us add some unfortunately bleak perspective.

Results of a study of achievement by 15-year-old students in countries belonging to the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development, released recently by the U.S. Department of Education, show American students ranking 24th in math and 17th in science out of 29 countries, both lower than previous rankings.

Another survey reported that 70% of American eighth graders can’t read at grade level.

And yet another revealed that the U.S. has one of the highest high school drop-out rates among developed countries—30% of students don’t finish high school.

Enough. We get the picture. American students are falling behind their counterparts in many European and Asian countries, and that is an abiding concern for the future of this country. But let’s worry about that some other time and treat ourselves now to a story about what motivated American students can accomplish when they are enthused about the wonders of learning.

The story is about a team of six students and a science teacher at Ozaukee High School in Fredonia. For the first time ever, the school was selected to represent Ozaukee County in the regional Marine Advanced Technology Education ROV Competition at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee—and against formidable competitors representing mostly larger high schools from around southeast Wisconsin, the Ozaukee team won!

ROV stands for remote operated vehicle, and the vehicle, essentially a robot, conceived, designed and built by the Ozaukee High Team not only won the regional competition by besting six other teams, but left the judges dazzled.

Judges commented that the Ozaukee High team’s robot was superior in engineering and fabrication to many they had seen from college teams. It was the only entry fitted with an onboard microcomputer that allowed the ROV to be controlled by a laptop computer on the surface.

For the competition, the ROV was required to read sensors, plot data and collect geologic samples, which it did better than any other entry, according to the judges.

Pictured in last week’s Ozaukee Press, the Ozaukee ROV, bristling with motors, rotors and electrical cables, looks a bit like the quintessential mad scientist’s invention, but it is in fact a practical, functional device that can effectively perform scientific research under water.

With the robot they named OZ, and the excellence of their technical papers and presentations, also considered in the judging, the Ozaukee students won the right to compete against 18 other teams in international ROV competition in Hawaii in June.

We’re sure our readers join us in wishing them success against what will surely be some of the smartest students in the world and in congratulating team members Austin Cole, Dominic Enea, Patrick Leonard, Travis Sheperd and Lindsay and Nick Vogt and their adviser, science teacher Terry Hendrikse.

How will these teenagers from a small high school in Wisconsin fare against students from countries that are ranked far ahead of the U.S. in math and science education?

They will do well, we are confidant. Team members call themselves wizards—the Wizards of OZ—but that doesn’t mean they use magic. They use their brains, and as they’ve demonstrated with their success at UWM, these are formidable instruments when stimulated by education working as it should.

Squires is dead—long live its land PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 10 March 2010 16:40

No one has to defend the conversion of a golf course into a nature preserve; it was a very good deal for taxpayers of today and the future

Oh, yes, taxpayers certainly did benefit from the sale of the Squires Golf Course and its conversion to a nature preserve, but the benefits we’re writing about have nothing to do with the economics of golf.

At a meeting of the Belgium Town Board last week, the former owner of Squires defended the sale as a boon to taxpayers. He was talking about the economics of golf.

Bruce Bloemer’s point was that, with Squires closed, much of the golfing business that used to go there went to the taxpayer-owned Ozaukee County courses last year.

He noted that the number of golf rounds played at the county-run courses in Mequon and the Town of Saukville increased markedly last summer, following years of decline.

“Instead of having three marginal golf courses, you now have two thriving courses,” he told the board. He added that “taxpayers are coming out way ahead on this.”

Bloemer is probably right about the salutary effect of the Squires sale on the county’s golf business, but in the scheme of things that doesn’t matter much. Nor was there any need for him to defend the Squires deal.

The fact is, it was a wonderful deal for taxpayers, meaning for the public. Without a dime of local taxpayers’ money being spent, a tract of more than 100 acres of environmentally significant land along Lake Michigan was purchased for more than $2 million and will be protected in perpetuity for use by nature and the public.

The Squires purchase in 2008 by the Ozaukee Washington Land Trust was in the grand tradition of the American land preservation movement, manifested in national and state parks and forests and in nature preserves purchased and maintained by private non-profit organizations in the public interest.

Many of these preservation efforts have been funded in whole or in part by government—a worthy use of taxpayer money if there ever was one.

But the Squires land was bought entirely with donated private funds. (After the purchase the Land Trust applied for grants involving public money to cover a small portion of the cost.)

The notion that taking land such as the Squires property off tax rolls for preservation hurts taxpayers is a short-sighted view that can’t see that open space, green space, natural places where wild plants and wild animals can thrive and humans can visit need to be nurtured as much as economic development if the intrinsic value of our communities as places to live is to be maintained for this generation and those that follow.

Many citizens and elected officials in Ozaukee County get this, judging from the strong support for such preservation achievements as Sauk Creek Nature Preserve in Port Washington, the Lion’s Den Gorge Nature Preserve and the Mequon Nature Preserve. All of these remarkably beautiful natural places (all facilitated by the Ozaukee Washington Land Trust) would have been developed had preservation efforts not been successful.

The former owner of the Squires Golf Course was moved to defend the sale of the golf course land by comments at a previous Belgium Town Board meeting disparaging his decision to sell.

Town officials need to get over Squires. The golf course contributed but a small portion of town tax revenues, just over $20,000 a year. The township is better off with the Squires land as not a failing golf course, but as the Forest Beach Migratory Preserve—an asset that, besides its environmental contributions, will likely attract new residents and development.

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