Mr. Green Car: Efficiency through urban planning on display in Middleton, Wisconsin

A Madison Gas & Electric (they make electricity with natural gas) using the charging station parking space — but not charging. (Photo by Allen Penticoff)
A Madison Gas & Electric (they make electricity with natural gas) using the charging station parking space — but not charging. (Photo by Allen Penticoff)

By Allen Penticoff
Freelance Writer

During a recent trip to Middleton, Wisconsin, my wife Ruth and I were checking out downtown Middleton. It is a compact area of newer buildings built to look more vintage. The visitor center and museum is right along the railroad tracks in the old depot. Not far away is the library, and across the street from it is city hall. Several restaurants and shops inhabit the core of downtown … as well as the Mustard Museum (yes, there really is a Mustard Museum, and it is quite interesting). A few blocks away is the Capitol City Brewery, which features a nice outdoor beer garden that often has events taking place (and a good tour of a simple brewery that will net you a couple of free samples by the time you are done).

Of particular interest to Mr. Green Car was the compactness of all this. From one free parking space, it was an easy stroll to nearly everything. At the library, I found some remarkable planning. With one stop, a person can mail a letter, pay their utility bill or taxes, and drop off a library book. There is a mail drop box and a city hall drop box in front of their nice modern library at the edge of the parking lot. You would need to get out of your car to take a few steps up to the library book drop box, but it certainly beats driving all over town to get these simple errands taken care of.

If you happen to own a plug-in electric vehicle, you are in luck, too. Just across the railroad track from the library is a large public parking area that features two charging stations. Three electric charge cords can be used at once. Since this is in the area of “downtown” Middleton, it means they are in a truly practical location for electric vehicle use. Plug in, then do business or have a great meal, then come back to find you have another 10 to 20 miles of range added to your total. What I’m not clear on is whether these charging stations are free or not. It doesn’t matter — even if one must pay for it, and you should, it doesn’t amount to much in the way of cost. I note these charging spaces are not in the “prime” parking spaces of the library parking lot near the building, so non-electric vehicles are much less likely to use them.

We later took a trip out of Middleton where we came upon a charging pole at a Quick Trip convenience store/gas station. The charging spot was only 120 volts, meaning it is of little use to someone on the road with an electric vehicle. However, if an employee were to have an EV, then 120 volts after an eight-hour shift would put quite a few miles in the batteries. I’d like to see more of these installed at places of employment. The cost to put them in is minimal, while encouraging employees to own electric vehicles.

Ruth and I have seriously considered a move to Middleton. In the area of Century Avenue and Allen Avenue, at the west end of Lake Mendota, is another compact “village-like” area. You can do your banking, eat at several restaurants, go to a couple of pubs, shop for groceries or hardware, and work out at the Harbor Athletic Club. You can go for a long walk in a big forest preserve, then maybe head out onto the lake with your paddle craft, sailboat or other water toy. All while leaving your car parked in the garage. Public transportation — either the Middleton Trolley or Madison bus system — will whisk you away to other more distant places if you have decided not to ride there on your bicycle. Visitors in town? Maybe they’d like to camp at Mendota County Park within a mile of this area.

Rockford could work on becoming more compact by locating services in central areas and having one-stop drop boxes to do different things in more locations. People are getting tired of driving around to do things, and walkable cities are moving up the list of desirable places to live. While not directly comparable to Rockford, as the whole nature of the city is different, Middleton was the No. 1 rated city a few years ago, and it is this progressive, sustainable planning and organization that makes the difference. When we talked to a woman at the visitor center who was well acquainted with Freeport and Rockford, she said: “If you are looking to move here — bring your checkbook. Any place you like you will need to pay for it on the spot. It won’t be available tomorrow.” Now, there is quite a telling difference. If Rockford wants to reinvent itself, it need look no further than Middleton for some of the ideas it needs.

From the Nov. 19-25, 2014, issue

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