Changing West Wilson Street? You can make it happen

On Monday, March 20, there will be a meeting to hear from the public–yes, that’s you–about changes to West Wilson Street between Martin Luther King Boulevard  and Hamilton/Henry Streets. The meeting will be in room 351 of the City-County Building, and we need your voice!

Some more information, including plans and past presentation can be found here on the City Engineering website. Also stay tuned for another post on the project tomorrow.

What’s the problem?

This section of Wilson Street is a scary stretch for people cycling west: Two westbound lanes of traffic, parking on both sides, and no bike facilities. At the bottom of the hill and the intersection with Hamilton and Henry, you have few good options when biking. South Hamilton climbs steeply up to the Square and also lacks bike facilities. The same is true for South Henry. If you continue straight, West Wilson becomes two narrow lanes–now one in each direction–with no bike lanes. To the south of the intersection there are two dead-end streets. Worse, people on bikes must choose between staying in the right lane of Wilson, which is right turn only, and the left lane. Being in the right lane sets you up for a “right hook” from turning cars. But riding in the left lane requires merging on the downhill--not really an option for most people cycling.

Aerial view of the intersection of Wilson, Henry, and Hamilton (Source: Google Maps)

Even more difficult is trying to travel eastbound. In theory, Wilson would make a great connection to the Capitol Square and points east, as it is less steep than any of the parallel streets. Many residential buildings, offices, and other destinations are along Wilson Street, and with the Judge Doyle Square redevelopment and the proposed bicycle center, this will be even more true. Finally, there are already concrete plans for connecting Wilson Street with the Capital City Trail by building a bridge across John Nolen Drive and the railroad tracks. But of course: Wilson Street is a one-way street, and so this is not an option. 

So many bicyclists going both directions end up riding on the sidewalk. On this particular stretch it is legal. But as you can see in this video, it is not pleasant, and once you get to East Wilson, riding on the sidewalk is prohibited.

The proposed street reconstruction offers an opportunity to fix many of those issues. We have a chance to West Wilson Street (and eventually all of Wilson) safer for all users, but especially for people biking and walking. We could have a two-way, protected bike lane on the south side of the street. And that is one of the ideas we can discuss at the meeting on Monday. Pretty exciting, huh?

But there is a lot of pushback against that idea. Those who don’t want to lose any car parking on the street may be opposed to accommodating people on bikes on Wilson. A protected bike lane would replace car parking on one side of the street. 

So we need your help to convince the city and your fellow citizen that the safety of bicyclists should be more important than a few parking spots. After all, there are literally hundreds of public parking spots on the street and in parking garages within a couple of blocks of West Wilson Street.

Besides Madison Bikes, who says we need better bike facilities here?

There are many public studies and plans that have identified West Wilson Street as a critical gap in the biking network. These gaps  hold us back from achieving the goals to make transportation more sustainable and make getting around by bike a real alternative to driving for people of all ages and abilities. The South Campus Transit Oriented Development Plan looked at the entire area south of the Capitol, and that plan also identified a need to improve bicycle facilities on Wilson, especially for eastbound travel. The City and the Transportation Planning Board both have "complete streets policies" that make it a requirement to accommodate all modes of travel when a street is being reconstructed. And the Wisconsin Bike Fed wrote a letter pointing out the need for eastbound accommodations, especially with the soon-to-be-completed Judge Doyle Square Bike Center.

OK, you convinced me and I'll come. What should I do or say at the meeting?

The Monday meeting is not a formal city committee meeting. It will be a presentation of options for the street, and then questions and comments from those in attendance. You can just come and watch, but make it obvious that you are someone riding a bike and wants safe conditions for that. Bring your helmet or wear a Madison Bikes or Bike Fed t-shirt. Fill out a comment form with something as simple as, “I want safe biking conditions on Wilson Street.” Ask questions or share stories about how biking on Wilson Street currently feels.

Madison Bikes supports a two-way protected bike lane. We think that having facilities for people biking, separated from people walking and protected from people driving, is the best option. A slightly widened, eight-foot sidewalk that mixes two-way bike traffic with pedestrians would be frustrating and dangerous for all.

If you can’t make the meeting, you can still weigh in. We will have a separate blog post that will outline some of the future engagement opportunities. But for now you can email your support: The Engineer in charge of the project is Jim Wolfe, and you can email comments directly to him. The alder for all of Wilson from Proudfit to Williamson is Mike Verveer. And you can email your own alder or the whole Council as well, since this project will eventually have to be passed by the entire Council. To find out who your alder is, check the map or look it up by address on the Council website. To send an email to the entire Council, you can use the address: allalders@cityofmadison.com

Being involved in decisions is actually pretty easy.

A few voices can really make a huge difference, and your alder needs to hear from you. You may actually know a lot more about these issues than they do, since you ride the streets and paths every day. You are the expert on what makes a city easy and safe to bike. But also keep in mind that we want a city where everyone can bike, not just the brave and the experienced. So think what kind of street your neighbor, child, friend, or parent would feel safe and comfortable on when biking to work, go shopping, school, or errands.

A short email, a phone call, a written comment at a meeting, or even your presence all contribute to a better biking city for us all. Everyone’s opinion is important, and everyone’s voice is needed. See you on Monday!

 

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