It was great to celebrate all things bike last week! Big thanks to all the sponsors of last week’s events and to the Bike Fed for organizing Bike Week in Madison and all of Wisconsin.
And meanwhile, on Tuesday, the Common Council approved plans to reconstruct Wilson Street as-is, with no accommodations for safe and comfortable bike travel. But thanks to an amendment proposed by Alder Demarb at the Board of Public Works, and to all the comments received by residents about the need for bike facilities, the resolution also included language to “develop a plan for a bike friendly corridor on Wilson St, by the time the Judge Doyle Square Project is complete.” Construction is currently slated to be completed in 2020, at which time the eastern half of this street project (between MLK and King) will be reconstructed.
The Pedestrian, Bicycle, Motor Vehicle Commission will take up the charge to develop this plan in the coming months and we’ll need your continued support to land on a recommended cross section that provides for safe and comfortable bike travel in both directions on Wilson Street. One possible design that has received positive feedback is a two-way protected bike lane on the south side of the street. Stay tuned and stay involved.
On Wednesday, Sustain Dane’s WOW Bike Tour: Sustainability Stories heads out from Lowell Elementary school at 5:15.
Once more we need your help with the Wilson Street reconstruction project. We have written a lot about this important downtown project, and now the decision point has come. At their Tuesday (6/6) meeting, the Common Council will approve the project. The resolution that the council is going to decide on will not have any bike facilities in it. However, as the result of pressure by citizen advocates like you, the resolution will contain a clause that calls for bike facilities on the whole of Wilson Street, to be built once the Judge Doyle Square redevelopment is complete.
This is a clear step forward. But we need to make that the language to be adopted will actually be strong enough to ensure that we're not just kicking the can down the road. As we have seen with other projects, despite previous resolutions, planning documents, and so on, once it comes to calling the shots, the interests of those biking and walking are often pushed aside.
Therefore I encourage you to write to your alder and ask them to firmly commit to safe and convenient biking on Wilson Street. Many of you have already written in before, and I can assure it has made a difference. Please take another five minutes to submit another comment (or, if you can: give testimony in person at the meeting tomorrow). The email address to reach all alders is email@example.com and you can find your own alder's contact info here.
Here is what I am going to write:
Dear Alder Bidar-Sielaff, dear members of the Common Council:
I would like to submit a public comment on your agenda item 46640, regarding the reconstruction of West Wilson Street. I am disappointed that the resolution in front of you does not include any facilities for people wanting a safe and convenient way to ride a bike on Wilson Street, an important downtown corridor. However, it was encouraging to see that the Board of Public Works at their last meeting recognized this problem and added a provision for it to be fixed eventually. I am encouraging you to include in your resolution a strong commitment to:
- bike facilities that allow travel in both eastbound and westbound directions
- on all of Wilson Street, from East Wilson at King/Butler to West Wilson at Hamilton Henry
- that allow safe and comfortable biking for people of all ages and abilities
- to be built by the time the Judge Doyle Square redevelopment is complete in 2020.
Thank for your consideration.
There’s a lot going on this week as Madison celebrates Bike Week. Check out the Bike Fed’s website for details on all the commuter stations, rides, and other events on tap! Madison Bikes will have a table at Bacon on the Bike Path on Thursday morning.
But along with all the fun, there’s also some work to do on Tuesday as approval of the Wilson Street cross section design comes in front of the Madison Common Council (item #31). The recommendation that will be in front of the council is to reconstruct the street, as-is, with no accommodations for people on bikes. This recommendation was approved by the Board of Public Works in May, but it included a critical amendment offered by Alder Denise Demarb. The amendment was to commit to adding appropriate bike facilities to Wilson Street once the Judge Doyle Square development is complete (currently estimated for 2020). While it’s a disappointment to kick these much needed improvements down the road, our Engineering department has confirmed that the planned design will easily accommodate adding these facilities when the east half of this stretch of Wilson Street is reconstructed in 2020.
Watch for an action alert later today to write the common council and/or to give public comment at the meeting on Tuesday. We need to ensure that the city commits to adding these critical and long overdue improvements to this important downtown connector.
The West Wilson Street reconstruction and the question whether the street should be reconstructed as-is or include safe and comfortable accommodations for people biking was discussed at the Board of Public Works (BPW) last Wednesday. The proposal by City Engineering and supported by the district's Alder Mike Verveer argued for the former, but at the meeting many voices disagreed. Looking beyond the West Wilson project itself, the BPW meeting perfectly demonstrated why Madison needs a Director of Transportation, someone who would be the liaison between the often-competing interests and desires of various interest groups and the city staff who are charged with maintaining and rebuilding our streets.
Alder Mike Verveer, in whose district the W. Wilson reconstruction project is located, said that he felt "whiplash" by the requests for protected bike lanes, constituents who fear losing on-street parking, other alders – including two on the Pedestrian/Bicycle/Motor Vehicle Commission -- who requested that the PBMVC needed to see the project again, and city staff who had already sent a letter to adjacent property owners saying there would be neither a pilot test of the protected bike lane that had previously been proposed. Verveer also claimed that this project was being used to fight a turf battle between different city committees.
However, three Madison Bikes board members and several other bicycle advocates testified or submitted comments to the Board of Public Works on Wednesday evening, saying that the public process has been botched, the street was unsafe for bicyclists, and insisted that the BPW and city staff follow the city's many transportation and sustainability plans that point out the need to provide safe infrastructure for all road users.
Public testimony at the BPW meeting
It was apparent that the BPW felt very uncomfortable with the conflict playing out in front of them. Normally their schedule is filled by nothing more controversial than approving bids for infrastructures and assessments for new sidewalks.
Staff from City Engineering insisted that there was no time to send the matter back to the PBMVC and still meet a September deadline to use Tax Incremental Financing for the project. Additional there was the procedural question whether the Board even had the authority to refer the matter to another committee. In the end, the BPW approved the project to be rebuilt exactly as it is now: no bike lanes, no widened sidewalks, and no test of a protected bike lane in place of parking on the south side of the street. But staff claimed that the design would be “flexible,” should anything change in the future.
While this may sound disappointing, there was a bright spot: The resolution to go forward with the reconstruction as-is was amended. Alder Denise Demarb introduced a provision that city staff will develop a plan to make the entire length of Wilson St bicycle-friendly all the way from King Street to Broom Street by the time that the construction around the Judge Doyle Square project is completed (expected to sometime between 2020 and 2022).
We will continue to push for a safe, comfortable design on West (and East) Wilson Street that will give space for people biking and walking and support the oft-stated goal of the city to encourage bicycling, walking, and transit use. And we will continue to push for a better public process so that these issues can be resolved and all interested parties can be involved long before a financial deadline is looming.
The Pedestrian/Bicycle/Motor Vehicle Commission will discuss the matter at their meeting tomorrow, and the project will be before the Common Council at their June 6 meeting. We will keep you updated for when your input is going to be most effective. Thanks to everyone who testified or submitted written comments: They really made a difference.
Do you have five minutes to spare and want to improve the situation for people walking and biking on West Wilson Street? Here's how:
The Board of Public Works will discuss the design proposed by City Engineering in their meeting on Wednesday. If you haven't been following the project, you can catch up on a lot of background here, here, and here. Writing a quick email in opposition to putting people on bike bike onto the sidewalk and in favor of real bike accommodations on the street is going to be important. I know several of you already sent emails when the item was on the agenda for the Pedestrian/Bicycle/Motor Vehicle Commission last week, and you can just re-use that email. One new development is that doing a pilot study, where one side of on-street parking will be removed for a while is now on the table. If done well, we think that this is a good option, and we encourage you to mention the pilot.
Email addresses for the Board of Public Works members:
firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com; firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com; firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com; firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com; firstname.lastname@example.org
I recommend also included these folks in the cc line, as well as your district's alder:
MHacker@cityofmadison.com; RPhillips@cityofmadison.com; CPetykowski@cityofmadison.com; YTao@cityofmadison.com; email@example.com
Here's what I'm going to write; you're welcome to reuse the text:
Dear Members of the Board of Public Works, dear Alders:
Regarding the planned reconstruction of West Wilson street, please move forward with a street design that takes into account the needs of people biking and walking on this important connection to downtown, both going west to east, and east to west. I strongly oppose an option that mixes people walking and cycling on the sidewalk, as that is neither safe nor convenient for anyone. I support doing a well-designed and evaluated pilot project that would close one of the on-street parking lanes to put in a protected one-way or two-way bike lane.
Thank you for your consideration.
Thanks for helping out! The final decision on this will be made at City Council. We'll send out another update before that.
Last week a public input took place to discuss the reconstruction of West Wilson Street. Robbie's previous post has more background about what is planned and why this is an important project for bike advocates. Here is a quick update on how the meeting went, what the next steps in the decision making process are, and how you can speak out in favor of a Wilson Street that works for people biking and walking.
To recap, the public input meeting was the second one about the project. But the first meeting had been only announced to immediate neighbors. This second meeting was scheduled at the request of the Pedestrian/Bicycle/Vehicle Commission, after they were presented with only one option for the project from Engineering, an 8' widened sidewalk on the south side of the street that was supposed to mix travel on foot and bike. The Commission asked Engineering to develop additional concepts that would provide better accommodations for people travelling by bike and to present them at a new, publicly-noticed meeting for input.
The meeting was well attended, and I spotted many Madison Bikes stickers, t-shirts, or other other accessories that identified attendants as supporters of safe and convenient bike facilities. Alder Verveer also attended. A video recording of the whole meeting is available on Facebook. Engineering proposed three different designs:
- Keep all general travel lanes and both parking lanes. Narrow the terrace (the space between sidewalk and curb) to install a contra-flow bike lane (a bike lane going the opposite direction of the one-way traffic in the general travel lanes) right next to the sidewalk.
- Keep all general travel lanes and the current terraces. Convert one parking lane into a contra-flow bike lane, separated from oncoming traffic with a painted buffer but without physical protection.
- Keep travel lanes, parking, terraces. Widen the sidewalk on the south side to 8 ft. This was the recommendation of Engineering.
Two of the proposed options. Apologies for the image quality -- the slides from the meeting haven't been made available yet by the city
An option for a two-way protected bike lane was not even on the table. A lively but civil discussion ensued about the impacts of each of the proposed solutions, such as on street trees, for people with reduced mobility, and of course for those who currently bike on Wilson or would do so if there were safe and convenient options available. One issue raised both by bike advocates and local residents was that putting people on bike and people walking together on the sidewalk seemed like a really bad idea. Residents pointed out that even just walking on the sidewalk right now at times felt dangerous, especially for those with impaired mobility. Adding more bikes to that mix was a no-go for many, widened sidewalk or not. If you want to see what riding on the sidewalk looks like right now, watch this video:
Another issue pointed out by bike advocates was the lack of bike accommodations for people going east to west in all of the proposed plans. Currently--and in the foreseeable future, if the proposed design goes forward--people biking have to ride in the general travel lane, next to parked cars. And at the bottom of the hill, at the intersection with Henry and Hamilton, people on bikes find themselves in a right-turn-only lane or have to merge to the left lane at high speed.
The point at which the meeting started to unravel was when the question of next steps came up. One would think that the point of a public input meeting would be to gather input and then use that input to modify your plans. That didn't seem to be the case: City engineers were planning to just go forward with the same design that they came to the meeting with, the widened sidewalk option. City engineers rightly pointed out that there was no consensus in the audience that clearly favored one design over the other. But it was just as clear that a large majority of the audience (and not just people who regularly bike) did not like the idea of mixing people walking, biking, or using mobility devices on the sidewalk. I was probably not the only one leaving the meeting disheartened by what appeared to be a flawed process.
What are the next steps? What can you do?
The proposed design is going to be on the agenda of the Ped/Bicycle/Motor Vehicle Commission this coming Tuesday. I encourage you to submit a brief public comment to the commission members, Alder Verveer, and your own alder. It can be as easy as pasting these recipients (plus your Alder's email address) into an email and writing something like:
Dear Members of the Pedestrian, Bicycle, and Motor Vehicle Commission, dear Alders:
Regarding the planned reconstruction of West Wilson street, please move forward with a street design that takes into account the needs of people biking and walking, both going west to east, and east to west. I oppose an option that mixes people walking and cycling on the sidewalk, as that is neither safe nor convenient for anyone.
Thank you for your consideration.
After that, the proposed design will go to the Common Council, which is the ultimate decision making body. We'll keep you updated on when that's going to happen and what the most effective way to advocate is going to be for that.
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: firstname.lastname@example.org
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!