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Bike News

State Board: No Contraflow Bike Lane on Mifflin

Getting across the Capitol Square on a bike can be a big hassle, and it’s not going to get better any time soon, given the decision by a rather obscure committee against a contraflow bike lane on Mifflin Street.
 The circuitous route across the Capitol Square (Image: Google Maps)
The circuitous route across the Capitol Square (Image: Google Maps)
To get across the Capitol Square on your bike is not that great. Probably the worst case scenario is going from West Mifflin Street to East Mifflin Street: If you want to obey all rules and ordinances, first you have to walk your bike through Philosopher’s Grove (it’s a sidewalk; no cycling allowed). Then you’ll wait at the light on State Street to turn right onto Carroll (which is all uphill). Six traffic lights later, you’ll finally be able to turn off onto Hamilton and then East Mifflin. In reality, of course, most people just ride on the sidewalk or, more dangerously, on the road against traffic to get to their destination.
To improve this situation, the City of Madison proposed a contraflow bike lane. IN a first stage, the lane would only be on Mifflin, with the potential of eventually going around the entire Capitol Square. Because the State has jurisdiction over the sidewalk, the parking lane, and the innermost traffic lane on the Square, the proposed solution already was a compromise: On-street parking would remain, and the contraflow lane would be squeezed in between a travel and the parking lane (with a painted buffer on both sides). Conflict with cars entering and exiting the parking lane or with opening car doors are certainly an issue. But at least as a short-term solution, the contraflow lane would still have been a marked improvement over the status quo. This position was also the canon of a number of local bike advocates who cautiously spoke in favor of the proposed configuration at a Board of Public Works meeting in December 2015. With the understanding that it was a compromise and further improvements would be not be prevented by it, the City decided to move forward.

Planned contraflow lane (Source: City of Madison)
Well, not so fast: As the Isthmus reports, the rather obscure “State Capitol and Executive Residence Board” unanimously vetoed the project, supposedly over safety concerns. Senator Risser, a member of the board is quoted asking, “Why do bikes have to go against traffic? […] I don’t see why we have to develop a procedure to exempt bikes from going with the traffic.” Statements such as these show a lack of understanding of the value of a complete grid of bicycle facilities that allows everyone to safely, conveniently, and comfortably get to their destination by bike. And it is hard to take safety concerns seriously when the State had made it very clear that a better solution such as a protected bike lane involving the loss of on-street parking was not in the books.

The way forward from here is unclear. Given the Capitol Board’s jurisdiction over much of the Square involved, the city’s options are limited. If you want to let the members of the board know how you think about the issue, here is their contact information:

Sen. Risser: (608) 238-5008
Sen. Olsen: (608) 266-0751
Sen. Roth: (608) 266-0718
Rep. Born: (608) 266-2540 (888) 534-0039
Rep. Loudenbeck: (888) 529-0031
Rep. Hesselbein: (608) 266-5340