Bike News

Wilson Street: Update and next steps

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Keep travel lanes, parking, terraces. Widen the sidewalk on the south side to 8 ft. This was the recommendation of Engineering.

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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.