Bike News

University Ave reconstruction meeting Wednesday

Short version

This Wednesday, Dec 18 at 6:00 pm at the Best Western InnTowner, 2424 University Ave (intersection with Highland), the city will be holding the second public information meeting (PIM) about the upcoming University Ave reconstruction. This project — running from Shorewood Blvd to Campus Dr and currently scheduled for 2021 — will be a real test to see if we can rebuild a major corridor that will safely and comfortably serve all modes of travel — a Complete Street. If you live, work, or shop nearby, or if you travel through by any mode of transportation, I urge you to attend the meeting. If you can’t make the meeting, but have a comment, you can contact the project engineer, Glen Yoerger. You can also include Traffic Engineer Yang Tao and/or alder for that area Shiva Bidar.

I wrote about this project and the many current safety problems before the first meeting [presentations at the bottom of project website]. I will go into some additional details for each of the points below, but just in case you just want bullet points, the tl;dr is:

  • At the first public information meeting in June, the modifications that the city presented made some minor improvements for the many safety problems present for bicyclists and pedestrians — and transit users who are pedestrians when they get off the bus — but not at the expense of keeping motor vehicle traffic moving,
  • There are no bicycle facilities on the south (city of Madison) side of the street, and none are planned (unless something has been added since June.)
  • Because of the lack of appropriate facilities on the south side, people on bikes use the sidewalk, which is dangerous for themselves and causes conflicts with pedestrians and the large number of transit users waiting at the very busy bus stops.
  • It is already very dangerous and intimidating to cross the street, and the city is planning on removing one of the current unsignalized crosswalks, at Franklin Ave. Even where there is a signal, turning vehicles and red light running mean that the crossings are uncomfortable and feel dangerous.
  • The intersection of University Ave and University Bay Dr/Farley, has a very bad history of crashes resulting in injury. The city rates it fourth overall in the whole city.
  • This corridor will be one of the first links in the planned Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) route, so there will be even more transit users waiting on the sidewalk and crossing the street in the future.

Source: Vision Zero presentation to the Transportation Policy and Planning Board, Dec 12.

I was hoping that there would be information available before I wrote this post, but so far (as of Monday afternoon, Dec 16) nothing has been added or updated on the City Engineering website for the project. The Transportation Commission was supposed to get an update this past week, but referred it until their January meeting.

The longer version, with more details

Left turns

At the last meeting, we were shown plans for modifications of the corridor. They show a double left turn lane from eastbound University Ave to northbound University Bay Dr. This is meant to move the many commuters through the intersection as they drive to and from the UW, VA, and Children’s Hospitals and other parts of the far west campus. This is also a major entry point for people driving to the eastern part of Shorewood Hills, since there are limited locations to enter the village.

Left turns are a major movement at this intersection — also including left turns from both southbound University Bay Dr and northbound Farley (same street, different name of the other side of the road) to eastbound Campus Dr and westbound University Ave respectively, and these left turns are the bane of pedestrians and bicyclists crossing University Ave at the same intersection. Many people who live in the neighborhoods across University Ave work at the hospitals or use the bus or path on the north side, meaning they cross this road multiple times every day. It is also a critical connection for bicyclists coming from anywhere south or southwest of the hospitals or campus. I have come close to being hit myself when crossing from the bus stop of the north side of the road, and while waiting for the bus on the south side, I witnessed a pedestrian hit by a person driving a car right in front of my eyes. Both involved left turning vehicles.

Overpass for Campus Dr Path

With the bike path completed on the north side, many more bicyclists are crossing University Bay Dr. Although the plans are to build an overpass of University Bay Dr to provide a safer crossing, there are many questions about whether that will be possible. Until that happens, a double left from University Ave will make the crossing even more dangerous. With the improvements to the Blackhawk Path this year, bike traffic at this intersection will probably continue to increase.

Traffic light at Overlook Terrace/Marshall Court and University Bay Dr to serve new VA parking ramp

In addition to the proposed overpass, the VA Hospital is planning on building another parking ramp just off U Bay Dr. This will generate more car traffic, most of which will be turning left onto U Bay Dr, the VA wants a new traffic light at the intersection of Marshall Ct (where EVP Coffee is), Overlook Terrace (the driveway to the VA), and U Bay Dr. This would pack the following into basically one city block: new traffic light at Marshall Ct/Overlook Terr, the Campus Dr path, railroad tracks and gates, then another traffic light at University Ave. Huh?

The city essentially has no control over what the VA does, because it is a federal agency. They can’t force them to do manage their traffic demand, e.g. by increasing the cost of car parking, or to not build the new ramp. And the city needs a tiny sliver of land from the VA to build the new overpass for the path. The price for that land: the new traffic light to make getting out of the new ramp easier.

One crosswalk being removed

The intersection of University Ave at Franklin Ave, one block west of Farley/U Bay Dr, doesn’t have traffic signals. The proposal is to remove the crosswalk. It’s not a great way to cross the road on foot, but this is just one more barrier to getting across University Ave. It means that people will have to walk a block in either direction to cross the road. Right now, there aren’t really any destinations on the north side across from Franklin, but that could change.

No bike facilities on the south side

Now we come to my personal beef: There are no planned bicycle facilities on the south side. When I ask why we are doing a major road reconstruction with no bike facilities on one side, I’m told, “There isn’t space.” This is a SIX lane road with turn pockets at every intersection. New sidewalks are proposed on the north side and an extra left turn lane at one intersection, but there is no space for bike facilities? Currently there are unprotected bike lanes from Segoe Rd to Shorewood Blvd, as well as all of University Ave west of Whitney Way, so this is a big gap. City Engineering and Traffic Engineering seem to think that people can just cross to the north side and use the nice new path through Shorewood Hills. Or the bike boulevard on Kendall. But neither of these serve the needs or people going to and from origins and destinations on the SOUTH side of the road. There are stores and restaurants as well as new apartments on the south side. I expect the area to be further redeveloped as BRT comes in. Crossing to the north side to go a couple of blocks and then recrossing again, especially if one is headed to old University Ave, just is not realistic. Crossing that portion of University Ave even once is tough, but no one is going to do it twice when they aren’t headed somewhere on the north side.

Consequently people ride on the sidewalk. I see them every day when I take the bus. It’s dangerous for the bicyclists because motorists aren’t looking for people riding on the sidewalk as they inch out at Ridge and Farley to make a right on red. It’s not safe for the pedestrians sharing the very narrow sidewalk on this stretch. And it’s not safe for the people trying to catch the bus — they also aren’t expecting anyone going 10-12 mph on the sidewalk as they check to see if the bus is coming. And that bus stop is going to get a lot more crowded with BRT.

What about the Kendall/Bluff bike boulevard? Well, at the intersection of Shorewood Blvd and Hill St — where the bike lanes on University end and this project starts — the bike boulevard is up a steep hill and on the other side of Quarry Park, so it’s really not practical. If you do get up the steep hill that is…Hill St‚Ķ you can take Harvey for a little while and then duck through an alley for another block. But that ends at Franklin, still a block short of getting you to old University Ave.

Some good news on facilities for pedestrians and bicyclists

Besides the proposed overpass for the path, the other good news is that the plans call for a full sidewalk on the north side of the road from U Bay Dr to Marshall Court (where it exits the strip mall across from Ridge.)

One other nice addition has already been added. If you cross University Ave at University Bay Dr/Farley, you may have noticed that there is now a leading pedestrian interval for the walk light. That means that the WALK light comes on a couple of seconds before the drivers get a parallel green. This gives people walking across the intersection a little head start to get our into the intersection, making them more visible to turning drivers.