This is a guest post by Sally Lehner. Sally started a petition to ask the UW-Madison that Arboretum Dr remain open only for people walking, running, and biking past July 31, while the COVID-19 pandemic is going on. You can find the petition here.
Arboretum Drive was closed to cars in May, early on in the COVID-19 pandemic. The closure was meant to give people more space to safely enjoy the outdoors, without having to worry about traffic. The pandemic isn’t over, but the University wants to reopen the drive to cars on July 31.
I am asking the UW to reconsider this decision and extend the temporary closure until at least regular activities are resuming (i.e. MMSD schools fully reopened in-person, organized sports for kids and adults open and running as usual, gyms reopened fully, community spread of COVID-19 under control etc.).
It has been absolutely wonderful to have Arboretum Drive closed to cars. The road has become an amazing amenity with so many grateful people utilizing it as a sanctuary and place of respite from the COVID-19 pandemic. This has been especially true for kids confined to online classes with no organized sport activities.
The first time my younger son was able to bike on the road without having to worry about the cars he said: “This is like a short-cut to heaven!” And it is—and also why almost every day since it’s been closed, I have been using this drive to run and/or bike with my 7 and 11-year-old children. Without the cars, we are able to keep our distance safely and comfortably from other walkers, joggers and bicyclists. I can also let my 11-year-old bike up ahead or on his own knowing that the threat of him getting hit by a car is diminished.
The UW’s decision to temporarily close Arboretum Drive to motor vehicles was done for safety reasons. UW-Madison Transportation Services director Patrick Kass at the beginning of the closure said: “With limited options for people to get outside, other recreational activities have definitely seen a spike — particularly people on bikes.” “We want to provide safe locations for people to do that.” Therefore I’m troubled that a decision is being made now to open the road back up because: 1) it is still heavily used by pedestrians and bikers, much more so than before the COVID-19 pandemic, and 2) we are still in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, requiring social distancing, masks, and massive closures of usual business, sports, and community activities. Local school districts aren’t even able to open doors because community spread is not under control.
Late yesterday afternoon along the drive, around 4:00-5:00 pm, there were children happily riding bikes on training wheels, parents jogging with strollers, older adults on recumbent bikes, triathletes training on their speed bikes, joggers, older adults walking slowly along in pairs at a distance… and most of us weaving in and out of the middle of the street to keep socially distanced from one another.
It is a dangerous decision to now introduce cars and trucks into the mix, especially just as the university students will be coming back and wanting to take advantage of the Arboretum for exercise and relaxation.
You can sign the petition here: https://www.change.org/p/university-of-wisconsin-madison-keep-arboretum-drive-safe-for-people-walking-running-and-biking