This post was written by Mary Pustejovsky. Mary is passionate about safer streets in Madison. She has lived in Madison since 2020, and has lived in San Jose, Providence, Boston, Chicago, and most recently, Austin, Texas. She’s excited to put down roots and make Madison the best biking city in America. She has two cargo bikes (a Tern GSD and an Urban Arrow), bikes everywhere with 3 kids, and nothing makes her happier than getting more families on bikes.
What is it like to attend a neighborhood meeting about traffic safety? What are some strategies you can use to advocate for biking and safer streets?
I recently attended a Vision Zero workshop session hosted by Alder Tischler (District 11) at Sequoya Library. This was not an officially city-sponsored event, as there had been a previous session with city staff. This meeting was to get people together to discuss specific ideas for calming traffic in our community. The meeting specifically focused on Westmoreland, Hill Farms, and Midvale Heights neighborhoods.
Overall, many people are concerned about safety in our community, and have noticed a lot of speeding and crashes. However, different people have different ideas about how best to address these issues. At my table, there was one man (I will call him stop sign guy, SSG) who kept bringing up the fact that cyclists run stop signs. While that may be true, I pointed out that many drivers run red lights and speed constantly as well. I was glad to have a fellow cyclist at my table who bikes everywhere with his family.
We were tasked with coming up with ideas and then presenting our top 3 ideas. SSG brings up that there are a lot of crashes at Mineral Point and Segoe. He suggests widening the intersection to have a dedicated turn lane. We write it down, but I am skeptical: Wider intersections, especially two blocks from an elementary school and a middle school, are not safer for people walking and biking. I suggest that the intersection at Laub/Segoe is unnecessary. Two streets intersecting with Segoe here is unnecessary, and removing one of them would make space for a rain garden to help with stormwater runoff. People seem interested. Other ideas that got a lot of support were raised, or tabletop crossings for the SW Commuter Path at Odana as well as Glenway. Raised crossings mean that the path is kept at grade and people driving on the street need to dip up and down to cross it, rather than making path users drop down to the level of the road. These crossings already have a median, with one lane in each direction, and the raised crossing would reinforce the message that drivers should be cautious. People at my table seemed supportive of this as well.
We then discussed the amount of people speeding on Midvale, especially near Cherokee Middle School. SSG seems to believe “there is nothing we can do” or “we need more education and enforcement.” Unfortunately he must have missed the Vision Zero presentation where officers from the Madison Police Department pointed out that they don’t have the staff to sit and write tickets all day. Engineering changes to the street are more effective, and they slow drivers at all times, not just when there is a cop with a radar gun. There were other suggestions too: Flashing beacons as well as speed feedback signs on Midvale to alert drivers to how fast they are going. I’m not convinced of their efficacy, but we put it down as another idea. Our final summary of ideas to the larger group included rain gardens, tabletop crossings for the SW Path, and protected bike lanes on Midvale.
Other groups had good suggestions about where to put roundabouts etc. This information was collected by my alder to share with city staff.
Overall, I recommend attending these types of meetings with a buddy if possible, as it can give you more confidence in supporting treatments that make a difference. There are always naysayers like SSG, but they are in the minority. Most people want safer streets. People want to bike but don’t feel safe doing so. Show up, and don’t worry about arguing with the negative folks. Just keep the focus on the positive changes needed. Acknowledge their opinion but redirect the conversation back to problem solving, instead of ranting or complaining. You are unlikely to change their mind, and that’s fine. Keep your focus on specific changes that you’d like to see to make the street safer.
So reach out to your alder or to city staff (firstname.lastname@example.org). State a particular problem, and suggest a solution! So instead of “wow it’s hard to cross the street” you could say “I’ve noticed it is hard to cross XYZ street. I think it might be a good candidate for a pedestrian refuge island or curb bump outs, which would slow turning vehicles and provide more visibility for people walking.”
Speak up, it really does make a difference.