As we mentioned in this week’s update, we’ve been helping to organize a rally to demand safe streets with an emphasis on East Washington Ave. Check out the facebook event here and we hope to see you on Saturday! The press release follows after the break.
MADISON— On Saturday, July 31, Madison Bikes along with Madison Area Democratic Socialists of America, UW Madison BIPOC Coalition, Freewheel Community Bike Shop and other advocacy groups will hold a rally to demand immediate infrastructure action by the City of Madison and the Wisconsin Department of Transportation to make Vision Zero more than a commitment but a reality. Nearly 20 people have been killed in traffic on East Washington Avenue since 2010, many of them losing their lives while walking or biking on and across E Washington Ave. Madison residents and visitors deserve infrastructure changes to stop speeding and crashes.
What: Rally for Safe Streets. Stop the Killing on East Washington Ave
Where: In front of Madison Municipal Building, 215 Martin Luther King Jr Blvd, Madison, WI 53703
This is a guest post by Jim Lorman. Jim is Professor Emeritus at Edgewood College, and he represents the Greenbush Neighborhood Association on the Vilas Park Master Plan Resident Resource Group. We asked Jim to provide an update on the Vilas Park Master plan ahead of the public input on meeting on Nov 16 (see end of the post for details). Jim also started a petition to continue keeping Vilas Park Drive as a shared street closed to motor vehicles.
There is a lot for bicycle advocates to like about the final draft of the Vilas Park Master Plan, including a major reconstruction of Vilas Park Drive into a largely multi-use path, and an improved bike and pedestrian entrance on Drake Street. On the down side for motorless motion advocates, expanded parking lots are proposed near the entrance to the zoo and near Vilas Beach.
Community input to the plan has been underway since the first public meeting in June of 2019, and is expected to wrap up with approval of a final plan by the Board of Park Commissioners early next year. There are many issues at play in the draft plan – what I’ve selected here are what I believe to be of most interest to the Madison Bikes community.
The final draft design proposes to replace the main vehicle entrance at Drake and Randall with a separate pedestrian and bicycle gateway (“G” in graphic above, at a mysteriously-proposed new possible location of Annie Stewart Fountain). Car access would be relocated to a new entrance/exit on Drake opposite Campbell (lefthand “G”).
The parking lots in this area (“P”) would be greatly expanded. This has been a source of continuing contention among those who greatly value the green space that would be lost along South Randall, particularly nearby homeowners. The current drive and diagonal parking that exits to the Drake/Grant intersection (upper left corner above) to the west would be converted to a path with more adjacent green space.
For those of us who feel that motor vehicles have become overly dominant in our transportation planning and public spaces, perhaps the most positive aspect of the draft master plan is the proposal to reconstruct much of Vilas Park Drive into a multi-use path (“N” in the graphic below). This design option, which has received overwhelming community support, will restrict motor traffic from using a large segment of the shoreline, allowing motor vehicle access to the beach and the main park shelter only from the east.
The strong support for this design can be seen as one of the few good things to come out of the horrific Covid-19 pandemic. Prior to the motor vehicle restriction associated with the City’s Shared Streets program, 96% of all motor vehicle traffic along Vilas Park Drive was commuter and other pass-through traffic, amounting to more than 200 cars per hour during the afternoon commute. Over half of those vehicles were recorded as exceeding the speed limit of 25 mph, much too fast for a lane shared by walkers, runners, and bikers traveling in two directions.
The exclusion of pass-through motor vehicles resulted in a major transformation of this Vilas Park lakeshore area to a vibrant multi-generational public space for people with many interests and all abilities. There has been a dramatic increase in its use by pedestrians, bicyclists, and other park users, including small children riding scooters and bikes with training wheels; adults with walkers and canes; people with wheelchairs; and people hammocking, picnicking, and fishing along the Lake Wingra shoreline.
Although the final draft of the Vilas Park Master Plan proposes to permanently restrict motor vehicles from driving through the entirety of Vilas Park Drive, it will be at least 2024 until that design is implemented. Meanwhile, however, the Shared Streets program has been terminated for the year; and the City is considering opening up Vilas Park Drive to commuter and other through traffic this winter. The Board of Parks Commissioners will likely be taking this issue up at its December meeting, after it was referred to them by the Transportation Commission on Oct 28.
In response to this, many of us are advocating for keeping the current restriction on drive-through traffic until the proposed reconstruction can occur. Separate from the public input associated with the Master Plan process itself, we are distributing a petition asking the Parks Department to keep the current motor vehicle restriction on pass-through traffic on Vilas Park Drive during the upcoming winter months and until the Master Plan is eventually implemented.
Key points in support for this are:
The pre-pandemic motor vehicle situation along Vilas Park Drive was untenable, endangering the safety of our community and deterring the use of the drive and adjacent park shoreline by park users. A decision to return to that situation now, after the demonstrated success of the current Shared Streets configuration, would be dangerous and irresponsible.
It is important to have continuity in the restriction on cut-through motor vehicle traffic. As a result of the current barriers, motor vehicle commuters have found alternative routes; non-motorized park users are able to fully utilize the park and Lake Wingra shoreline area in myriad ways that are comfortable and more enjoyable than ever before.
While park usage (including bicycle and pedestrian traffic) does drop significantly in winter weather, many people continue to use the area in a variety of ways, especially on nicer winter days and in early spring. Younger children, older people, and people with disabilities will be the first to stop using the drive and adjacent shoreline if commuter and other pass-through motor vehicles are allowed again.
Motor access to the shoreline and the ice skating shelter can occur without allowing pass-through motor vehicle traffic along Vilas Park Drive. There are alternatives and accommodation options available that could be implemented easily and without great expense. For example, relocating the eastern barrier further west would allow more convenient access to the shelter (to the lot by the boat landing or even to the shelter lot itself).
While there may be minor challenges in accommodating all of this, these are not serious obstacles that justify allowing cut-through motor vehicles into the park.
The Parks Division and its consultants will hold a community input meeting via Zoom at 6:00-7:30 pm on Monday, November 16. Here is the agenda for the meeting, and you can register here. (Pre-registration is required.
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.