Categories
Action Alert Bike News Newsletter Weekly Update

Not one more cyclist- take action with this week’s updates

It’s daylight savings time. Don’t forget to skip your clock an hour forward if it isn’t automatic- you don’t want to miss this week’s updates.

A white bike memorial for the late Sarah Debbink Langenkamp
A ghost bike memorial for the late Sarah Debbink Langenkamp (credit: Alicia Bosscher, 2022)

This week – urgent action needed

Sarah Debbink Langenkamp was killed while riding her bike in a bike lane in Bethesda, Maryland in August of 2022. The driver who struck her received a meager sentence of 150 hours of community service and a $2,000 fine. Sarah’s husband, Dan, is urging lawmakers to take action and pass the Sarah Debbink Langenkamp Active Transportation act, which is likely to be introduced Tuesday, March 12.

Specifically, the Sarah Debbink Langenkamp Active Transportation Safety Act would:

– Unlock Highway Safety Improvement Program funding for projects that connect two pieces of safe cycling infrastructure.

– Allow local governments to identify active transportation projects eligible for Highway Safety Improvement Program funding.

– Allow bicycle and pedestrian safety projects to be fully federally funded, ensuring all communities can take advantage of these new eligibilities and encouraging communities to undertake more bicyclist and pedestrian safety projects.
Noa Banayan, PeopleForBikes’ director of federal affairs

We need your help to email Ron Johnson and ask that he co-sponsor the Senate version of the bill. The House version has bipartisan support. Click here to quickly e-mail Senator Ron Johnson. You can copy this message, if you would like: “Please consider co-sponsoring the Senate version of the Sarah Debbink Langenkamp Active Transportation Act as it has the potential to save lives and won’t cost the government anything. Thank you!”

Also in this week

UW Transportation Services published this illustrated guide on bicycle security and theft prevention. Check it out for tips on how to keep your bike safe using the right equipment.

A bike lock security infographic showing: more secure: small u lock and square chain, moderately secure: u lock and cable or u lock only, and less secure: cable only
Bike lock security infographic (Credit: UW Transportation Services, 2024)

Coming next week

Spring is in the air! Come celebrate with MadisonBikes by taking a tour of the Madison BCycle Facility on Thursday, March 21. Join a relaxed group ride from Law Park leaving shortly after 4:30 pm or meet directly at the Third Street facility at 5 pm. Discussion will include battery charging and safety. Drinks and snacks will be provided.

Three Madison BCycle bikes docked next to each other as a cyclist starts to pull one out
Madison BCycle bikes (Credit: BCycle, 2022)

Dane County Supervisor candidate questionnaire

Elections for the Dane County Board of Supervisors are on April 2. The Spring Election is on April 2. Madison Bikes, the Affordable Housing Action Alliance (AHAA), Madison is for People, and Madison Tenant Power (MTP) worked together on an election questionnaire. The questionnaire for Dane County Supervisor candidates is focused on Dane County’s ongoing housing crisis and transportation issues. We reached out to all candidates, and we received 15 responses. Find out how the candidate(s) for your district responded and share the information with others.

As always, you can find an overview of all bike events on our Community Bike Calendar. Email us at info@madisonbikes.org to add your events. And if you value our newsletter and other work, consider donating to Madison Bikes. For construction updates, check out the city’s Bike Madison page.

Categories
Action Alert Bike News In Depth

Mineral Point Road’s “Widened Sidewalk”

(disclaimer: this is a personal blog and not an official position of Madison Bikes)


Update

On 12/5/2023 the Common Council approved the most bike-friendly version of the tree-friendly plans before it. The final path will be 10′ wide for about ⅔ of its length, and 8′ wide for the rest. There will initially be a section of 5′ sidewalk by Nautilus Park (across from Oakwood Village), but the City promises to address that in the next few years.

The path will still be a “camel”, changing width and zig-zagging dozens of times, and with several sections where path and road are uncomfortably close. But it will be a glorious camel that will come to be loved by all! And, at 2.5 miles long it will also be, by far, the longest continuous off-street side path that Madison has ever retrofitted into an existing corridor.


In 1966, the Capital Community Citizens lobbied for a bicycle way on Mineral Point Rd to serve Memorial High School, then under construction. The idea of a “bike lane” or “bike way” was such a foreign concept that one member thought it might be a series of wood planks in the ditch next to the road. Opposition was fierce. “I’ve got problems with bikes on any main thoroughfare in the City of Madison,” the police chief testified. The highway commissioner and public works director were also opposed. One Alder offered a facetious amendment to study lanes for other schools, pointing out the Pandora’s Box they risked opening. 

Nearly 60 years later, Mineral Point Rd is on the verge of finally getting an off-street bike facility. Sort of.

Like the proverbial camel being “a horse designed by committee”, the City’s proposed widened sidewalk (meeting Oct 24, 2023) is unlikely to satisfy any of the interests fighting over it. The route will zig and zag, but still require cutting down plenty of trees. Its width will change seemingly at random from 10′ to 8′ to 5′, with the narrowest and most convoluted points being near intersections and danger spots like the heavily-trafficked Kwik-Trip driveway. Depending on how it’s built, the sidewalk may have a seam down the middle, leading to unevenness from frost heaves. There has also been no reduction in the number of driveways, despite a weak pledge that the City would explore doing that.

The new sidewalk will serve local needs and the High School, and for that I’m grateful. But it’s no transportation corridor and it certainly won’t tempt drivers from their cars. I’m not even sure it would have saved Taylor Dunn, the bicyclist killed last year in the final stretch of an 8-mile commute to his baking job on an e-bike he’d just purchased to save on bus fare.

How did we come to this and how can we prevent this in the future?

The future?

Bus Rapid Transit or Bust

The City’s haste to roll out Bus Rapid Transit is understandable. After decades of analysis paralysis – transportation studies, debates, and failed initiatives – it was imperative that we finally commit to mass transportation able to help Madison’s surging population. We knew the roll-out would not be perfect and that stakeholders would need to make concessions. What we didn’t expect was that those concessions would fall entirely on the shoulders of bicyclists, pedestrians, bus riders, neighborhood groups, and urban forestry. Those interests are now pitted against each other over scraps of pavement while single-occupant vehicles (SOV’s), arguably the root of most of our transportation woes, were virtually unscathed.

No one got the shaft more than the bicycling community. Despite the City painting a deceptively rosy picture of how BRT and bicycling were complimentary, bicycles have essentially been evicted from 2½ miles of East Washington Ave, 2½ miles of Mineral Point Rd, and ½ mile of University Avenue. These were high-stress routes, to be sure, but they were efficient and intuitive, and dedicated lanes helped bikers reach the many businesses that lined them (even during rush hour). As a replacement, the City offered sidepaths and widened sidewalks for Mineral Point Rd and University Avenue, and an uncommitted mish-mash of paths, widened sidewalks, bike boulevards and intersection improvements for East Washington. In the case of Mineral Point Rd, the original promise of a 10′ path soon morphed into an “8-10′ widened sidewalk”, and now it’s in danger of being crooked and having 600′ of normal 5′ sidewalk. For the 2700-3200 blocks of University Avenue, the forthcoming widened sidewalk will be technically illegal to bike on because it abuts businesses like Century House, Bagels Forever and IHOP, violating ordinance 12.76(1).

Suggested bike route improvements near East Washington Ave.

Pedestrians didn’t fare much better. Since 2021, the near-Capitol section of East Washington Ave has seen twelve pedestrian injuries and one fatality, easily crowning it the City’s most dangerous road for pedestrians to cross. Despite that, BRT required the removal of curb bumpouts, a pedestrian safety feature installed a decade earlier. BRT’s center-loading stations will also bring many more pedestrians into the traffic lanes, with some choosing to do it “Frogger” style.

In contrast, motor vehicles feel virtually none of the pain. With the exception of Whitney Way’s road diet (which pre-dated BRT), not a single traffic lane, driveway, or intersection is being shrunk, closed or restricted. The only changes I’m aware of are to turn lanes and traffic signal phases.

In Praise of Trees

The emotional pull of saving trees is undeniable. E.g., anyone taking a ride this fall along Devil’s Lake’s South Shore Drive will feel gut-punched by how many trees were cleared with that road’s recent reconstruction:

South Shore Drive, yesteryear and today. Credit: Skillet Creek Media

But there’s a tremendous difference between quality trees like the glorious oak at Homestead Shoppes or the large stands in Garner Park, and the terrace trees planted over the last five decades. These terrace trees are intended to compliment the road and they’re often on or near sanitary sewers, stormwater drains, and utility lines. They’re limited to species that won’t shower debris onto the roads and whose roots won’t damage curbs or the underground utilities. They are as natural as trees on a golf course or at Disneyland. These trees are indeed infrastructure and, like any other infrastructure, the City must be allowed to make improvements to them.

When thinking about climate and climate action, it’s important to maintain perspective about the real villains and solutions. For example, consider that it takes 80 mature trees to offset the carbon footprint of one electric car, and 250 trees for one gas car1. This means about 200 square miles of forest is needed to absorb the CO2 from drivers who use Mineral Point Rd each day. Meanwhile, a single bicyclist or e-bicyclist with a 12-mile round-trip commute is annually offset by just 3 mature trees.

If quality bike infrastructure helps convince just one driver to take up bicycling, that’s an instant savings of 77 – 247 trees for CO2 absorption alone. Add to that reductions in pollution, the heat islands due to roads and parking spaces, the construction costs, and the daily danger vehicles pose to bikers, peds, and each other, and one can’t help but conclude that quality bicycle infrastructure is part of the climate solution and it deserves everyone’s support.

Where do we go from here?

The City is now focused on North-South BRT, with public input meetings in November 2023. Prepare and SHOW UP. Just as with the East-West BRT meetings in 2021, many of the most critical choices have already been decided and public input will be brushed aside due to the tight timeline. For example, with talk so far focused on the much-needed South Park St redevelopment, I fully expect bicycles to be quietly evicted from 1½ miles of South Fish Hatchery Rd and 1½ miles of Northport Drive. This cannot be allowed to happen.

South Park St could follow this model. Madison Complete Green Streets 2022

Similarly, the rollout of North-South BRT would be a fantastic opportunity to create new bike and ped facilities along Packers Avenue and the eastern part of Northport drive. These would serve the Oscar Mayer redevelopment, the airport, Madison College, the area around the shuttered South Transfer Point, and the neglected north side. So far, there has been little discussion and no budget for any of this.

Speaking of … isn’t it absolutely bonkers that BRT will pass within ½ mile of the airport but not stop? And, if if BRT is so smart with jump queues, connected signaling, and 15-minute intervals, why can’t both directions of BRT use the same lane between stops? (like how trains at Detroit and Minneapolis airports work) I digress…

Independent of BRT, here are a few concrete things I plan to keep front-of-mind at future City meetings:

  • Get the City to stop widening sidewalks or building side paths without also reducing the number of driveways and crossings. The current approach is reckless and endangers bicyclists, as studies show that sidewalk riding is over twice as dangerous as road riding2. With Mineral Point Rd’s north-side widened sidewalk, over half the driveways could be removed without limiting business access. Of particular benefit would be the removal of driveways at Kwik Trip (2x), Capitol Petro, and Culvers.
  • We need an ordinance stating that all major streets get bike lanes regardless of the existence of a nearby path or widened sidewalk, even if that means sacrificing car lanes or on-street parking. It’s tragic how major reconstructions like Monroe St, 2700-3200 University Ave, and Atwood Ave did not get bike lanes while Mineral Point Rd is losing the bike lanes it had. This trend must be stopped.
  • There’s a fine line between protected lanes and Death Star trenches. E.g., the Bassett St protected lane is a both a success and a nightmare. The City really needs to do another protected lane experiment, this time with terraces on both sides. This is very relevant to South Park St.
  • Single-occupancy vehicles (SOV’s) and cross-town traffic on the isthmus are the twin root causes of most of Madison’s transportation headaches. The City should work to increase travel times for cross-town traffic. Brussels did this and within just one year saw a traffic drop of 27% in the city center, plus an “astonishing 36 percent jump in the number of cyclists.” Some ideas to achieve this:
    • High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lane restrictions.
    • Stoplight timing to slow traffic without lowering volume.
    • Asymmetric roads with more outbound capacity than inbound.
    • Turn restrictions to limit shortcuts.

Lastly, it is important that we continue to support Bus Rapid Transit! Despite maybe feeling like we’ve been run over by one, BRT will provide tens of thousands of people a viable alternative to their SOV’s, and that benefits us all.

  1. https://afdc.energy.gov/vehicles/electric_emissions.html and https://www.usda.gov/media/blog/2015/03/17/power-one-tree-very-air-we-breathe ↩︎
  2. https://bicyclesafe.com/ “The Crosswalk Slam” ↩︎
Categories
Action Alert E-Mail Weekly Update

Join us: The Street Project movie and discussion, October 30

In case you missed it in this week’s newsletter: We have a great event coming up at Union South on October 30, starting at 5pm (movie screening at 6pm): We are partnering with the Wisconsin Student Planning Association and the Wisconsin chapter of the Congress for New Urbanism to show “The Street Project.” The movie documents stories about humanity’s relationship to the streets and the global citizen-led fight to make communities safer. Here’s a bit more about the movie:

In 2010, the small community of specialists who pay attention to US road safety statistics picked up on a troubling trend: more and more pedestrians and cyclists were being killed on American roads. In fact, pedestrian deaths have increased 51 percent since reaching their low point in 2009. In addition to the loss of human life, it is estimated that road injuries will cost the world economy $1.8 trillion from 2015–2030.

THE STREET PROJECT is the story about humanity’s relationship to the streets and the global citizen-led fight to make communities safer.
Digging deep into the root causes of traffic violence, the filmmakers engage a diverse array of experts. These expert interviews are interwoven with the stories of real people working to make their communities safer.

Trailer: The Street Project

To discuss what the movie’s lesson are for our work in Madison to make streets safer for everyone and to reduce all traffic fatalities and serious injuries to zero, we invited a number of speakers for a panel discussion following the movie. On the panel will be

You can also join us for a social get-together at the Sett Pub starting at 5pm. The movie The event is open to everyone and free. Please RSVP here: https://forms.gle/RmEoXs7d2G15d8Jt6

Please join us on the 30th, bring a friend, and spread the word to others.

Location: Union South
5pm: Social hour at the Sett Pub
6pm: Movie screening
7pm: Panel discussion
RSVP: https://forms.gle/RmEoXs7d2G15d8Jt6
Free admission

Categories
Action Alert In Depth

The Time is Now for a John Nolen Drive Underpass

(disclaimer: this is a personal blog and not an official position of Madison Bikes)

Last fall, Bicyclist Thomas Heninger was killed as he crossed John Nolen Drive by a distracted driver racing 60+ mph to beat a red light. His death is an exclamation mark on just how dangerous the grade crossings are at North Shore Dr and Broom St. That’s something we bicyclists know all about.

Thankfully just groceries. 2020. Photo: Tom Wilson
Car crossing slip lane against “No right turn” light. Sep 2022. Photo: Kai Mast
Slip lane knock-down. Aug 2019. Photo: Chris Collins

Danger aside, almost more impactful are the daily inconveniences of the grade crossings: tight staging areas, multiple “refuge” islands, lengthy wait times, slip lanes, complex & confusing signaling, uneven railroad tracks, and, of course, the noise and smell of 50,000 daily cars and trucks. To many, the North Shore Dr and Broom St crossings are an ordeal best avoided.

It is time to build an underpass so that bikers and pedestrians can have safe and unimpeded movement between the Lake Monona waterfront and the City’s interior.

An underpass is not a new idea, but it is a challenging one.

Why Now?

  • The City’s John Nolen Drive (JND) Reconstruction project is in full swing, and the concrete poured will shape the causeway and southern Law Park for 30+ years. When City engineers brought up various crossing ideas at a recent public information meeting, the underpass concept received, by far, the most support. If this project moves forward without an underpass, it will be nearly impossible to add one later for reasons explained below.
  • The City itself recommended an underpass as a long-term solution in 2017’s Blair/John Nolen Drive Corridor Study
  • Engineer Ron Shutvet independently researched the technical feasibility of two underpass concepts in the Dane County Master Plan Collaborative 2011 & 2017. His designs are practical and innovative.
  • In the Lake Monona Waterfront Design Challenge, two of the three designs called for underpasses in this area. One called it a top priority. With the next steps of the Challenge, Madison’s JND project engineers will have access to technical and aesthetic expertise of a world-class urban design firm to build an underpass that Madison can be proud of.
  • The City’s long-discussed plan for two-way cycletrack along Wilson Street is now kicking off. That new path will provide the gentlest climb from the lakefront up to Monona Terrace and the Capitol Square. This new path needs a low-stress connection to the path along John Nolen Drive.

What are the Obstacles?

  • Water. A tunnel under today’s John Nolen Drive would be 3.5′ below current lake level and 6′ below the high water of 2018. I’m told it is still possible, but only with careful engineering and costly pumps.
    The workaround is to raise the streets! The City’s 2017 JND/Blair corridor study did just that, raising JND by the bare minimum of 2′. Ron Shutvet’s concepts went farther, raising the streets 6-7′, raising the railroad 4′, and also realigning the tracks. These are not far-fetched ideas. Every part of Law Park’s surface is man-made and both the road and the railroad tracks have changed many times over the last century. There’s no reason we can’t do it again to create a better, safer, and friendlier waterfront.
  • Multiple jurisdictions. Possibly the biggest obstacle is that a tunnel would involve State DOT highway, State DOT Railroad, and the State DNR. To City engineers, such multi-jurisdictional projects are hassles, adding meetings and extending timelines by months or years.
    That’s a poor excuse not to get this done! The City works with the State all the time on Hwy 151 and beltline projects. Passenger rail will require Federal coordination. Just a few years ago, County, State, and Federal agencies successfully worked together to realign the Canadian Pacific railroad tracks near the airport. When the need is there — and the underpass is a top need — multiple jurisdictions can work together to get the job done.
  • Money. An underpass will cost several million dollars, and it is not currently funded. Thanks to the $15M Federal grant secured last month for the John Nolen Drive project, the City now has much more freedom to explore underpass concepts.
    Overall, the underpass cost is also low compared to the value it brings to the City, the Bassett Neighborhood, non-motorized transport, and recreation opportunities. It would immediately become the main way to reach the lakefront from campus or anywhere south or west of the Capitol, shaving minutes off every bike/ped journey. It would also achieve many of the lofty goals of the Lake Monona Waterfront Design Challenge at a fraction of the price.
  • Time. The City hopes to have a final JND causeway design in 2024 and do construction in 2026. An underpass would likely delay that schedule. I feel it’s worth it. As mentioned earlier, if reconstruction proceeds without an underpass, it’s almost certain that none will ever be built.

Does an Underpass Have Other Benefits?

  • Street-level crossings would still be needed but could be engineered to a more car-friendly standard, meaning less delay to drivers, less idling, better air quality, and less acceleration & braking noise.
  • One of Ron Shutvet’s options includes stormwater filtration. All three Lake Monona Waterfront Design Challenge firms also included stormwater management to reduce the amount of pollution reaching Lake Monona.
  • One of Ron Shutvet’s options also realigns the railroad tracks so that Broom St only has a single track crossing instead of two. This simplifies our streets and enlarges Brittingham Park 2.
  • Raising JND where its causeway meets North Shore Drive might allow for higher boat clearance into Monona Bay, which could be helpful during high water events like 2018.
  • The 4-acre “Brittingham Park 2” west of JND with the courts and dog exercise area is difficult to reach and lightly used. An underpass would seamlessly connect it to the lake, increasing its exposure and making it a good place for amenities sought by lakefront visitors such as playgrounds, picnic areas, bathrooms, etc.
  • Although this is a bicycling blog, an underpass would naturally benefit pedestrians of all types and especially people who have mobility challenges. My wheelchair-bound mother lives on West Main St. I pushed her across the Broom St crossing — two traffic islands, six ramps, two sets of railroad tracks with uneven pavement, three signal phases, and cars whizzing by in front and behind us non-stop; I will never do that again.

For an exhaustive list of underpass pros & cons, please see Ron Shutvet’s Master Plan Collaborative document.

Wouldn’t an Overpass be Better?

To clear the railroad tracks, an overpass would need to be 50% longer and almost twice as high as the current bridge over East Washington near Starkweather Creek. It would eat up much of Law Park, block views, have long ramps, and add ½ mile and 30′ of climbing to anyone’s journey. At a JND public information meeting, a majority of attendees said they would take a street-level crossing rather than use such a bridge.

Some attendees did express concern that underpasses can be dark, wet, unsafe places, especially at night. The hope is that any John Nolen Drive underpass will be a showpiece of Madison, acting more of a natural corridor than an out-of-the-way tunnel. The City has experience in this, and underpasses built in the past decade under Verona Rd and Gammon Rd are wide and inviting (see the ride-through videos on YouTube).

Next Steps?

May 2023 is the critical month. My impression is that City Engineers are inclined to keep the overpass concept on the back-burner. It is now up to the City’s Transportation Commission to insist that an underpass be included in the project. Public input can help! Please follow the John Nolen Drive project, take its surveys, and email your thoughts to JNDproject@cityofmadison.com. Please submit comments to the Transportation Commission in advanced of its meeting on Wed May 24, 2023. Also, reach out to your Alders to let them know how important the underpass is, so that they are informed when the project finally comes before them.

Categories
Action Alert

Ghost Bike Dedication on August 17th for Will Cummings

William Cummings was killed on August 1st in a traffic crash while riding his bike on Pflaum Road. Join the Madison Bikes community and his family to dedicate a ghost bike in his memory and to show support for building a city where everyone can ride a bike safely and without fear. Join us tomorrow (August 17th) at 5:30 pm on the corner of Pflaum Road and Mustang Way.

Categories
Action Alert Bike News E-Mail

Rally to Stop the Deaths of Pedestrians and Cyclists on East Washington Avenue

Take Back the Streets - Safe Streets Save Lives. 

Join us to demand action is taken to prevent further death on E. Washington. 

Sat. July 31 at 10 AM
Madison Municipal Building - DOT Offices on MLK Jr Blvd.

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

When: Saturday, July 31 from 10 am – 12 pm

Categories
Action Alert E-Mail In Depth

Guest Post: An Update on the Vilas Park Master Plan

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.

Two adults and two children riding bicycles and one female teenage riding a skateboard on Vilas Park Drive

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.

Five young women riding their bikes on Vilas Park Drive. One of them is pulling a trailer.

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.

With regard to the larger process for finalizing the Master Plan, the Vilas Park Master Plan website, in addition to link to the final draft plan, has useful links to an explanation of the decisions that were made, and answers to questions from an October 15 meeting of the Resident Resource Group and Community Partners Advisory Committee Meeting.

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.

Categories
Action Alert Guest post

Guest post: Keep the Arb to people walking, running, and biking

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.

Two children and an adult biking on Arboretum Drive

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