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Guest post In Depth

Advocacy in action: Report from a Vision Zero workshop

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. 

Intersection of Segoe, Laub, and Berwyn: A lot of pavement and long crossings for people walking.

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. 

Raised crossing on the Cap City Trail at Russell Street

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 (traffic@cityofmadison.com). 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.

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