Bike News

What’s happening with Wilson Street? Action Alert

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The reconstruction of West Wilson Street is on the agenda again, and we need your help. A quick recap: The initial proposal was to mix people biking and walking on a slightly widened sidewalk. At a public meeting in March there was near universal opposition to this plan–neither people walking nor people on bikes like to be thrown together. Especially not in a downtown environment that includes a hill and busy driveways. Consequently, the city’s engineering department proposed a pilot project: Remove one lane of on-street parking to test if that space could be re-allocated from car storage to a protected bike lane. However, apparently even a month-long pilot project was too much for some and Alder Verveer withdrew his support at the last minute.

Following this unexpected death of the pilot project for this summer, City Engineer Rob Phillips, is looking to push a recommendation through the Board of Public Works this week and then through the Common Council on June 6th that would reconstruct Wilson Street as-is. That’s right: A recommendation to change nothing and to continue to devote 40′ of public right of way to car travel and car parking with no space dedicated to safe and comfortable bike travel on this key downtown connector.

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The recommendation includes language about maintaining ‚Äòflexibility’ to change street use in the future. But it’s evident that reconstructing the street as-is would be a major impediment to building out a connected low-stress bike network in our city and is an abdication of responsibility to come up with an appropriate design. There won’t be a better time to have the difficult deliberation and to move forward with a street design that prioritizes people over cars and kicking the can down the road will only cost us money and time.

It’s also time to get serious about our transportation planning and implementation and for city staff to recommit to full and meaningful public access in that process. It’s shameful and inappropriate to continue to have decisions made behind closed doors that represent the interests of the well-connected few, while ordinary residents are left scratching their head. It’s time to commit to public discourse and debate and to work to realize the transportation vision we’ve set forth that prioritizes walking, biking, and transit over private car use. How much more money do we need to spend on plans like the Sustainable Master Transportation Plan, the Madison Sustainability Plan, the Madison Area Transportation Planning Board Bicycle Transportation Plan, the South Capitol Transit Oriented Development Study, and the Judge Doyle Square Master Plan when we continue to ignore what they consistently recommend? Why spend money on a bicycle center at Judge Doyle Square or a bike bridge between Wilson Street and Law Park when they will be connected to a street without safe bike accommodations? The question in front of us right now cannot be whether we should accommodate people biking on Wilson Street, but how to best accommodate them.

This ill-advised recommendation for business as usual also inappropriately side-steps the Pedestrian, Bicycle, Motor Vehicle Commission whose charge is to “…consider all traffic policy matters, including but not limited to … geometric design and redesign of streets”. Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time that our Engineering department has attempted to push through a project without allowing for debate and deliberation by the PBMVC. In fact it has been such a recurring issue that in February of 2016 members of the PBMVC, Traffic Engineering, and Engineering met and formalized an understanding that, indeed, all major street projects should be referred to PBMVC early on in order to provide design guidance. Unfortunately, in the case of Wilson Street this has still not happened. Instead, it appears that the recommendation is based on something other than public debate and guidance from our Pedestrian, Bicycle, Motor Vehicle Commission.

Tell City Engineer Rob Phillips, Alder Mike Verveer, and Members of the Board of Public Works to get this project back on track and to have it referred to the Pedestrian, Bicycle, Motor Vehicle Commission for a comprehensive and serious evaluation of all alternatives that include safe and comfortable bike travel on Wilson.

Email addresses for the Board of Public Works members, Engineering staff, and Alder Verveer:;;;;;;;;;;;;

Also consider including your district’s alder to the list of recipients.

Here is some text that you’re welcome to incorporate into your email:

Dear Members of the Board of Public Works, dear Rob Phillips; dear Alder Verveer:

Regarding the planned reconstruction of West Wilson street, I strongly oppose moving forward with the current proposal. That proposal would leave the street as it currently is and therefore fails to take into account the needs of people biking and walking on this important connection to downtown, both going west to east, and east to west. This is not creating a “flexible design;” this is preserving the status quo that only works well for people driving. I strongly oppose any option that mixes people walking and cycling on the sidewalk, as that is neither safe nor convenient for anyone. I am also deeply disappointed with the process through which we have arrived at this point. “Public meetings” that were nowhere to be found on the city’s website; a “public input” process that ignored, well, public input; and a decision-making process that ignores the priorities of many of the city’s long-term transportation and sustainability plans and bypasses the bodies that are supposed to be in charge of making informed decision about our transportation network.

I urge you to not approve the Wilson Street cross section and to instead refer item to the Pedestrian, Bicycle, Motor Vehicle Commission for a comprehensive and serious evaluation of all alternatives that include safe and comfortable bike travel on Wilson Street..

Thank you for your consideration.