What kind of city do we want to be?

Madison has a decision to make. What kind of city do we want to be?

Madison is just one of five cities in the country to earn platinum-level status as a Bicycle Friendly Community from the League of American Cyclists. And the city deserves every bit of that accolade. Madison has built a substantial network of off-street bike paths that move people across the city throughout the year.

But that’s only half the equation, and here comes the difficult part: On-street bicycle infrastructure. To be sure, the city has made gains by implementing traffic calming devices, painted bike lanes and bike boulevards. But the low hanging fruit is running out, and we’re nowhere near having a safe, efficient and reliable shared transportation network on the Isthmus.

Mayor Paul Soglin has stated publically that the city won’t be building any more road capacity on the Isthmus (and where would they?). So where do we get space for more bike infrastructure?

That’s the question facing the 0-200 blocks of West Wilson Street.

Currently, the one-way street carries two lanes of traffic and accommodates two parking lanes. There’s no route for east-bound bicyclists, leaving a dangerous gap in the bicycle network on this side of downtown. Fortunately, the street is due for reconstruction this year.

And with four lanes currently dedicated to cars, there’s sufficient space to work with to better accommodate both bicycles and cars. Not every downtown street can say that.

However, the city recently unveiled its reconstruction plan and the design maintains the two travel lanes and two parking lanes. As for the bikes? The sidewalk on the south side of the street will be widened from five to eight feet to be shared by both pedestrians and bicyclists.

That is not a solution fit for a platinum city.

current reconstruction plan

current reconstruction plan

Instead, we need to seek real solutions, like converting the south parking lane into a protected contra-flow bicycle lane. After all, shouldn’t our streets prioritize moving traffic over storing cars?

City staff report businesses on the street have told them they fear for the loss of parking. This is a legitimate concern, and a common argument against adding bike lanes. But after years of experiments around the country, we have mountains of data to calm these worries.

Bike lanes don’t kill business. In fact, in many cases, removing parking lanes in favor of dedicated bike lanes increases business. Don’t believe me? Just ask Bloor Street in Toronto, 65th Street in Seattle and 300 South in Salt Lake City.

Fortunately, city staff have agreed to revisit reconstruction plans and will be presenting a series of alternatives at a public meeting on Monday, March 20 at 6:30pm in the City-County Building (room 351). A separated, contra-flow bike lane is likely one of those options.

So Madison has a decision to make. What kind of city do we want to be? Will we fight to preserve 20th century street parking or continue building a 21st century transportation network?