Monroe Street at Camp Randall
There’s a special place in Madison where too much happens all at once. It’s where Monroe Street, Regent Street, Little Street, Breese Terrace, Crazylegs Lane and the Southwest Commuter Bike Path ALL come together in once cluster of chaos.
Regent and Monroe Streets are both important thoroughfares, particularly during rush hour in a city on an isthmus that does not provide many alternative opportunities. And the Southwest Path is a similarly critical bicycle commuter path for residents heading in or out downtown for work or pleasure.
Add to it all seven days every fall when Wisconsin Badger football games draw 80,000 people to the immediate area at Camp Randall Stadium.
I have to hand it to generations of traffic engineers; They’ve crafted some pretty ingenious solutions to the mess, including some crossover turn lanes at Little Street unlike anything I’ve ever seen anywhere else.
But overall, it’s a mess. Car traffic is confusing. Bike traffic is cramped and dangerous. Pedestrian access is frightening. And none of it looks very good.
This project has five aims:
1. Eliminate Crazylegs Lane. Sorry, Elroy Hirsch, but this tiny street only adds to confusion and limits the use of the triangular park in the middle of the whole situation. This is an easy solution that the city needs to consider even if nothing else is ever done.
2. Simplify the mess. Eliminate portions of streets to streamline the driver and pedestrian experience. This intersection has long tried to maximize the experience of vehicle traffic. But the easier you make a street to drive on, the faster vehicles tend to go. You can eliminate some of the features that have made it so easy for cars to zoom through the intersection, while also maintaining reasonable vehicle functionality and forcing drivers to slow down. And the fewer lanes to cross, the safer the pedestrian experience.
3. Increase bicycle and pedestrian safety. Anyone in this area not driving a car faces a daunting task. It’s not impossible to get through the web of streets, but it’s time consuming, dangerous and confusing.
4. Reposition streets and landscaping to better highlight and feature the beautiful south façade of the historic UW Field House.
5. Increase development opportunities in the immediate area and west down Monroe Street.
Solution one makes three major changes.
Most notably, the Southwest Path has been tunneled underneath the entire intersection. While some riders leave the path at this intersection, many are simply trying to get through. This option provides an uninterrupted flow of through-bicycle traffic that I believe is possible due to the elevation changes of the site. Options to exit the path at this intersection will also remain.
Crazylegs Lane is gone.
Little Street is also gone and landscaping has been enhanced in front of the Field House with more space and more prominent steps. Little Street currently serves to channel traffic through the area more efficiently, but more efficient traffic creates faster traffic which only creates a more dangerous pedestrian and bicycle experience. Vehicles should be more than able to make adequate turns at the redesigned and simplified Monroe Street/Regent Street intersection.
Additionally, new development opportunities have also opened (highlighted in gray) along Breese Terrace and Monroe Streets.
Solution 2 maintains the buried bicycle path but further alters vehicle flow in an attempt to enhance the pedestrian experience.
Gone is the crooked Monroe Street/Regent Street intersection. Instead, navigating the area by car will require more careful maneuvering through a set of one t-shaped intersection and one cross intersection. Carefully choreographed traffic lighting can ensure adequate vehicle movement is maintained.
This solution also shifts the public square from the island triangle to a larger plaza in front of the Field House. It would be much easier to program such a space and would provide exciting opportunities on football game days.
For solution 3, I threw everything out the window. I asked: ‘How can we just completely get rid of vehicle traffic in the area?’
The result was burying the Monroe Street/ Regent Street intersection. Traffic would still be able to flow in any direction underground. And on the western half of Monroe Street, vehicles would have the choice to either go underground or turn onto/ from Breese Terrace.
Is this even possible? Honestly, I’m not sure. But there certainly are some pretty dramatic elevation changes in the area, so we’re going to go ahead and dream on this one.
The Southwest Path has also been rerouted in this solution to create an entirely pedestrian experience in front of the Field House. Bicycle traffic would be routed down what is currently an alley running parallel to Monroe Street, connected to the west half of the path by an extension of North Garfield Street.
This solution also opens the opportunity for new development framing that Field House that could create an intimate public square a la the classic European urban square.
Are any of the solutions realistic? Maybe. Maybe not. But as Monroe Street continues to blossom as a shopping and dining experience, there will be more and more pressure to increase the pedestrian and bicycle experience in the area. These plans take a dramatic approach, but one that looks to the future of cities and urban spaces as more bicycle and pedestrian-oriented spaces.