To be honest, it’s impressive that Schenck’s Corners does as well as it does despite its design flaws.
Long ago given away to the car, this vital commercial hub where Atwood Ave. and Winnebago St. converge on Madison’s east side suffers nonetheless from its terrible auto-centric design.
Overcoming the narrow, unwelcoming sidewalks, confusing intersections and broad sweeping street corners are some of Madison’s most admired restaurants, breweries, chocolatiers and shops. But the untapped potential is hard to ignore.
What Schenck’s Corners needs is a major road diet. Give automobile space back to pedestrians and bicyclists, untangle the web of intersections and close pedestrian crossing distances. I offer up two options:
The first option is, in my mind, the least that should be done. The strip of Atwood Ave that spurs up to 2nd St. needs to go. Even the mayor has spoken out specifically in favor of this action.
In its place is a park or a plaza that increases seating opportunities for the restaurants that line this area, enhances the pedestrian experience, simplifies a number of intersection crossings and creates new gathering space for community events and markets.
It’s important that the pedestrian space along the businesses that border this park/plaza maintains a street-like feel in the sense that the natural decisions of pedestrians would be to stroll past the buildings. Failure to do this could create a situation where these businesses are suddenly pushed back and hidden from customer foot traffic.
This option also eliminates automobile lanes on both Winnebago St. and Atwood Avenue as the streets approach their intersection. This allows for wider sidewalks and better street activation opportunities for businesses along the southeast corner of the intersection. Crossing distances for pedestrians are also reduced.
Additionally, Atwood Ave. on the west side of Winnebago St. becomes one way going west for automobile traffic, though includes an eastbound lane for bikes. This maintains automobile access from the intersection to the nearby public parking lot but prevents that parking lot traffic from entering the intersection. This is a compromise that reduces some of the traffic going into the intersection, thus increasing safety for people on foot and on bike.
Further, 2nd St. is brought all the way up to Winnebago St. and the currently shallow turning radii are tightened. Tighter corners mean automobiles must go slower which means safer intersections for everyone.
Finally, a number of new street trees are planted, now allowed by wider sidewalks. It’s currently hard to ignore how empty and exposed Schenck’s Corners feels. Part of the solution is to build a tree canopy that gives both physical and mental shelter to people on foot while slowing traffic by creating a further tightening of the entire space.
The second option goes a step further and closes off all automobile traffic on the west side of Atwood Ave. as it intersects Winnebago St.
This option further eliminates confusing intersections and crossings for pedestrians, while expanding the park or plaza space created in option 1. Just as in option 1, it’s important to maintain the street-like feel at a pedestrian level in front of the businesses that face this park/plaza.
Similarly, just as in option one, sidewalks are widened, automobile lanes are narrowed or eliminated, crossings are shortened and corners are tightened. New trees also appear.
I’m by no means the first to suggest a redesign of this intersection. A quick Google search as I was finishing these design ideas revealed many more.
Neighbors have talked for years about taking Schenck’s Corners back from the automobile, including a number of designs produced in 2014. A particular shoutout to this creative but extremely practical design that favors bending Winnebago St. and moving the dominant plaza space east.
And a further shoutout to this Landscape Architecture Capstone Thesis by Joe Comer that considers capping the potential plaza/park on the east end with a new building. A worthy idea for consideration.
Schenck’s Corners is slated for reconstruction in the next few years. Thanks to strong neighborhood buy-in and the city’s commitment to work with the neighborhood, Madisonians should be optimistic that a new pedestrian and bicyclist-friendly Schenck’s Corners is in the future. What a dramatic difference it will make to what is already one of the city’s favorite spaces.