Friday, June 17, 2011

Another bicyclist injured on Whitney Way

Last time it was just north of the Beltline, and the driver tried to drive off, dragging the bicyclist under her car. Fortunately, the driver of a Roto-Rooter truck blocked her so the injured woman could be helped. But the driver then sped off again.

This time the hit-and-run was just south of the Beltline, but also on Whitney Way.

Sounds to me like there is a need for some safety improvements, or maybe another route option in this area. The Beltline crossings in this area are pretty far apart for a bicyclist or pedestrian. It is roughly a mile to the Grand Canyon underpass to the west, and about 3/4 mile to the Hammersley overpass to the east (and that is as the crow flies, not as the bicyclist is able to use on-ground connections.)

With two crashes within one month, is that enough to get hazard mitigation funding? There is a nice cul-de-sac at Forward Dr south of the Beltline, and another one on Schroeder Ct., just west of Whitney. Maybe we can get a crossing there? The Odana Golf Course makes it a bit tough to find a crossing between Whitney and Hammersley, but maybe we can find a way.

And just by coincidence, when I went in to Google Maps streetview just north of the Beltline on northbound Whitney Way, there is a bicyclist in the shot!  [edit: On second glance, I actually think that is a scooter, but it's still a horrid place to be on a small vehicle that doesn't go as fast as the cars generally are moving.]

Crossing the Beltline by foot or by bike via the normal car routes - Fish Hatchery, Whitney, Rimrock, Mineral Point, Old Sauk Rd, etc. - is a scary experience, even for experienced cyclists. I've done it many times, and I don't like it. I do it because I have to get somewhere, and just like most people, want to get there by the fastest and most direct route.

If we want people to be able to go the same places by bike and by foot as they do when in a car - and I think that should be our goal - we need to spend as much time thinking about making the routes as safe for bicyclists and pedestrians as we do solving safety problems for motorists. After all, if two cars are in a sideswipe crash at 25-30 mph, or a car bumps another from behind, there will be damage, but likely not major injury to either driver or any passenger. But if a car sideswipes a bicyclist at 30 mph, or rear ends a bicyclist when the speed differential is 15 mph (bicyclist going 15 and car going 30), the bicyclist is likely to end up in the hospital.

We spend hundreds of millions of dollars every year in Wisconsin making sure that motorists are both not overly delayed and are as safe as possible. That doesn't stop all the deaths and injuries, but we have engineered the roads as close to fool-proof as possible. We cut down trees, make the roads wide and the curves gentle. We put up signs and lights as warnings. We paint every road with stripes and arrows, and take over huge swaths of valuable land - good farmland or pricey urban land - to accommodate safe and fast roads.

Fortunately, bicycle and pedestrian accommodations are nowhere near as expensive as roads. A fe years back, the Madison Transportation Planning Board (MPO) was asked to make up a list of what it would do with $50 million in federal funding for bicycle and pedestrian projects. Almost everything we have been planning for for 15 years could be built with that money.

That seems like a lot of money, until you consider that the "interim fixes" to Verona Rd - just to make it work for motorists until 2030 - will cost... what's it up to now? Maybe $140 million? And then the planned freeway conversion in 2030 will be another $200 million. (The DOT web site is nowhere close to up to date on this project. I just attended a meeting on Wednesday where they presented a new version of Stage 1.)

So OK, that's a really big road, and several state highways. How about the S&M intersection on the west side of Madison. That is two county roads, but the City of Madison is picking up most of the local share. Just that one intersection, not even an interchange with the Beltine, will cost about $20 million. And that doesn't count the rest of the "improvements" to County Hwy M to accommodate all the commuters between Verona and Madison (or Middleton.)

So why is it so hard to make it safe for bicyclists and pedestrians to get across the Beltline? Why do we have to have a separate, and very small pot of money for that, instead of just building these projects just like we build big highways?

PBIC image - Dan Burden
The City of Madison has been pretty good about building good, safe connections for bicyclists and pedestrians, but that's partly because we have also been able to tap into federal earmarks. What will happen when those dry up? Will we keep building bigger and bigger roads, even as [motorized] vehicle miles traveled decreases, and bicycle mileage grows? And will be keep putting off the projects that would allow people to safely, easily, and quickly get across the barriers that we have created with... wait for it... all the big road?!

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