Friday, June 17, 2011

Todd Dr "bike lanes" are not

Earlier today, I posted a blog entry/rant about crossing the Beltline by bike or foot. It all bubbled up because there was yet another bicycle-car crash on Whitney Way neat the Beltline. Why does it seem we obsess and spend hundreds of millions of dollars to be sure car drivers are safe, and yet we can't spend a fraction of that to make sure that people using non-motorized transportation also have safe and convenient facilities.

Instead of tacking on the post below to the earlier one, I thought I'd tell a story about a time when we did have money to do things right, and yet the money ended up elsewhere, and the results were not even safe when the project was done.

Back when I was an alder and Mike Rewey was just leaving the Wisconsin DOT, Mr Rewey got some funding to fix a safety problem: people were trying to get across the Beltline between Fish Hatchery Rd and Park St. They were cutting holes in the fence and running across the Beltline. some of them got hurt doing that. 

Why were they taking such risks? Because they wanted to get to jobs in the area of Greenway Cross, and they lived in the Burr Oaks and Bram's Addition areas of the city, which is traditionally a lower income area, in other words, full of people who would like to work at the entry-level jobs in the area directly across the Beltline from them. The Fish Hatchery Rd crossing of the Beltline is not friendly to pedestrians, and for people on foot, it's pretty far out of the way to just get across the highway.

So Mr. Rewey got funding to build a pedestrian-bike bridge to connect the two pieces of Perry St on either side of the Beltline. 

However, some of the businesses in the area were concerned with making this connection, and the project was killed by the local alder. The money was diverted to another project farther west, rebuilding Todd Dr. 

There was just one problem, and that was that Wisconsin generally doesn't allow targeted bicycle and pedestrian money to be used just to add sidewalks and bike lanes when a road is rebuilt. The Wisconsin DOT, and the various MPOs and municipalities that follow the WisDOT guidelines, figure that bike lanes and sidewalks are part of the roadway anyway, and since it's not really all that expensive to add them when the road is being rebuilt, you don't have to use a special, and very limited pot of money to out them in.

I argued that this was an inappropriate use of the funds that were supposed to alleviate a very specific safety problem, but I lost that battle and the money was used to add "bicycle and pedestrian accommodations" to the Todd Dr . project. 

So imagine my chagrin when I went down to Johannsen's Greenhouse, next to the rebuilt intersection, and found that the "bike lanes" were to the right of a right-turn-only lane! Uh huh. So you are riding along in the "bike lanes" - note that they are not actually marked as such, because they are in the wrong place - and all those cars are going to be cutting you off to get on the Beltline. Great. 

After a couple of years of noticing this, I finally remembered to mention it to a couple of people who should be able to fix it. I sure hope so, because what exists now is very dangerous. And really, this is what we get when we put in "bicycle and pedestrian accommodations" with money allocated to solve a bicycle-pedestrian safety problem? I sure as hell hope not!

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?!

Friday, June 10, 2011

Storm Damage closes several state trails, rangers occupied at Capitol

Brigit Brown, State Trails Coordinator at the DNR, sent out the following info about sections of some state trails being closed due to storm damage from Wednesday.

Our staff is working on getting all the debris from the storms cleared, but we've got a fair amount of storm damage around here and just a handful of staff to deal with a pretty large area. We're pulling in folks from all around, but we've got a number of our rangers who have to work security at the capitol, and damage at other properties that has to be dealt with. Anyway, we're working as hard as we can to get everything cleared, but as of yesterday, parts of the Badger, Sugar River, and Military Ridge are closed. We put the word out (press release) yesterday through our "official" channels, but that's not to say that the news has reached everyone (or even many).

There are two crews right now working to get Military Ridge open. They'll continue to work through the weekend (if needed) to get it done.

Please know that there are several wash outs on the Military Ridge that we won't be able to fix right away but as we're clearing debris, we're marking the washouts with cones (some are holes, some not so obvious soft areas).

Note that, although people are desperately needed to clean up after a major storm, some of the DNR folks are up at the Capitol, occupied as palace guards.

I can't blame the DNR for this. They are being called out to work where their bosses - the Governor and the Legislature, or maybe the DNR Secretary - tell them to go. It just illustrates that how screwed up the situation at the Capitol is, once again.