Friday, March 18, 2011

Fish Hatchery Rd rebuild in 2012: Will bike and pedestrian conditions improve?

A quick post about a projects that could improve bicycling south of downtown and the campus significantly, or could just lay new pavement over a crumbling section of roadway.

Below is an email conversation about this project. In the initial email to the Bikies list, I had cc'd a few people who I thought could either provide answers, or should be aware of problems in this corridor. The second email is from Tony Fernandez, of City of Madison Engineering. I'm not sure if he is directly involved in the project, but he at least has knowledge of it, and was trying to provide some info. Much appreciated.

The third email was my response to Tony, which also got cc'd to the same group, plus Christy Bachman, who Tony had identified as the person taking the lead for the City. This is a Dane County project, so the City of Madison neither planned the project nor has direct authority, although I'm assuming they had significant input because the majority of the roadway is in the City.

I haven't heard anything from the County yet, so maybe things are better than I think.

Email #1 - from me.
There was an article in today's Cap Times about the 2012 planned rebuilding of Fish Hatchery Rd from Wingra Dr south to West Badger Rd. 
Most people on this list recognize that this stretch, although equipped with bike lanes, is an unpleasant ride, and often downright scary. Much of the problem stems from potholes and cracked pavement on the far right (the bike lane), but also the amount of trash, debris, sand, and general junk that lands in the bike lane. 
I also think that, given the amount and speed of traffic - normally far over the speed limit - the current width of the bike lanes is too narrow.
Did anyone attend the meeting mentioned in the article? Will the current conditions be improved when the project is done? Obviously, new pavement will be a huge improvement, but are there any other changes planned? 
And while the project is ongoing, will there be some accommodations for those bicyclists that still need to use Fish Hatchery to get around? Due to the Arb on the west and the lack of north-south routes to the east between Fish Hatch and Park, Fish Hatchery Rd is often the only option in this area. 
I have cc'd a cross section of City of Madison, Dane County, and Bike Fed folks. The road is in the City (mostly, although there are sections in Town of Madison), but Dane County is doing the project, since it is a county highway. 
Thanks for any info. I'm sure many people on the list would be interested in any insights.

Response from Tony Fernandez
This is a federally funded pavement replacement project. Dane County is the lead agency and Matt Rice is doing the plans. My supervisor Christy Bachmann is the main liaison for the City of Madison. My understanding is that the type of funding pretty much restricts the project to replacing the existing pavement, and the current plans call for bike lanes for the full length of the project, but no significant widening anywhere. To get the latest information about the current design and any planned public involvement activities or other opportunities for input you should probably contact Matt or Pam Dunphy at Dane County Highways.

Email #3 - from me
I didn't expect widening, but perhaps a change in the location or width of paint? Don't know the width of the curb-to-curb, but since traffic is consistently well above the speed limit, I would imagine the MV lane widths are pretty generous. Might a little narrowing of the other lanes - by even 6 inches - allow a slightly wider bike lane and also slow the average speed? As Mike Rewey has repeatedly pointed out, just making sure that the 6 inch bike lane marking starts in the MV lane, and does not cut off 6 inches of the bike lane makes a big difference.
I also posted the questions to nudge the folks in charge of maintenance (sweeping on a road next to the Arb, anyone?) to perhaps be more diligent when the project is done. The Fish Hatchery corridor suffers from a multitude of issues that make it a crappy bike route, but there is really no alternative. Fast traffic (law enforcement and engineering); higher traffic volumes; ugly, car-based land use (planning); and a multi-jurisdictional roadway leads to poor maintenance.  Because Fish Hatchery is so huge south of the Beltline, and also a major exit off the Beltline, it feels like a fast highway, but it is actually an urban roadway - one that passes through several neighborhoods with a high percentage of low-income resident. There is also a middle school, the Arb, and a large health care facility in this stretch. 
Because it feels like a highway, drivers are less sympathetic to bicyclists and pedestrians in the area (and public right of way), because they wonder why anyone would be on foot or bike on this big, fast road. Well, there really isn't much choice.
So, I think with a rebuilding project, even without changing the curbs, there are a few things that could be changed to make this road more bike and pedestrian friendly. Hey, how about painting the few crosswalks with wider markings too? I hear from lots of kids and parents trying to cross that street to get to Wright Middle School. 
Sorry, this really isn't a rant against anyone in particular, but more a plea that maybe something can still be done to improve the situation. I was really hoping to hear, "Yes! We are doing those things. We know it sucks, and we took all that into consideration, and here's how it will be different when the work is done." 
Still hoping. 

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