Madison’s City Council voted unanimously to implement a plan to include bike lanes on Sherman Avenue, the main thoroughfare on the city’s north side.
The proposal would turn the four-lane street into a two-lane street with bike lanes and a center left-turn lane.
Sherman Avenue will also be made safer by increasing places where pedestrians can cross the street and adding medians to the street, according to an operations and safety analysis done by the city.
The plan was met with criticism from the north side’s business community, which circulated a petition against the project that received more than 1,500 signatures. Sherman Avenue has 110 businesses.
Margo Dixon, the owner of the area’s UPS store, spoke out against the plan. She said the area business owners are not wealthy, and, each year, most of them evaluate if they should continue to invest their time and money in their businesses.
“The state of most of the businesses [in the area] are fragile, on the edge, and a decrease in traffic will hurt the businesses,” Dixon said.
She said it was sad the area’s alders did not believe economic impacts were important when making changes to the roads.
Ald. Satya Rhodes-Conway, District 12, said she wanted everyone to feel safe traveling on North Sherman Avenue. She said she heard from over 200 people on the issue.
“There are pedestrians in my district who tell me they do not feel safe walking across the street,” she said. “That is not OK in this city. We need to do something about it.”
David Dryer, the City of Madison’s traffic engineer, said the city has been working on the North Sherman Avenue project for 19 years. He said when the project was originally proposed in the early 1990s to deal with safety concerns, City Council did not approve it. He said this is because very few studies had been done on the issue, and street setups, like the one proposed, were new to the United States.
He said the project was reviewed again in the early 2000s because the same safety concerns arose. He added this project was proposed in 2012 due to the same pedestrian and bike safety concerns.
The engineers looked at changing the lanes and adding a standard-width bike lane because widening the street was not an option, Dryer said.
“Would we build the same street today?” Dryer said. “We would not. We would try to implement a more complete street. If we were to rebuild Sherman Avenue, it would not look like it does today.”
He said the street would be designed to have bike facilities and islands. It would also be more pedestrian-friendly.
Dryer said he believes the new plan will improve the safety of the corridor.
He said there have been 49 left-turn crashes on the street in the last five years. He said he thinks the new plan will reduce or eliminate them.
Dryer also responded to criticism that the plan, which will cost the city $100,000, is too expensive. He said a traffic signal typically costs between $100,000 and $120,000.
“A failure to agree is not a failure to listen,” Rhodes-Conway said in response to citizens who spoke out against the project.