UW-Madison Transportation Services
The new path connecting the university with the near west side officially opened on Friday, August 8.
UW-Madison's new pedestrian-bicycle path parallel to Campus Drive is impressive for a variety of reasons, none more striking than the array of solar-powered light fixtures installed by Madison Gas & Electric.
Extending from University Bay Drive to a series of sidewalks near the barns on Linden Drive, the 10-foot-wide asphalt ribbon links the university's agriculture campus to the southeast fringes of Shorewood Hills by way of the VA and UW hospitals. Along the way, peds and cyclists encounter an at-grade crossing of Highland Avenue, and traverses Walnut Street via a new bridge, with a staircase on one side of Walnut and a ramp on the other providing access between the street and the new path.
The grade of the path itself is gentle enough to conform to the Americans with Disabilities Act. During one recent traverse of the path, this made for a mighty smooth and easy bike ride. And if the far ends of the new path don't appear as tied into continuing bike and ped routes as they might be, the solar-powered lights are an inspired touch.
Bob Stoffs, community services manager at MG&E, explains that the technology is "fairly simple. There's a photovoltaic panel, roughtly five feet by five feet, on each of these fixtures. PV panels are pretty slick, really, because they take sunlight and convert it into electricity."
In addition to the PV panels, each of the lightposts is equipped with advanced gel batteries that store the electricity generated by the PV panels. The lead-acid batteries can store enough electricity to light the fixtures' compact fluorescent bulbs for five nights, Stoffs notes. At night, when natural light dims to a certain level, the bulbs turn on, drawing electricity from the battery.
The installation is engineered so the units "should be able to operate here in the winter," Stoffs says. "We wanted to see how they'd work here in this latitude and this climate." He anticipates the primary maintenance for the fixtures will involve replacing the bulbs as they burn out. The batteries, too, will need to be replaced on occasion, as their performance declines. Other than that, he says, "I wouldn't expect maintenance to be a lot different from other street lights."