The momentum to convert North Sherman Avenue into a two-lane road with pedestrian and bicycle facilities got a boost Wednesday night with the approval of the controversial plan by the Pedestrian/Bicycle/Motor Vehicle Commission.
The commission is the fourth city panel within the last week and a half to pass the resolution. The Common Council is expected to take a final vote on Tuesday.
Creating a bike-friendly corridor on North Sherman Avenue has been in the works for some 20 years. The resolution (PDF) -- proposed by Ald. Satya Rhodes-Conway and based on a report (PDF) by the city's Traffic Engineering division -- would convert 1.6 miles of North Sherman Avenue from a four-lane corridor to a two-lane road with a shared center turn lane, pedestrian islands and bike lanes on the sides. The cost is an estimated $100,000.
The road serves up to 17,000 vehicles per weekday, according to the report, with many drivers exceeding the 30-mile-per-hour speed limit. There have been 128 crashes in the last five years.
The proposed project is intended to reduce traffic speeds, make it safer for pedestrians to cross the street and create accommodations for bicyclists.
Part of the road in question, between Trailsway and Fordem Avenue, includes a strip that crosses over into the village of Maple Bluff. David Dryer, Madison's traffic engineer and parking manager, said Wednesday the city has met with Maple Bluff officials to discuss this and will do so again.
The village is not required to participate in the conversion, Dryer said, although its inclusion would make for a "cleaner project overall."
Opponents, most notably the Northside Business Association, argue the lane reduction will bottleneck traffic and force drivers to take alternative routes, which would harm businesses along North Sherman Avenue that rely on drive-by customers.
Four out of eight citizens who offered public comments at Wednesday's meeting spoke in opposition. Three made specific complaints that the proposal hadn't been publicized enough and is traveling through city commissions too quickly.
Citizens who spoke in support all said the road is unsafe and inaccessible for walkers and bikers.
Rhodes-Conway, who also spoke, said a majority of the email she's received on the project over the past several years has been supportive. She also said lane conversions of this kind can either increase or decrease traffic volumes. And sometimes, trends can reverse after a year or so.
"Honestly, what that tells me is there is very little impact on volume," she said.
Lauri Lee, president of the Northside Business Association, expressed concern about emergency vehicles trying to travel down a congested, two-lane North Sherman Avenue.
Dryer later noted that there would be enough room for cars to pull over to the curb to make way. He also said cars would be able to pass buses that are stopped at the curb.