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Saturday, July 26, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 77.0° F  Overcast
The Paper


John Nolen rehab means short-term pain, long-term gain for Madison cyclists

A diagram of the affected area on the Capital City trail.
A diagram of the affected area on the Capital City trail.
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Wednesday morning's announcement that the Capital City Trail would be closed between Broom and Lakeside streets starting next Monday, March 29, might at first blush sound like the worst thing in the history of local cycling. After a couple of deep breaths, however, it looks much more promising.

Both the trail rehabilitation project and concurrent work on John Nolen Drive (PDF) aim to address the sinking approaches to the causeway's two bridges. At speeds in the neighborhood of 35-45 miles per hour, in motor vehicles equipped with shock absorbers, the dip and rise may not register much, but it's there. Along this section of the Capital City Trail, the abrupt rise is much more pronounced. On a warm, sunny day when the path is crowded with pedestrians, joggers, in-line skaters and parents pushing prams, the approaches can present a hazard to incautious cyclists.

With project completion expected May 15, the seven-week closure promises minimal inconvenience to cyclists especially in comparison to motorists, who are facing lane reductions and travel delays projected to be moderate (during the first week) to severe (for the duration). John Nolen's North Shore Drive and Broom Street intersections are expected to be most problematic as motorists try to get around the project though some may choose to bypass the congestion by finding alternate routes, like Park Street, to get to the isthmus.

Incoming cyclists, by contrast, will follow a posted detour along a few blocks of West Lakeside, cutting over on Gilson Street to South Shore Drive, continuing on West Shore Drive to the Brittingham Park bikeway and rejoining the Capital City Trail at John Nolen's intersection with North Shore Drive. If this detour adds somewhere in the neighborhood of a mile to the bike route, it circles Monona Bay via a quiet residential neighborhood.

Arthur Ross, the city's bicycle-pedestrian coordinator, expects commuters will adapt to any inconvenience they may confront during the project. "When Monona Terrace was being built," he observes, "we didn't have huge traffic problems."

As a result of the trail's rehabilitation, he adds, "the approaches will be a lot smoother" for cyclists and other path users.

Safer, too.

Tony Fernandez, the city's engineer on the project, notes the causeway has been sinking since it was built. "The bridges are on 180-foot-deep-pilings, so they're not going anywhere," he explains. The problem is the ground next to the bridges. When the causeway was built, he continues, "they brought in good fill. It goes down at least 30 feet. It's good material, but it's sitting on top of muck." Thus that sinking feeling along John Nolen Drive.

In addition to smoothing the bridge approaches on both the road and along the Capital City Trail, notes Fernandez, the project includes other safety improvements to the bike path: Its bridge railings will be removed, sand-blasted, re-painted and remounted on the sides of the trail's bridge decks, adding about a foot of width. The chain-link fences that funnel trail traffic on the bridge approaches will be replaced by "some more decorative railing that kind of matches the railing on the bridges," Fernandez adds.

This project will build up the ground, says Fernandez, with "a lot of work below the waterline" and the addition of riprap in hopes of facilitating any future projects to mitigate yet more sinking. This effort, however, should be good for "at least 10 or 15 years," he says.

Such a span dwarfs seven weeks of deprivation.

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