Soglin Transportation Plan Makes Step Towards New Tansit Master Plan

Monday, September 12, 2011

There's a Madison Metro bus stop on Northport Drive, across from Warner Park. The stop is popular with both north side residents and people attending events like Mallards baseball games.

But anyone attempting to cross Northport at that location does so at their own risk: There's no crosswalk to guide pedestrians safely across the busy four-lane thoroughfare.

"If we really want to do things like increase bus ridership, we need to make sure people can actually get to the stop," says Madison Ald. Satya Rhodes-Conway.

Those are the types of issues that might be addressed in a proposed "multi-modal" transportation plan for the city of Madison. (Multi-modal is a planning term referring to many different modes of transportation such as cars, bikes, walking or transit.)

Mayor Paul Soglin has included $500,000 in his new capital budget to hire a consultant for what's billed as the first comprehensive look at the link between transportation and land use in the city.

"Major goals for the Master Plan for a Livable City will be to make Madison a more walkable and bikeable city and to create more opportunities for bicycling and transit transportation. The planning process will include a review of land use plans and build on existing transportation plans for bicycling, pedestrians, transit and autos. Public outreach and participation will be a major component of the planning process," the mayor wrote in his budget announcement.

The city has scores of planning documents regarding neighborhoods, parkways, bicycle routes and roadways but nothing that puts all the pieces together, says Rhodes-Conway, who represents the Warner Park area.

"We have many plans but most of them are either so high-level, like the Comprehensive Plan, or are geographic and look at just one specific neighborhood," she says.

The effort being forwarded by the mayor still needs approval by the City Council as part of budget deliberations, but it could set the tone for more "infill development" -- or redevelopment within the existing urban setting.

"If we don't build up more areas within the existing city, you are moving toward more auto use," says mayoral aide Anne Monks.

If planning money is approved, the mayor would appoint a special committee for recommendations on what to include in the transportation plan. An independent consultant would then be hired to work with staff on drafting a final report.

"What I'd like to see are not specific recommendations for an area or a street but rather a thorough cross-check of existing plans, so we can see places they overlap or contradictions where they don't work well together," says Rhodes-Conway.

The plan will not focus on bicycling per se, although biking will be certainly be a part of any Madison transportation discussion, Monks says.

Soglin got off to a rocky start with Madison's rabid bicycling crowd, many of whom had been staunch supporters of former Mayor Dave Cieslewicz.

Some local "bikies" were still bristling over a blog post in 2007 in which Soglin derided those who insist on bicycle commuting during snowstorms. Then, shortly after winning the election, Soglin talked about canceling "Ride the Drive" because of complaints from downtown businesses and churches about closing off John Nolen Drive to traffic. The route has since been tweaked, with a fall "Ride the Drive" scheduled for Sunday Sept. 25.

But Monks notes that Soglin has been a bicyclist for years and as mayor previously was instrumental in developing many of the current routes.

"He still rides a lot," she says.

In fact, I remember seeing Soglin back in the 1980s wearing his wool shorts and pedaling a vintage 10-speed down to Paoli. That should earn him some street cred with a new generation of cyclists.

Speaking of bicycling, La Crosse last month became the first city in Wisconsin to adopt a "complete streets" ordinance which requires that bicycles and pedestrians be considered when reconstructing streets.

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Written by Mike Ivy