City of Madison seeks public input for city planning The Badger Herald
The City of Madison Department of Transportation uses two online platforms as part of its Let’s Talk Street campaign surveys appeal to the public for what they value in terms of street development and public transit.
The campaign comes at a time when city planning must balance the interests of groups such as pedestrians, cyclists, drivers and businesses, said Transportation Policy and Planning Board member Chris McCahill.
The city has faced several recent clashes over its urban planning, including tensions with downtown businesses over its planned bus rapid transit program and protests following several pedestrian fatalities This year. local leaders intend to use the values the public submits in the survey to help guide its future planning, McCahill said.
A major driver of Madison’s urban planning is the significant population growth it has experienced over the past 10 to 20 years, said James LaGro, professor of urban planning at the University of Wisconsin.
The city has coped with its population growth in two ways. The first is peripheral development – which takes place on the outskirts of the city – and the second is the filling and redevelopment of areas that are sparsely populated and not economically beneficial, such as shopping malls and factories, a said LaGro.
LaGro said outlying development means people who live on the outskirts of town and work or go to school closer to the city center see cars as the only viable mode of transportation, increasing the number of cars circulating downtown during the day.
“Where development happens has a huge impact on transportation demand,” LaGro said.
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Another goal of Let’s Talk Streets is to focus on the voices of UW students and people of color, said Renee Callaway, administrator of pedestrian bikes for the city of Madison.
Both groups experience city streets in unique ways — UW students tend to be pedestrians and transit users, while people of color are more likely to live in low-cost areas. accident high, Callaway said. People of color are also more likely to have been actively harmed by development in the past, Callaway said.
Resistance to the city’s proposed Bus Rapid Transit, or BRT, system on State Street is another factor the city needs to consider when planning, according to NoBRTOnStateStreet.com. Many State Street businesses and organizations support BRT but oppose building the larger stations that BRT would require on State Street.
Madison’s modern market manager Emma Stepien said she was concerned about BRT’s reach.
“While I’m very excited for BRT as a bus driver and think Madison needs improvements with public transit, I certainly have reservations about the current downtown route and I’m concerned about what this will mean for the future of State Street,” Stepien mentioned. “There will be fewer stops, fewer routes and I have a problem with that because it doesn’t seem very fair to reduce bus service to communities that need it most to implement BRT.”
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Of the two surveys, one was for the general public and the other for people with disabilities, Callaway said.
The goal of the surveys is to leverage feedback the city has already received regarding its urban planning, while also considering accessibility, Callaway said.
“With every project we do, we try to look at accessibility and see what we can do to improve it,” Callaway said.
Any change on the street will inevitably come with trade-offs, McCahill said. For example, longer crossing times for pedestrians will lead to longer waiting times for drivers, he explained.
“It’s always that you have to give up a little convenience, or so it seems – sometimes it’s less than 30 seconds of your life that you give up on a ride – to improve safety,” said Callaway said.
Two of the campaign’s initiatives are Complete Green Streets and Vision Zero, according to Let’s Talk Streets website. Complete Green Streets focuses on sustainability and tackling climate change, while Vision Zero aims to reduce road deaths to zero by 2030, according to the website.
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Vision Zero, in particular, has recently gained attention following an increase in traffic crashes and fatalities in Madison and wider Dane County, Callaway said.
“In many ways, I think it’s about changing the way we’ve long thought about streets and public spaces, away from the main goal of moving lots of cars as quickly as possible and getting direct more towards what are the things we can do to make sure everyone on a street is safe and can get to where they need to be,” McCahill said.