The City of Madison is ranked a gold level bicycle friendly community by the League of American Bicyclists, but the Badgers are going for platinum. In their efforts to make the Capital more bicycle friendly, they are adding new facilities like bicycle boulevards. I had to work in Madison on Tuesday, so I took my bike on the Badger Bus in order to try riding on some of the new treatments. I asked the driver to drop me at 6th and E. Washington on the way in so I could try riding on the Wilson Street Bicycle Boulevard, which is the first bike boulevard in Wisconsin.
A bicycle boulevard is a shared road in which bicycle travel is prioritized. Bicycle boulevards typically have a series of traffic calming devices to slow motor vehicles. They also have improvements done to intersections such as stop signs turned to halt intersecting motor vehicles and allow bicycles to keep rolling. At intersections with major roads, there are often protections such as bump outs, median refuge islands, and diverters to help people on bicycles cross more easily and safely. See more in this previous post.
Wilson Street is a low volume local street on Madison’s east side that fills a gap in the heavily used Capital City Path. Building a seemless network of routes that everyone feels comfortable riding on is a great idea.
Right from the start, I had a problem with the Wilson Street Bicycle Boulevard as I was greeted by a stop sign when transitioning from the Capital City Path onto the street at Dickinson Street. I would have assumed that the stop sign would be put on the cross street to prioritize bicycle traffic coming off the path, especially since the path probably carries more traffic than Dickinson.
I did like the signs on Wilson that alerted motorists to yield to bicycles. I also liked the use of shared lane pavement markings on Wilson and the large blue bicycle boulevard signs with the family bike.
But at the next intersection with Baldwin I found the stop sign was turned to stop bicycle traffic instead of cross traffic again. While I did not notice a speeding problem during the 30 minutes I spent observing traffic, I was expecting to find some traffic calming on Wilson, perhaps a speed hump or a neighborhood traffic circle at one of the intersections.
It seems all Madison did to create a bicycle boulevard was to put up some signs and pavement markings. This would have been OK if they had prioritized bicycle traffic at the intersections in some way or even added some traffic calming. Without either of those elements Wilson is not much more than a bike route with some pavement markings and extra signs.
So while I applaud Madison for being the first city in the state to install a bicycle boulevard, I think they kind of short-changed the bicycle boulevard concept a bit. Madison has plans for some additional bicycle boulevards, we will see if they continue to stop short on the road to a platinum rating.