How a Bike Accident Helped Neighbors Improve Street Safety

Next Monday, Sept. 23, you'll have the chance to weigh in on how to improve street safety along University Ave. -- how can these efforts improve street safety in YOUR neighborhood?

Busy traffic along University Ave. points to the need to improve street safety

When Madison resident Ben Brubaker and his children would try to cross University Ave. near their westside home, they often encountered "hostility and extreme close calls with motorists." Ben shared his experience with neighbors and discovered they had similar stories, too. Then, a nearby resident was hit on his bicycle -- he was okay, but the accident inspired Ben and his neighbors to organize.

University Ave. is one of Madison's more heavily trafficked thoroughfares, carrying more then 50,000 vehicles every weekday. Ben and his neighbors set up a Facebook page, where they document the ongoing accidents and near-misses along the busy road, involving pedestrians and cyclists. They called themselves "Citizens for Safe Corridors."

When the group organized a meeting at Shorewood Hills Village Hall, it got the attention of city planners and other city officials. The response, Ben says, "was huge."

The truth is, you only need to drive around Madison for an hour to realize that University Ave. isn't the only major road with safety issues. With new construction in the works along major arteries like E. Washington Ave., Stoughton Road, and Mineral Point Road, the importance of improving street safety for pedestrians and cyclists has possibly never been greater. The summer and fall season of road construction -- combined with the start of a new school year -- only exacerbates the problem, creating confusion for drivers, pedestrians, and cyclists alike.

So Ben and others from their group are taking their message on the road, in the hopes other neighborhoods will begin organizing similar efforts to improve street safety in their areas. Interested neighborhood associations can reach out to the group through their Facebook page to learn more.

In the meantime, Madison residents will be able to share their stories and experiences with road safety along University Ave. with City officials, this coming Monday, Sept. 23.

In March 2013, the City of Madison, the Village of Shorewood Hills, and UW-Madison began a traffic study along University Ave. Monday's community meeting will be the last chance residents can provide input before the study is complete.

You can join them Monday, Sept. 23, from 6-8 p.m., at Covenant Presbyterian Church's Bradfield Hall, 326 South Segoe Road.

Citizens for Safe Corridors hopes the City will adopt its seven "asks" -- a list of recommendations they created through brainstorming sessions with residents, their local alder, and the City's traffic engineer:

  1. Create obvious and consistent crosswalks, utilizing zebra stripes or colored paint throughout the corridor from Whitney Way eastward (city-wide consistency would be most effective). Consensus opinion is this would minimize driver, biker, and pedestrian confusion as to expectations at intersections and crosswalks, while increasing crosswalk visibility.
  2. Install "Vehicles Stop Here" signs on already existing posts at every white stop bar through the corridor (city-wide consistency would be most effective). This will work to enforce a buffer between the crosswalk and vehicle, at the same time educating drivers who may not know the meaning of the white bar.
  3. Install a pedestrian-activated crossing light and a half-signal intersection at University Ave. and Blackhawk Ave. (as at Ridge St./Marshall Ct.). Consensus opinion is that this type of intersection provides a safer and more accessible crossing, at the same time would work to calm North Blackhawk Ave. traffic flow.
  4. Install pedestrian-activated flashing signs throughout the corridor (city-wide consistency would be most effective) which state: "No Right Turn When Pedestrians Are Present". This will work to enforce pedestrian right-of-way in the crosswalk, while educating drivers who may not know pedestrians have the right-of-way.
  5. Change pedestrian crossing signals on both south and north sides of University Avenue to allow a pedestrian lead time before the vehicle signal changes to green. At the Shorewood Blvd. intersection, a blinking yellow light should be suspended (as at Spooner and Monroe St.) that is visible to drivers from both Shorewood Blvd. and Hill St. This allows pedestrians to safely enter the crosswalk, gain time and visibility in advance of approaching vehicles.
  6. Reduce the speed limit to 30 mph on University Avenue between Whitney Way and Farley St./University Bay Dr. and enforce all posted speed limits. This clarifies driving expectations within mixed use neighborhoods, reduces noise levels, and can save lives. Speed reduction can also reduce pollution by decreasing the incidence of acceleration, deceleration, and braking. (US National Research Council, 1995).
  7. Create a plan to target system deficits and broader public education needs. This should include addressing low standards of driver's education programs regarding biking and pedestrian laws and safety, as well as advocacy for intersection cameras for enforcement purposes.

If you'd like to share your opinion about how the City can improve street safety along University Ave., be sure to mark your calendars for Sept. 23. And if you'd like to see similar efforts to improve safety for pedestrians and cyclists in your neighborhood, contact your neighborhood association and see what you can do if you work together.