Madison, Ind., to redesign its
historic Main Street
City officials focusing on safety, beauty, economics
(September 2020) – Part of Madison, Ind.’s allure has always been its iconic river town feel. With its beautiful vistas of the Ohio River and more than 133 blocks of historic buildings, residents have something of which to be proud. And visitors have something new to experience with each visit. Now the Main Street area is on the edge of a redesign project that will move it forward with economic, safety and aesthetic benefits.
Nicole Schell, Planner and Preservation Coordinator for the city of Madison, said that no matter what the final plans call for, the look and feel of Main Street will be preserved. “It will only improve Main Street and make it more pedestrian friendly.”
In the past, many citizens have voiced concerns about safety issues, parking and roadway repairs – all issues to be addressed in the redesign, officials say. The city of Madison took control of Main Street (State Road 56) from Jefferson Street to the top of Hanover Hill on July 1. Prior to that, the Indiana Department of Transportation had control of this 4.4-mile stretch roadway.
The initial decision to make the change occurred in 2014 when the city agreed to assume control and maintenance of this strip of State Road 56. Now that it’s official, the city can move forward with the third phase of a much larger comprehensive initiative that focuses on design, economic development, traffic flow and crosswalk safety, officials say.
The project kicked off with the construction of the new Milton-Madison Bridge, which opened in 2014. This was followed by the building of the bridge approach in Indiana that features a connector road linking Main Street directly to the bridge, which in turn links Madison to Milton. The Indiana bridge approach opened June 18, with construction still ongoing to finish the project, including drainage work, paving and connecting the pedestrian walkway directly to the approach roadway. The third leg of the initiative will be a redesign of Main Street.
Andrew Forrester, the former Community Relations Manager under the late Madison Mayor Damon Welch, said that when he worked for the city of Madison, the original redesign of Main Street project “was included in the Stellar Plan because it kept coming up in conversation and in our surveys and discussions with the public about things that could be done to take Madison from good to great. We saw it as an opportunity to re-imagine Main Street, re-think sidewalk spaces, parking spots (which are always a topic of discussion among business owners), bike lanes and traffic speeds.”
Madison was a Stellar Project recipient in 2017, enabling the city to receive grant money from a statewide economic development program to help improve and upgrade various aspects of the community. A Stellar Project Committee still meets regularly in Madison to manage the various projects.
Forrester, who now holds the position of Director of Intergovernmental Affairs at the Office of Indiana Gov. Eric J. Holcomb, said that “The redesign of Main Street was indeed part of our Stellar Communities “Strategic Investment Plan,” which detailed the projects that the community felt would make the most impact for the future success and growth of the community.” But it was included in the plan “as a “Complementary Project,” which meant that it helps Madison achieve the goals of our Stellar Plan but did not have any specific state funding allocated to it. There were potential funding sources identified, but the project would not be funded with state Stellar funds.”
Many of the communities that have renovated their Main Street commercial district traffic patterns have done so to “accommodate additional parking, slow traffic down, add additional places to sit, eat and drink, and make sure that pedestrians feel safe and comfortable,” he said. All qualities needed to attract residents, businesses and tourists and allow Madison to be showcased as a model for how local state agencies can partner for the benefit of its citizens, he added.
Madison Mayor Bob Courtney said that the goal is to look forward to improving the future. The project is about safety, quality of life and economic appeal.
It will not be a quick project since there is a “whole process we are going through,” said Courtney. “On July 1, the road was legally transferred to the city from the state of Indiana. We have to evaluate traffic patterns and are going through City Council now” to see what traffic amendments may need to be made.
This includes moving heavy traffic off Main Street and imposing a 10-ton weight limit on vehicles traveling through town. An ordinance was put into effect in 1958, and now “we need to start enforcing it,” Courtney said.
As of Aug. 3, Madison police officers began enforcing the weight limit and speeding to slow down drivers who travel through the center of town to get to the west end.
Courtney said he thinks the result will be the elimination of roughly 2,000 heavy trucks per month, making Main Street safer for the cars, bicyclists, pedestrians and the many golf carts that use the same area. Some trucks will still be allowed on Main Street for deliveries to local businesses.
Rerouting trucks will follow INDOT’s reconfiguration of State Road 56 and U.S. Hwy. 421 for the new bridge access route. These two highways will merge at the end of the bridge and continue to the intersection of Jefferson and Main streets, then travel north up the U.S. Hwy. 421 hill. Trucks traveling north will need to follow U.S. Hwy. 421 straight through the roundabout at the top of the hill, while trucks traveling west will follow State Road 56 west through the roundabout where State Roads 56 and 62 merge and become Clifty Drive on the hilltop.
Clifty Drive is an already busy area but should be able to handle the extra traffic from the new route, Courtney said. The city has installed directional signage, which when coupled with updated GPS systems, will make the route easy to follow.
Courtney said the city has met with and hired the design firm Ratio Architects to work on the redesign plans. The Indianapolis-based firm “has done a lot of work in the community and was involved in our prior comprehensive plan over the last decade. We feel they know our community and its needs.”
He said that another reason the city thought Ratio would be a good choice was the success of the firm’s past similar projects in other locations. One such project was the Main Street streetscape design for Branson, Mo., said John Jackson, Principal & Director of Landscape Architecture and Urban Design for Ratio.
Another example of their work can be found in Shelbyville, Ind., the most recent community in which the firm has worked. While their own experience speaks for itself, Jackson said in order to find the right fit for Madison’s Main Street, “We will look at the best practices all over the country.”
Tony Steinhardt III, Principal & Vice President of Ratio, said the city reached out to their firm and hired them at the end of June. Their recent work on the bridge approach influenced Courtney to choose them.
He said the mayor is focused on the Master Plan and development in phases. There are many districts within the two-mile stretch, such as commercial, residential and historical. “We want to have a common thread throughout the corridor and redesign within this context. Madison is a unique town.” said Steinhardt, a Madison native.
Jackson said a large part of their practice has focused on urban design – a category that has influenced the “way we think about this project.” It also considers the area between and around the buildings. He cited as examples additional projects the firm has worked on in Nashville, Ind., Shelbyville and Highland Park, Ill.
While the firm has not created any new plans, they are in the process of “educating themselves about a corridor like this,” said Jackson. “It covers an extensive two-mile scope, from Jefferson Street up the hill to the entry to the (Clifty Falls) state park. When you’ve got a corridor that size, you need to learn about it first.”
So far the firm has developed base maps on trees, drainage structures and traffic lanes as part of the inventory analysis phase. This will be followed by a public engagement phase, which will include public meetings and a steering committee. After that, “We will listen to what everybody has to say and offer our own expertise,” said Jackson.
Courtney said he is in the process of putting together a steering committee to study the project. He wants to break the plan into three phases “to show the progress on each area. We want to take our time because the streets will impact our next generation.”
He optimistically said he hopes to wrap up the plan for the redesign by the end of the year or before. “I view this as a comprehensive plan for this particular project. It’s not a wish list; it’s an action plan.”
Jackson said the project is a large project to tackle. Things to consider include going from four traffic lanes to three. For a city like Madison with a large roadway through the middle of it, “there is a lot of real estate dedicated to getting cars from one place to another. It’s an opportunity to re-budget that real estate in that right of way.”
“We’ve told Ratio we want to consider all options,” said Schell. “One thing we want to focus on is traffic calming, especially through the central business district.”
No open houses or public forums have been held yet, she said. But when they are, input will be needed from the community.
One business owner looking forward to a public meeting is Cara Fox, owner of The Little Golden Fox. September marks nine years for her business at 602 W. Main St., and she said she hasn’t been told a lot of details so far about the project but hopes a public meeting will answer some of her questions.
She, like many business owners and local residents, is “excited that we are at a point that we need to explore options.” She said that “with so much craziness in the world now due to COVID, Madison is thriving.”
All involved want to keep their economic investment going strong. She said that even though she is away from the heart of downtown now, speeding is a big issue she hopes the redesign will address.
She said she is glad to see the weight limit restriction as well. Big trucks “literally rattle my building. On my end of town, at that point, they are picking up speed.” As to delivery trucks being limited on Main, Fox said the majority of retailers receive products by Fed Ex or UPS, very seldom from actual delivery trucks.
She concedes there is a lot of wear and tear to the road from traffic. And “the amount of debris put off by big trucks is amazing.”
Courtney said he agrees that the “damage to the road is significant. In preparation for the redesign, we needed to address the truck traffic first. Those who own businesses downtown will notice a difference.”
The redesign project will also address such things as bike lanes, pedestrian crosswalks and golf cart lanes – all amenities that Fox believes “can definitely be dealt with.” As to vehicle parking, “if people can’t park, it becomes an issue.”
Fox said, “I would love to have a crosswalk at my block in particular. There are a few areas that would definitely benefit from one.”
“We have a beautiful Main Street,” said Happy Smith, the Design Committee Chair for the Madison Main Street Program. “Now is our chance to restore Main Street to a destination and not just be a road that takes you from one town to another.”
She believes ideas for the redesign will require a lot of considerations, such as the bike and golf lanes and possible angled parking. “Everybody has an opinion.” She believes the city will listen to the communities concerns and that INDOT “incorporated the community in the process for the recent project.”
Valecia Crisafulli, president of the Madison Main Street Program board, said she agrees with Courtney that safety is one of the key issues in the redesign. “Safety is the top priority.”
Attraction for an area has a lot to do with safely and multi-mobile access, she said. This is a chance to incorporate other modes of transportation in the downtown area by adding bike or golf cart lanes.
She said the plans need to look carefully at things such as signage – things that will create a “safer environment for pedestrians and everyone else.” She said Look Alive Louisville, a Pedestrian Safety Program for the city of Louisville, Ky,, is a good model to go by.
As a cyclist, Crisafulli knows how important designated bike lanes can be. She said that once a week, there seem to be traffic issues on Main and Jefferson as drivers turn left onto Hwy. 421. With traffic coming west on Main Street from the bridge, they make a right turn when people are crossing the street, which can cause an accident if both parties are not careful.
She said that once a redesign plan has been completed and implemented, Madison “will become more attractive. People already want to stop and see what we have here. It will only enhance what we’ve got.”
Crisafulli said, “It’s a beautiful place where people want to gather. This is an opportunity to add to it and make it safer. We want to create a culture of safety.” With more and more people wanting to live downtown, “we want to create a place people want to be.”
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