By now we are all familiar with the reality show
Biggest Loser, in which obese contestants vie for bragging
rights after having starved themselves and exercised weekly until the
skinniest one left standing is declared the winner. Well now Main Street
could become Madisons Biggest Loser if city officials
pursue a proposed project called a Road Diet to convert the
citys main drag into two lanes, complete with angled parking, bicycle
lanes and a center turning lane. The goal is to slow down traffic and
encourage motorists to pull into angled parking considered
more desirable to shoppers than parallel parking and visit
local retailers and restaurants.
The idea to study the options of angled parking on a two-laned Main Street
originated from Seattle-based tourism consultant Roger Brooks Branding
Report, for which the city two years ago paid $50,000 for him to complete.
Brooks advocates two lanes over four lanes as a way to promote the local
economy and keep the citys downtown flourishing.
Since then, Brooks suggestions have been hotly debated and tweaked
by a 14-member Branding Committee that has met monthly for
more than a year. Brooks own suggestion for a brand
Americas Traditional Lifestyle for Madison
has been rejected by the committee, but several tenants of the report
have been pursued by various Branding Subcommittees. The most notable
of these is a redesign plan for Broadway Street that would incorporate
landscaping and other features to create a gathering place for residents
and visitors in the heart of downtown.
Main Street is currently four
lanes but a study is under way to
possibly convert it to two lanes plus
a center turning lane, complete
with bicycle lanes.
Meantime, Madison Mayor Tim Armstrong has recently began studying the
idea of a two-laned Main Street. In fact, consultants John Carr and Tim
Sorensen of Wilber Smith Associates worked up renditions of four options
on how the Road Diet could be done. The renditions were created
as a free service to the city as a thankyou for all the cooperation
on the Milton-Madison Bridge Replacement Project, according to Armstrong.
They called me up and said they would like to help and they brought
in renditions to show how it might work, since John Carr was part of a
similar project on Euclid Avenue in Lexington, Ky., Armstrong said.
Relating his experience in Lexington, Carr said: This project was
similar to the Madison Main Street proposal in that Kentucky Transportation
Cabinet took a four-lane downtown street and converted it to a three-lane
street with a center turn lane and bike lanes. We had more than our share
of critics, both inside and outside the KYTC, because they thought the
reduced number of lanes would create more congestion and bottlenecks. The
result was that it did not. Traffic flowed well. Even the nay-sayers
admitted the project was a success.
The proposal for Madisons Main Street dieting allows
for bump outs for outdoor dining and landscaping and sidewalks,
making the street more pedestrian friendly a central part
of Brooks recipe for success. In fact, in Wilber Smith Associates
free study of one block of Main Street from Jefferson to Mulberry,
the two-lane option increased the number of parking spots from 24 to 31.
The four options presented by Wilber Smith Associates for a two-laned
Main Street are:
1. Parallel parking and bicycle lanes on both sides and a center turning
2. angled parking on both sides with no bicycle lanes and a center turning
3. angled parking and bicycle lanes on both sides and no center turning
4. back-in-only angled parking on the south side with bicycle lanes on
both sides and parallel parking on the north side. This fourth option
would require motorists to back into the angled space for easier departure
and to help keep traffic flowing.
Armstrong said he favors the fourth option. But if any of these options
garnered community support, he has quickly learned that there are many
potential roadblocks that must be overcome. Chief among them
is the cost to clean, snowplow and maintain State Hwy. 56, which runs
through downtown, should the city take over ownership of the street from
the Indiana Department of Transportation. Whats more, INDOT insists
that if it relinquishes control, the city must take over the stretch of
highway from Jefferson Street downtown all the way to the top of Hanover
Much of that western stretch lies in the county and includes two roadway
bridges, meaning the Jefferson County Commissioners would have to agree
to help maintain its share of highway.
The three county commissioners say they have heard informally discussions
about the idea but the commission has not formally been approached, said
Commissioner Julie Berry. The Commissioners have not had a chance
to discuss this topic at a meeting, but my personal feeling would be that
taking over that section of State Hwy. 56 would not be in the best interests
of Jefferson County taxpayers, she said. Long-term paving,
maintenance, liability and upkeep expenses would be my main concerns,
particularly with the two bridges, and frequent debris coming off the
hill onto the road.
But an alternative later emerged when INDOT officials told the mayor that
the city does not have to take over control of Main Street if it just
wants a paint re-striping of the highway into angled parking and two lanes
with a center turning lane.
So the mayor is back to the task of seeking community support for the
idea from merchants and residents. He said it would also have to be determined
how far west would the slimmer, trimmer Main Street design go? To Broadway?
To Mill? All the way to Cragmont?
It may be something to discuss in a public forum to see what the
citizens want. But it is important that we have support from the merchants
first because they will be the ones most impacted.
Armstrong met with several merchants in late February to discuss a problem
with parking that currently exists along Main Street and the meeting evolved
into a discussion of the two lanes vs. four lanes. He said reaction was
mixed. Armstrong admits the anticipated cost for curbs, gutters, repairs
and drainage are significant but adds, It is an idea that is worth
exploring. If you just sit still and do nothing, then you get nowhere.
And I believe that if we dont at least explore new ideas, then we
are not doing our jobs.
There is also the issue of semi-trucks barreling down Main Street that
is part of the equation. If the state retains control of it, the city
cannot prohibit trucks from traveling through. But if the city owns Main
Street, they can post and enforce a No Trucks ordinance, keeping
the truckers away from the new pedestrian-friendly zone.
Merchants have been trying for some time to find a way to get the trucks
off Main Street. Maybe this is finally their chance to at least make it
more difficult for the truckers to do so, since now they would be traveling
on a skinnier path and trying to avoid pedestrians, outdoor diners, bicycles
and (egad!) shoppers!
Don Ward is the editor, publisher and owner of RoundAbout.
Call him at (812) 273-2259 or email: Don@RoundAbout.bz.