'Road Diet'

Madison mayor explores
pros, cons of changing
Main Street into two lanes

The goal is to slow traffic,
improve parking, boost economy


(April 2011)
Read previous Don Ward columns!
Don Ward

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 “Madison’s Biggest Loser” if city officials pursue a proposed project called a “Road Diet” to convert the city’s 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 city’s 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” – America’s 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.

Madison Main Street

File Photo

Madison's 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 Madison’s 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 lane;
2. angled parking on both sides with no bicycle lanes and a center turning lane;
3. angled parking and bicycle lanes on both sides and no center turning lane;
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. What’s 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 Hill.
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 don’t 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.


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