John Nolen Drive intersection

Motorists, pedestrians and bicyclists navigate through the busy intersection of John Nolen Drive and Blair, Williamson and Wilson streets. 


After a year of study, city engineers and a consultant have recommendations for a dangerous intersection at John Nolen Drive, East Wilson, South Blair and Williamson streets.

It is a crossroads where cyclists, pedestrians, drivers — and the occasional unicyclist and rollerblader — converge. A $3.4 million plan could improve the experience at the intersection. Loftier and longer-term ideas, such as a connecting bridge over John Nolen Drive, are being designed by others in the community.

“The driving need for this is a need for pavement replacement,” said Jeff Held, a project manager at Strand Associates.

However, safety is a major concern for those who navigate the intersection, especially the driveway into the parking lot for Law Park and Machinery Row, home to a restaurant, bike shop and several businesses. The purpose of the study is to develop a short-term solution for the “hairball” intersection that can be reasonably funded with federal transportation dollars within the next five to 10 years and create a safer environment for pedestrians, cyclists and motorists.

Accommodating the interests of all modes of transportation is a balance, Held said at the final public input meeting Wednesday.

“There’s still going to be congestion and queuing here when we’re done,” Held said. “It’s a tradeoff.”

The favored recommendation would create northbound and southbound left turn lanes from John Nolen Drive and Blair Street. Between 2011 and 2015, there were 92 total reported pedestrian, bike and car crashes at the intersection.

The plan would also expand the green space in front of the Hotel Ruby Marie, relocate Machinery Row and Law Park driveways, redirect bike traffic and expand the Williamson Street bike path to separate cyclists and pedestrians. It would also add a new traffic signal at Blount and Williamson streets to allow cyclists to cross diagonally and create a raised bicycle track on Blount Street to connect with the Capital City Trail.

“We’re keeping it as simple as possible but improving the safety to the greatest extent as possible,” said Ald. Mike Verveer, District 4.

Verveer said 2020 is the earliest construction could be scheduled and staff and consultants are optimistic the project could receive federal and safety funds. However, the recommendations also include short-term improvements in the Broom Street and North Shore Drive area that could be implemented much sooner, such as new pavement markings to better direct cyclists and pedestrians.

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On the east side of Monona Terrace, the city previously secured an easement for transportation purposes at 149 E. Wilson St. This would keep the option open to build a bicycle-pedestrian bridge over John Nolen Drive, running alongside a new apartment building.

The consultants also looked at longer term options for the corridor, such as creating a ramp and underpass beneath John Nolen Drive that would be accessible from a new path along the north side of North Shore Drive.

A final report will be completed and ready for review from the city in October.

Earlier this year, the Madison Community Foundation awarded the Madison Design Professional Workshop $27,500 to study the feasibility and costs of its Nolen Waterfront vision, which includes constructing a deck, improving the challenged intersection and building a boathouse designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.

“The goals of this concept we have illustrated here is to improve, simplify and beautify the intersection while expanding Law park as a signature park that we think can be done in the next five years," Tim Anderson, creator of the workgroup, said.

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Abigail Becker joined The Capital Times in 2016, where she primarily covers city and county government. She previously worked for the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism and the Wisconsin State Journal.