On Tuesday night, southwest Madison residents appeared before a city committee one final time to protest a road extension that would take away 300 feet of a precious neighborhood bike trail.
They ultimately won when the City Council voted to side with the neighborhood.
Residents have been speaking against the move for months in an often contentious debate, framing the issue in terms of safety, community and the city's willingness to listen to its citizens.
“As an alder, to sit here and listen to my constituents talk about 300 feet, to city planning or engineering, it’s 300 feet, but to them, it’s life,” Barbara Harrington-McKinney, the alder for the district, said.
The City Council was reviewing an update to the High Point-Raymond neighborhood development plan (NDP), which addresses a number of areas, including housing mix, parks and proactive planning for biking and transit. The most controversial topic in the NDP has long been the extension of the dead-end Jeffy Trail to connect it with Raymond Road.
The subject has dominated the discussion as the NDP moved through various city committees, with residents consistently showing up to voice their opposition to the project.
Extending the road would mean removing or relocating about 300 feet of a bike path and cutting into an open area that residents currently use as a park.
The city has argued that road connections are needed between neighborhoods and provide better emergency access, improving firefighter response times.
On Tuesday, residents appeared to again argue that keeping the trail would preserve a unique neighborhood asset which they said acts as a sort of outdoor community center. Extending the road would increase traffic, present safety concerns for children, and would not present the best long-term solution for connectivity, they said.
Harrington-McKinney introduced an amendment to remove the extension of Jeffy Trail from the plan.
“It is time for us to say a half a million dollars spent on a road no one wants is not good fiscal planning,” Harrington-McKinney said.
The Long Range Transportation Planning Committee and the Sustainable Madison Committee recommended removing the Jeffy Trail extension from the plan, but most recently, the Plan Commission voted against the neighborhood’s wishes, saying it was important to extend the road for neighborhood connectivity.
“I’ve tried to find a way to agree with the residents, but I really can’t find that,” commissioner Brad Cantrell said at the Plan Commission meeting last week.
Alds. Steve King and Mark Clear referenced the Plan Commission’s decision to explain their opposition to Harrington-McKinney’s amendment.
“Sometimes the right thing to do from a planning perspective … is not particularly popular,” Clear said. “The committee we need to listen to is the Plan Commission.”
Alds. Matthew Phair and Denise DeMarb also spoke against Harrington-McKinney’s amendment, saying it was important to not only to look out for the interests of current residents, but to the future residents who will be impacted by the city’s connectivity choices.
“As a policy maker, it’s always a delicate balance between quality of life for the constituents and their private parks and being able to look towards the future,” DeMarb said.
Ultimately, the City Council voted 11-8 to approve Harrington-McKinney’s amendment, saving the beloved bike path.
The residents in the audience broke out in applause.
Abigail Becker contributed to reporting on this story.