winnebago bike

This image from Madison Bikes illustrates the route bicyclists currently take from the corner of Winnebago and Riverside into the Schenk's Corners neighborhood.

Wednesday evening, east Madison residents will get a chance to weigh in on a plan to reconfigure the bike crossing at the intersection of Winnebago Street and Riverside Drive. But the plans leave out a key element that bikers have been complaining about for years: a clear path down Winnebago Street.

A city engineer says that's because the city doesn't have a plan yet, but he's hoping that input from the bike community will help to hash one out. 

A public meeting on the plan is scheduled for Wednesday from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at Bethany Evangelical Free Church, 301 Riverside Dive. It will be the first of two meetings. No date has been set for the second.

The city is hoping to start work on the project by spring.

The improvements would be part of a larger project that will install new storm sewer and water utilities, as well as repave Winnebago Street from the Yahara River bridge to Merry Street.

But Grant Foster, president of the advocacy group Madison Bikes, said the 300-foot gap in a direct bike corridor on Winnebago Street to the Schenk’s Corners commercial district is a big problem.

Proposed Winnebago-Riverside bike crossing

Madison plans to create a new bicycle crossing next year near the Yahara River and Riverside Drive on the city's East Side.

“And so the fact that this key connection is conspicuously missing from this major reconstruction project causes real concern that city Engineering staff may not have been tracking on this at all,” Foster wrote in a recent blog on the Madison Bikes website. 

He added that the corridor constitutes “one of the worst gaps in our bike network in this part of the city.”

Engineers presented a plan for the crossing before the city’s Pedestrian Bicycle Motor Vehicle Commission, of which Foster is a member, on Nov. 28, and members were supportive. The city plans to install a signaled diagonal crossing, similar to the one at Dunning Street and Atwood Avenue, and a separate pedestrian crossing just to the north.

The intersection currently gives eastbound bikers a lighted crossing after a nearly 90-degree turn off the Capital City Path across Winnebago Street. But some bikers find the nearly 90-degree turns jarring and have to moderate their speed after crossing the street.

Foster said he wasn’t aware of the larger reconstruction project until after the meeting and he asked the city’s engineers to look at the Winnebago corridor, which he said is a challenging issue given a retaining wall on one side of the street and a new state law that took away the city’s power of condemnation for bike and pedestrian crossings.

“But as challenging as it may be, it would be unacceptable to continue to accommodate four-lanes of motor vehicle traffic while people outside of cars — those moving on foot and on bike and in wheelchairs — fight over the scraps that are left over once peak hour car traffic demand has been satisfied,” he wrote.

Chris Dawson, the engineer who’s managing the project, said the reason the Winnebago corridor hasn’t been addressed is that the city doesn’t have a clear plan.

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“The plan going into the meeting tomorrow is we’ll present the crossing as kind of a main focus,” he said. The latter part of the meeting will deal with Winnebago Street.

“We’re still in the seeking-input and then apply-to-design phase,” he said. “We’re going to seek some input on that and have a dialogue — what people think is a good option what the preferences are for how they currently navigate or would like to navigate that corridor.”

He said the second meeting should be more specific.

“We’ll get a lot out of this meeting, I think,” he said.

Foster, who also serves on the Long Range Transportation Planning Committee, said he’s seen three options for the corridor, two of which involve several sharp turns and require travel on sidewalks.

A third option requires sidewalk travel between the Capital City Path and Merry Street, but eliminates the sharp turns. It also includes a 100-foot stretch that runs against traffic on Winnebago Street.

While there are no perfect solutions, Foster said that the third option is the overwhelming favorite among bikers.

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Steven Elbow joined The Capital Times in 1999 and has covered law enforcement in addition to city, county and state government. He has also worked for the Portage Daily Register and has written for the Isthmus weekly newspaper in Madison.