Janesville49.3°

Is bike tunnel the best option?

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Ryan Dostalek
August 21, 2008
— Few topics have riled city residents as much as the proposed pedestrian tunnel under East Milwaukee Street between Shannon Court and Wright Road.

People have spouted their thoughts through nearly 500 comments on the Janesville Gazette's Web site, for example.


Although it's not clear if the community has formed a consensus for or against the tunnel, Janesville residents definitely are interested.


The city council voted June 23 in favor of building the tunnel.


"The council authorized (public works) to move forward and accept bids for a tunnel project," Public Works Director Jack Messer said. "We will bid that project, and we will present the results to the city council."


Messer said the department plans to advertise for bids this fall.


The council will examine the project at least once more, when it considers approving the bid to build the tunnel.


If the council approves the bid, the tunnel moves forward. If not, the process starts over, Council President Amy Loasching said.


"We'll then look at the alternatives," she said.


The council chose the tunnel from several alternatives developed by the city's engineering department, which identified several problems at the crossing:


-- Speed of drivers.


-- Drivers not expecting mid-block pedestrian crossing.


-- Drivers unable to see pedestrians. At times, some traffic yields to a pedestrian while others are unable to see the pedestrian and keep driving. Drivers also have difficulty seeing pedestrians because the trail is below grade until it meets the street.


-- Pedestrians not expecting to cross a busy road.


-- Pedestrians having to cross four lanes of traffic moving in both directions.


-- Expectation of safety from trail signs and signals.


The engineering department addressed seven alternatives. Some, such as the tunnel, received high recommendations from engineering staff. Other alternatives were labeled as "infeasible" or "impractical."


Here's the list as explained to the city council:


Do nothing

Description: Leaves the crossing as is.


Cost: None.


Pros: Taxpayers do not have to foot the bill for a crossing at the intersection.


Cons: None of the safety concerns are addressed. Pedestrians cross at their own risk.


Engineering recommendation: No.


Pedestrian tunnel

Description: A tunnel would connect the trail on the south side of East Milwaukee Street to the trail on the north side of the street.


Cost: The city would pay $435,00 and the state $235,000 for a total of $670,000. Engineers need to move a water main in the area, which will make up $80,000 of the total cost.


Pros: Completely "resolves all of the problems" at the trail crossing, according to the department's report to the council. Drivers could continue at current speed with no changes to driving environment, and pedestrians could cross freely underneath.


Cons: An expensive alternative compared to the other choices. Some have express concern about pedestrians being the victims of crime in the tunnel.


Engineering recommendation: Yes, the best alternative to address all safety concerns.


Move the crossing

Description: Extend the trail to the intersection of Wright Road and Milwaukee Street. A fence, similar to the wrought iron fence used at East High School in Madison, would prevent pedestrians from crossing mid-block.


Cost: Estimates would vary depending on length of fence, style and installation costs.


Pros: Intersection is controlled by traffic signals, allowing pedestrians to cross with traffic stopped.


Cons: A fence could "detract from the trail's intended function," according to the department's report.


Engineering recommendation: No.


Stoplight

Description: A stoplight would replace the yellow beacon at the crossing. Pedestrians could push a button, causing the light to turn red and vehicles to stop, similar to the crossing at Jefferson Elementary School on Mount Zion Avenue.


Cost: $80,000 to $140,000, but because the signal would control only two directions of traffic, the cost would be on the lower end.


Pros: Less expensive than a tunnel. Traffic could stop and pedestrians could cross freely.


Cons: "Greatest risk to drivers and pedestrians," according to the report. Opponents claim a stoplight would be ineffective because cars sometimes fail to stop at red lights.


Engineering recommendation: No.


Overpass

Description: Pedestrian bridge over East Milwaukee Street. Ramps would connect the overpass to the trail and to sidewalks.


Cost: $1.3 million to $2 million.


Pros: Same as tunnel. Traffic trail users are allowed to move freely.


Cons: Cost. Land contours and Americans with Disability Act regulations would make a bridge and related ramps "infeasible," according to the report.


City Manager Steve Sheiffer told the council at its July 14 meeting that extensive space would be needed to make the bridge handicapped accessible.


Engineering recommendation: No.


Widen Milwaukee Street

Description: East Milwaukee Street would be widened, keeping the same number of lanes—two in each direction—with a pedestrian refuge island in the middle of the four lanes.


Cost: $142,800


Pros: Safer than the "do nothing" plan, according to the report. Pedestrians wouldn't have to negotiate four lanes at once. They could cross two lanes before crossing the remaining two. Drivers would also have to navigate around the pedestrian island, focusing their attention to the road and pedestrians in the area, according to the report. However, the report indicates the change probably would not cause drivers to slow.


Cons: Lessens the visibility of trail users, according to the report. The widening would push the crossing further down the trail, making users less visible to drivers. State funding would most likely not be available.


Engineering recommendation: No.


Narrow Milwaukee Street

Description: East Milwaukee Street would be narrowed to two lanes of traffic—one in each direction. A pedestrian island would take up the former middle lanes, and the curbside would be extended.


Cost: $102,900.


Pros: "Drastically changes the driving environment," according to the report. The change most likely would cause drivers to slow and become more attentive as they merge into one lane. Crossing distance for pedestrians is reduced, and they could navigate one lane at a time. Pedestrians would be more visible because of the extended curbside, as well.


Cons: Probability of vehicle rear-end collisions and sideswipes would increase, but "the risk and tradeoff appears acceptable as compared to the potential for a vehicle-pedestrian crash," according to the report.


Engineering recommendation: Yes, best at-grade alternative.



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