The city at a community forum Tuesday evening shared with residents preliminary plans for redesigning Milwaukee Street that include removing traffic signals and left-turn lanes, installing back-in parking stalls, and creating intersection bump outs complete with landscaping.
Residents shared their thoughts on all aspects, but many said they like the general idea of revamping the downtown throughway.
The city plans in 2020 to reconstruct Milwaukee Street between River and Locust streets. The street needs to be repaved, and a water main needs to be replaced. Officials decided it would be efficient to redesign the road and replace sidewalks and terraces at the same time.
One new idea the city shared is raising the street to be almost level with the sidewalks at intersections without stoplights. Doing so would encourage drivers to slow down, said Brad Reents, project manager of engineering consultant MSA Professional Services.
Jeffrey Navarro, who is running for Janesville City Council, said the elevated sections would act as giant speed bumps.
Parker High School student Chris Rick, by far the youngest resident in attendance, worried for pedestrians if traffic signals were removed and replaced with two- or four-way stop signs. Drivers might have an easier time cruising down Milwaukee Street, but it would be more difficult for pedestrians to cross it, Rick said.
If it was up to Rick, he’d make downtown more pedestrian friendly at the expense of drivers. The plans to narrow travel lanes in favor of wider sidewalks and terraces are a step in the right direction, Rick said.
“This is perfect,” he said. “Too bad it didn’t come sooner because we could be a lot farther and onto other things.”
Karen Lisser often drives across Milwaukee Street and has concerns that removing traffic signals would make that tougher. She sometimes goes out of her way to hit the stoplight at Milwaukee and Jackson streets so it’s easier and safer to cross, she said.
Without traffic signals on Milwaukee Street, “people are just going to be zooming through there, and there’s no stoppage in traffic,” Lisser said.
Paul Benson often rides his bike and asked if it would be possible to have share arrows painted on the road and signs put up to let drivers know they share the road with bicyclists.
City engineer Matt McGrath said Court Street will include bicycle lanes once its conversion to a two-way road is completed later this year. It will be the main throughway for cyclists downtown, he said.
Navarro asked if bike lanes could be put on the sidewalk along Milwaukee Street.
“Something would probably have to give in that situation,” Reents said.
Still, Benson said the project is a progressive move.
“Making it more pedestrian friendly, that’s a huge start,” he said.
A couple of residents expressed concerns with back-in angled stalls, which would require drivers to back in instead of going in forward. Back-in stalls are harder to enter but easier and safer to leave, and they’re gaining popularity, Reents said.
Navarro suggested widening back-in stalls so drivers would have more room for error. That would reduce the number of stalls the city could install, Reents said.
Lisser, a “very good” parallel parker by her own estimation, is optimistic residents will catch on to back-in stalls and realize their safety benefits.
Other plans include creating concrete bump outs on street corners complete with plants, seating and possibly low concrete walls. One resident said such areas could become a “nightmare” if they’re overrun with skateboarders.
McGrath said there are fixtures that can be fastened to benches and walls that would still allow seating but deter skateboarders.
No one seemed opposed to removing left-turn lanes, which would reduce weaving for drivers and leave more room for on-street parking.
“We can take that weaving out. As you drive through, it’s going to feel a little smoother,” Reents said.
Officials will refer to comments and feedback when finalizing plans. About 60 percent of plans will be ready by October, which is about the time the city will host a second public forum, officials said.
Final plans will be done by August of 2019, and the project will go to bid that December. Work will take place spring through summer 2020, Reents said.