JANESVILLE—The city of Janesville plans to study possible upgrades that would boost safety for motorists and pedestrians along the same busy stretch of East Memorial Drive where a Janesville boy was fatally struck by an SUV earlier this fall.
City road safety evaluations in 2018 and 2021 found that almost every intersection along the nearly 1-mile-long, heavily traveled stretch of Memorial between the Parker Drive interchange and Milton Avenue has seen multiple vehicle crashes in the last half-decade.
The city now is reviewing bids for a third-party traffic consultant’s review of safety along that four-lane thoroughfare. The aim, the city says, is to get recommendations for safety improvements along the stretch, including possible crosswalks and other upgrades at intersections.
A consultant would begin work later in December, and the study, including public engagement surveys, a review of crash hot spots, and plans for possible pavement marking changes and traffic configurations, would roll out in the winter and into early spring.
One possible fix that might be considered would be to turn East Memorial Drive from a four-lane, undivided roadway to a three-lane set, a reconfiguration known as a “road diet.”
These considerations come as the city eyes the possibility of repaving the roadway.
“We’ve had this roadway on our radar for a pavement replacement or rehab,” Ahna Bizjak, an engineer in the city’s public works department, said. “And so really what we want to get ahead of is understanding when we go to do that rehabilitation project, is if there are opportunities that we can incorporate to address reducing crashes and improving safety. That’s the goal of what we’re trying to determine.”
The route handles 11,000 vehicles a day in some spots and is considered one of the most heavily traveled pedestrian and school zones in the city.
The major focus of study would likely be on an inclined stretch of the road just east of Harding Street, the ramps for accessing Parker Drive, a train crossing and a Kwik Trip gas station. City traffic analyses show dozens of crashes occurred in that area over a five-year span prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Most of the more than 200 documented crashes in that period didn’t cause major injuries, but they caused about $13 million in damage, which the studies list as “economic loss.”
East Memorial handles a steady volume of traffic traveling on and off the Parker Drive ramps that mounts at certain times of the day.
That hot spot for crashes is several blocks west of where a 9-year-old boy was killed Sept. 28 when police said a woman with no valid driver’s license struck him with an SUV. Crash reports showed the woman was pulling her vehicle onto Memorial Drive from Prairie Avenue, a cross-street with a two-way stop for cars traveling on Prairie but no crosswalk parallel to Memorial. That intersection is part of the stretch that will be part of the traffic study.
At the time of the crash, the woman’s vehicle was big enough and traveling fast enough that the boy she hit was thrown into the air, according to a criminal complaint.
Residents who live in the neighborhood near Adams Elementary School east of Milton Avenue said they had been alerting the city over traffic hazards for children walking to and from school for months prior to the fatal collision.
Bizjak said the city already was in the process of pursuing a third-party, state-and-federal-grant-funded analysis for the stretch of East Memorial before the boy was struck and killed there, but she acknowledged that the incident gives the upcoming work gravity. She said the crash “raised and heightened awareness of traffic safety” along Memorial but otherwise did not factor into the timing of a new study.
She said the the city looked at safety studies for a number of major streets, but East Memorial Drive was identified as one that was a leading candidate based on its history of more than 200 crashes between 2016 and 2020, including at nearly all of the 10 cross streets between the Parker Drive ramps and Milton Avenue.
“We had this on our list to study and then we had this very tragic fatality. I guess that further confirms and validates that this is a corridor that we should be studying,” Bizjak said.