Most Madisonians know one of the most beautiful views in Madison is from John Nolen Drive - named for the famous landscape architect who helped plan the city over a hundred years ago. A portion of the drive is surrounded by water on both sides and provides an incredibly breathtaking view of the state capitol building and city skyline. A well-maintained lakeshore bike path also wraps around Lake Monona, which is very popular among bikers, joggers, and rollerbladers alike. However, upon entry to the downtown area from John Nolen Drive, the breathtaking view is quickly replaced with traffic congestion and the hectic sounds of the city.
The Blair Street and John Nolen intersection is a major choke point for thru-traffic on the isthmus and can be a pain to navigate. Thankfully, some bold design professionals realized this problem in 2010 and came up with a potential solution – put the drive underground. This plan would provide the best of both worlds. The historic drive surrounded by Monona Bay and Lake Monona would be preserved, and the congested portion of it would be hidden from view.
John Nolen Drive would go into a tunnel just east of the MononaTerrace and resurface past Main Street, to connect with East Washington Boulevard. This solution would produce a less intimidating atmosphere for pedestrians and bikers. In addition, the six lanes of traffic could be turned into a park. The Madison design professionals, who detailed their concept in the 2010 document Design Visions for City of Madison Downtown Plan, envision a boathouse designed for Madison by Frank Lloyd Wright and an assembly area that could serve as a location for festivals. A swimming beach, marina, fishing piers and an ice skating rink would all also encourage public use of the park.
On paper, this concept sounds great, yet how likely is its implementation? Since John Nolen Drive is actually a federal highway, it is logical to think of federal funding as a way to turn this vision into a reality. However, waterproofing the underground drive and dealing with the politics of getting approval provide two major obstacles.
Does your city have any design visions to improve walkability?
Credits: Images by Kaylie Duffy. Data linked to sources.