May 21 2014

Madison Envisions Pedestrian-Friendly City, Dreams of Moving Traffic Underground

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.

A view of the Madison, Wisconsin capitol building from John Nolen Drive

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.

The John Nolen Dr. and Blair St. Intersection, Madison, Wisconsin

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.

The design vision for the John Nolen Drive tunnel, Madison, Wisconsin

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.

Kaylie Duffy

Kaylie Duffy is currently pursuing a B.A. in Environmental Studies, Geography, and Russian Language and Literature from the University of Wisconsin at Madison. While writing and photographing for the university’s student newspaper, The Badger Herald, she developed a passion for architecture and sustainable urban planning and design. Her other interests include traveling, reading, writing, and drinking copious amounts of coffee. She stays connected to her community by volunteering in neighborhood gardens and at her city's Literacy Network. Kaylie hopes to eventually pursue a Masters in Urban Planning and GIS in order to develop more walkable and bike friendly cities across the U.S. She is now busy discovering how Madison, WI is becoming one of the greenest medium sized cities in the country.

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This entry was posted on Wednesday, May 21st, 2014 at 9:31 am and is filed under Land Use, Landscape Architecture, Transportation, Urban Development/Real Estate, Urban Planning and Design. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.


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