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John Nolen Williamson Street intersection

The Marquette Neighborhood Association would like to see the "pork chop" island removed to encourage slower traffic. However, the city says it is needed for pedestrian safety. 

Plans for the troubled intersection where Blair, East Wilson and Williamson streets meet John Nolen Drive are moving forward following approval from a Madison commission this week.

However, some in the nearby Marquette Neighborhood argue more could be done to improve safety at the intersection, which has been referred to as a "hairball" by urban planners and traffic engineers.

The city's Pedestrian/Bicycle/Motor Vehicle Commission accepted a consultant’s report on the intersection, which recommends several major changes, and the Blair Street corridor in addition to approving a proposed geometry of the intersection.

Safety for all modes of transportation is a concern at the intersection, which includes driveways to businesses, bike paths and lanes, railroad tracks and an improvised left-turn lane.

The major design changes include:

  • Installing left turn lanes, which currently do not exist, on northbound John Nolen Drive and southbound Blair Street.
  • Providing an alternate route for pedestrians and bicycles to avoid crossing Williamson Street at Blair Street by including a cycle track along the south side of Williamson Street to Blount Street.
  • Creating a new diagonal bike traffic signal at Blount and Williamson streets.
  • Relocating two Machinery Row driveways southwest and consolidating into one driveway.
  • Removing the spur of East Wilson Street in front of Hotel Ruby Marie to add more green space.

The commission made some tweaks including a desire to remove parking along Machinery Row and replace it with more green space and bike lanes, city principal engineer Chris Petykowski said.

However, one aspect of the intersection remains a sticking point between the city and the Marquette Neighborhood Association. While the city feels a “channelized” right turn lane in front of Machinery Row is important for safety, the association argues it makes it easier to speed through the curved turn.

Denise Jess, the CEO and executive director of the Wisconsin Council of the Blind & Visually Impaired, lives and works in the neighborhood. She would like to see the “pork chop” island removed to encourage drivers to continue on to East Washington Avenue to travel east instead of using Williamson Street.

“Cars coming off of John Nolen, if they get the green, they have a good amount of speed and come onto (Williamson Street) with a good amount of speed,” Jess said. “If there was a hard right, you might deter some folks from coming up Willy Street and help reduce the traffic.”

Petykowski said removing the pedestrian island, which creates the “channelized” intersection, would create conflict between cars turning right and pedestrians.

“From John Nolen on to (Williamson Street), we really think that’s a huge safety feature to crossing that intersection and separating the right turn with pedestrian movement,” Petykowski said.

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Overall, the neighborhood feels the proposed changes fall short. MNA transportation committee chair Marlisa Kopenski Condon said the city is “settling.”

“We feel it hasn’t gone far enough to accommodate all modes of transportation,” Kopenski Condon said. “It’s still incredibly car-centric.”

Condon said the neighborhood would like to see the city move away from planning for individual intersections to broad corridor planning.

The Board of Public Works is scheduled to take up the report June 6 with the City Council acting on June 19. Once the report is accepted and the geometry for the intersection is approved by the City Council, city staff can work on final design plans.

Construction of the project is proposed over two years. The East Wilson and Williamson Street part of the intersection are proposed for reconstruction as early as 2019.

“These legs of the pavement are in poor shape and are in need of attention sooner than we are able to get the rest of the intersection ready,” Petykowski said.

The Blair Street and John Nolen Drive legs of the intersection, which are state roads, are proposed for reconstruction in 2021. This part of the project would include adding the new left turn lanes, relocating the Machinery Row driveway and adding green space in front of the Hotel Ruby Marie.

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Abigail Becker joined The Capital Times in 2016, where she primarily covers city and county government. She previously worked for the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism and the Wisconsin State Journal.