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Arboretum Drive closing to motor vehicles, giving other visitors more room
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Arboretum Drive closing to motor vehicles, giving other visitors more room

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Walking or riding a bicycle through the UW Arboretum is about to become a mostly car-free experience.

Starting Monday, Arboretum Drive will be closed to motorized traffic from the Wingra Drive entrance to the Arboretum’s Visitors Center. Motorists will be allowed access to the Visitors Center through the Arboretum’s western entrance on Seminole Highway. A section of Arboretum Drive that runs by the town of Madison will stay open for residents in homes adjacent to the grounds.

Closing most of the roadway to motor vehicles should give walkers, runners and cyclists more space to maintain social distancing, said UW-Madison Transportation Services director Patrick Kass.

“With limited options for people to get outside, other recreational activities have definitely seen a spike — particularly people on bikes,” he said. “We want to provide safe locations for people to do that.”

The move complements the city of Madison’s strategy of blocking off several roadways to relieve pressure on arterial bike paths, which have been congested at times during the COVID-19 pandemic. Examples include Sherman Avenue west of Tenney Park, East Mifflin Street and one lane of Atwood Avenue along Olbrich Park.

“Throughout Dane County, it appears that people are getting out to walk and bike, especially as the weather improves,” said Renee Callaway, the city’s pedestrian bicycle administrator. “This is causing agencies to examine what support is needed to ensure that people outside have enough space to maintain proper social distancing.”

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For its part, the city is looking at more ways to provide “safe opportunities for people walking and biking,” she said.

People power

The temporary repurposing of Arboretum Drive is intended to reduce potential conflicts between motorists and other visitors, Kass said. “It creates a safer environment, because we’ve eliminated the cars while we’re seeing this enhanced volume of people walking and biking.”

Kass isn’t aware of recently reported conflicts between motorists and cyclists in the Arboretum, and his department hasn’t received any complaints about people having trouble maintaining social distancing. Anecdotally, it appears difficult for people to stay 6 feet apart while moving over for passing motorists, he said.

Transportation Services plans to install temporary bike and pedestrian counters at the Arboretum’s entrances to measure traffic volume over the next several weeks.

“If we’re seeing steady usage, or usage is starting to decline, we’ll use that data to determine if we want to keep it closed any longer or not,” Kass said. “But right now the plan is that come June 30, we’ll open it back up.”

“Throughout Dane County, it appears that people are getting out to walk and bike, especially as the weather improves.” Renee Callaway, Madison pedestrian bicycle administrator

"Throughout Dane County, it appears that people are getting out to walk and bike, especially as the weather improves."

Renee Callaway, Madison pedestrian bicycle administrator

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Howard Hardee is a general assignment reporter for the Wisconsin State Journal. He has written extensively about government, natural disasters and forest health in northern California.

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