As much fun as they are, the dozens of special events and festivals on Madison’s Isthmus are putting pressure on city agencies to find ways around the disruption they cause to traffic and neighbors and the burden they place on the Police Department.
Events requiring a street use permit — such as concerts, runs or walks, and political rallies — have ballooned in the past decade — from 196 in 2007 to 349 in 2017, according to city event coordinator Kelli Lamberty, and about half of those events take place on the Isthmus.
Special events require coordination among city’s agencies — including Traffic Engineering, Parks, police and Metro Transit — that must work together to evaluate permit applications, make changes to bus routes, direct traffic and maintain safety.
At a public hearing Thursday with representatives from those agencies, Lamberty said that about 30 years ago the city was hoping the Isthmus would attract an array of events. But, she said, the number of events has become untenable.
“This is a problem of success,” Lamberty said.
Residents at the forum, many of whom organize events in the city, discussed their benefits, including community building, increased tourism and traffic for local businesses when people travel to the Isthmus.
The events are also just plain fun, said Marta Staple of the Tenney-Lapham Neighborhood Association.
Staple said one of the reasons she enjoys living on the Isthmus is because of the events, though she also said it can be hard to plan her neighborhood association’s events when there is regularly at least one other event taking place each summer weekend.
There were also plenty of burdens listed during the forum, including noise, traffic delays, bus reroutes and delays, litter and lack of parking.
“It can be a double-edged sword. We enjoy some of these events, but it’s the frequency of these events and the noise generated by these events that are disrupting the quality of life for residents,” said Central District Lt. Brian Chaney-Austin.
Rita Kelliher, president of Madison Festivals Inc., which runs events including the Madison Marathon, said special events should be spread more throughout the city instead of packing them onto the Isthmus.
Attendees offered several other suggestions, such as creating a separate city department that would focus on coordinating special events, protecting bus routes from temporary changes, and creating apps for smartphones to inform residents of upcoming events nearby or bus route changes.
Plenty of burdens were listed during the forum, including noise, traffic delays, bus reroutes and litter.