Madison’s Tenney-Lapham and Hammersley-Theresa neighborhoods could see quieter residential streets beginning this summer — if drivers obey a lower speed limit being tested out before a potential citywide expansion next year.
The Transportation Commission on Wednesday signed off on lowering the residential speed limit from 25 mph to 20 mph in the two neighborhoods, while the body also heard about the city’s plan to return a program that partially shuttered select streets last year to encourage more bicycle and pedestrian use.
New speed limit signs are expected to be posted on residential streets in Tenney-Lapham on the Near East Side and Hammersley-Theresa on the Southwest Side in June.
The initiative to lower residential speed limits — dubbed 20 is Plenty — is part of a broader traffic and transportation strategy Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway launched last year with the aim of eliminating traffic deaths and severe injuries by 2030.
Commission members were broadly supportive of the intent of the initiative, but some expressed skepticism on how much it’ll get drivers to slow down.
Member Ken Streit said given the limited study area and a “fairly low” baseline of crashes to compare to — there were 98 in Tenney-Lapham and 47 in Hammersley-Theresa over the last five years — studying speeds before the new signs go up and after will be important to see if it makes an impact.
It’ll also be key to get neighborhood buy-in on the speed change, he said.
“This is going to be a fairly self-enforcing, public relations kind of thing,” Streit said.
City staff have said the lower residential speed limit could be expanded throughout Madison next year.
Taking advantage of a drop in vehicle traffic last year, the city tried out a program called Shared Streets in which certain roads were partially closed to vehicle traffic to give pedestrians and bicycles more room to spread out during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Partial closures on streets in the program last year will return:
- Atwood Avenue along Olbrich Park on the East Side.
- Sherman Avenue from North Brearly Street to North Baldwin Street on the Near East Side.
- East Mifflin Street from North Dickinson Street to North Blair Street on the Near East Side.
- West and South Shore Drive from Drake Street to Gilson Street on the South Side.
- Vilas Park Drive through Vilas Park on the Near West Side.
The closures, with the exception of Vilas Park Drive, were lifted over the winter, and the streets reopened to traffic. The closures are expected to resume later this month for Atwood Avenue and in early June on East Mifflin Street, Sherman Avenue, and West and South Shore Drive.
Renee Callaway, Madison’s pedestrian bicycle administrator, said the closures last year ended up being in whiter, wealthier neighborhoods, and city staff will use equity as a “core consideration” in determining further partial street closures.
This year, the city plans to introduce traffic calming measures to promote safer walking and biking opportunities in more diverse neighborhoods for Darbo Drive on the East Side and Fisher Street on the South Side. The changes will be seasonal this year, but staff will examine if any could become permanent.
Commission member Harald Kliems said staff should focus on expanding the program to new neighborhoods because a survey on last year’s closures found 84% of the more than 1,000 respondents supported the Shared Streets program.
With a majority, or 84%, of the survey respondents identifying as white, Ald. Barbara Harrington-McKinney, 1st District, said the city needs to be intentional in how it engages with underrepresented communities as part of the Shared Streets program.
“This was successful in what we tried to do last year — everyone wants to see it come back again,” said commission chair Ann Kovich.