City could trim lanes on more of Milwaukee Street

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Neil Johnson
December 19, 2014

JANESVILLE--The city of Janesville is considering ditching a four-lane system in favor of two lanes on another stretch of East Milwaukee Street, and it wants to survey residents on the idea.

The city is proposing a two-lane, center-turn setup with bike lanes for a mile-long stretch of East Milwaukee Street between Wright Road and Sumac Drive on the east side.

The proposal comes as the city plans to resurface the stretch of East Milwaukee in summer 2015. It's part of a jointly funded city-state Department of Transportation project.

It's the second time in five years that a major stretch of East Milwaukee Street has faced a trim to its lane setup. The last change came in 2010, when the city was discussing other, more complicated traffic control measures along the corridor--such as a $700,000 bike tunnel and a roundabout at East Milwaukee Street and Wuthering Hills Drive.

The city had reports of several near misses between traffic and pedestrians along that part of Milwaukee Street, and a woman was killed in an accident at East Milwaukee and Wuthering Hills.

The bike tunnel and roundabout ideas went nowhere, but the city did re-stripe Milwaukee Street between Wright Road and Highway 14, turning it into a two-lane, center-turn street with pedestrian and bike lanes.

The stretch is the easternmost extension of Milwaukee Street, which is the main thoroughfare that cuts east–west between the city's east side and downtown.

Lisa Wolf, a city engineer involved in the planning, said the city now could simply continue a two-lane setup with bike paths west along East Milwaukee Street, creating a seamless system between Highway 14 and North Sumac Drive.  

Farther east, the change has slowed traffic and increased safety, Wolf said. But the impetus for a lane reconfiguration on a second stretch of Milwaukee Street isn't solely safety, Wolf said.

"It was, 'Is there a way to incorporate those pedestrian and bike lanes?'” she said.

Wolf said re-striping for a lane change wouldn't cost any more than striping the street as a four-lane setup. As long as the city is doing the work, she said, the change is worth exploring.

Wolf said the state DOT encourages the change from four to two lanes during street resurfacing to boost bicycle and pedestrian safety but won't require it for state funding.

Traffic studies show traffic volume along stretches of East Milwaukee Street, including the section that could see a lane change, is fewer than 17,500 vehicles a day.

That's the threshold that the DOT uses to determine whether four lanes are necessary for safety and traffic flow.

City projections show East Milwaukee Street won't have traffic of more than 17,000 vehicles a day for at least five years, Wolf said.

“For this volume of traffic, you could have a successful conversion where you get those left turns out of the main traffic lane, and it can provide a bike lane without reducing the capacity of the street," she said.

Downsides are that the configuration can slow traffic at intersections during peak hours because there is just one lane of through traffic, according to a city memo.

Wolf said residents' input on a city survey being circulated through next week will have a large impact on whether the lane change could happen. She said the city mailed the survey to residents and businesses along the stretch of the proposed change.

“We're not trying to push a total changeover. It's just something we're looking at,” Wolf said.

So far, Wolf said, surveys turned in tilt more toward leaving a four-lane setup in place, Wolf said.

The city hasn't planned the lane configuration yet, and the project likely wouldn't begin until July, Wolf said.

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