Keep restrictions on pass-through motor traffic on Vilas Park Drive

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Keep Restrictions on Pass-through Motor Vehicles on Vilas Park Drive

We are asking the City of Madison Parks Department to keep the current motor vehicle restriction on pass-through traffic on Vilas Park Drive, including throughout the upcoming winter months.

Vilas Park Drive being free of pass-through motor vehicles has resulted in a major transformation of the Vilas Park lakeshore area to a vibrant multi-generational community gathering space for people with all abilities. There has been a dramatic increase in its use by pedestrians, bicyclists, and other park users, including small children riding scooters and bikes with training wheels; adults with walkers and canes; people with wheelchairs; and people hammocking, picnicking, and fishing along the Lake Wingra shoreline.

Prior to the motor vehicle restriction, 96% of all motor vehicle traffic along Vilas Park Drive was commuter and other cut-through traffic, amounting to more than 200 cars per hour during the afternoon commute. Over half of those vehicles were recorded as exceeding the speed limit (25 mph, which is already too high for a lane shared by walkers, runners, and bikers traveling in two directions).

The pre-pandemic motor vehicle situation along Vilas Park Drive was untenable, endangering the safety of our community and deterring the use of the drive and adjacent park shoreline by park users.  A decision to return to that situation now, after the demonstrated success of the current Shared Streets configuration, would be dangerous and irresponsible.

There is overwhelming community support to keep Vilas Drive free of pass-through motor traffic, and as a result this is now the proposal in the final draft of the Vilas Park Master Plan. However, the Parks Superintendent has indicated that reconstruction of Vilas Park Drive to its new configuration, permanently restricting cut-through traffic, is not expected to occur until at least 2024. 

Therefore, we are asking Parks to continue using barriers to prevent cut-through motor vehicle traffic until the reconstruction of Vilas Park Drive.

It is important to have continuity in the restriction on cut-through motor vehicle traffic. As a result of the current barriers, motor vehicle commuters have found alternative routes; non-motorized park users are safe; and park users are now able to fully utilize the park and Lake Wingra shoreline area in myriad ways that are comfortable and more enjoyable than ever before. We should build upon this success, not disrupt it.

Significant numbers of people now enjoy Vilas Park Drive in all weather and will continue to use it under the current configuration, especially on nicer winter days and in early spring. Younger children, older people, and people with disabilities will be the first to stop using the drive and adjacent shoreline if commuter and other pass-through motor vehicles are allowed again.

Access to winter ice skating can occur without allowing pass-through motor vehicle traffic along Vilas Park Drive. There are alternatives and accommodation options available that could be implemented easily and without great expense. For example, relocating the eastern barrier further west would allow more convenient access to the shelter (to the lot by the boat landing or even to the shelter lot itself). While there may be minor challenges in implementing the details of such options, these are not difficult to overcome and do not justify allowing cut-through motor vehicles into the park.

Even without any changes to the current situation, the ice skating lagoon, hockey rinks, and shelter are a short distance from parking. (The city considers 1/4 mile, or 5 minutes, to be walkable access to bus stops, and the skating areas in Vilas are well within this range.)

Whatever the details, the safety and enjoyment of thousands of people using the park and shoreline should continue to be prioritized over commuter cut-through motor-vehicle traffic.