#17 – Taming the Urban Arterial

Madison, Wisconsin

Arthur Ross, Pedestrian-Bicycle Coordinator
Tom Walsh, Traffic Engineer
City of Madison Traffic Engineering Division


University Avenue at Park Street — Before condition with curb bicycle, bus and right turn only lane. Lane to left of concrete divider is a contraflow bus lane.

The one-mile downtown segment of University Avenue is a major arterial roadway that cuts through the heart of the University of Wisconsin campus. In view of the significance of University Avenue to local pedestrian and other traffic circulation on the University campus, as well as to the broader community traveling to and through downtown Madison, there was a broad-based community input and review process engaging local officials and the public that considered the safety and accommodation needs of pedestrians, bicycles, and motor vehicles along this corridor before selection of the recommended design cross-section and reconstruction in 1983.

Before reconstruction, there were three eastbound through traffic lanes, a curb lane designated for buses, bicycles and right turns only, plus a 3.4 m (11 ft)–wide contraflow bus lane, which eastbound bicycles were also permitted to share. Roadway facilities and infrastructure were out of date and in poor condition. Accommodations for buses, bicycles, and pedestrians were considered inadequate. Numerous design concepts, alternatives, and cross-sections, especially for accommodating eastbound bus and bicycle traffic, were developed for the University Avenue corridor that also included consideration of the parallel one-way Johnson Street. A detailed safety review and conflict analysis was conducted before the selection of a design cross-section. The selected cross-section provided for complete reconstruction within the existing right-of-way and included relocation of eastbound bus traffic to West Johnson Street. This made it possible to increase the spatial accommodations for pedestrians and bicyclists while minimizing the number of conflicts between motorized and non-motorized traffic.



Two views of University Avenue at Park Street today.

The countermeasures/improvements implemented include the following:

Evaluation and Results

University Avenue traffic conditions have changed over the past 20 years. Average weekday motor vehicle traffic volume increased from about 22,000 vehicles per day in 1980 to 32,000 in 2001. The total number of buses was reduced by the elimination of the contraflow bus lane, but westbound bus traffic has remained stable at about 50 buses per hour in peak hours. The combined eastbound and westbound bicycle lane volumes increased from an average weekday low volume of 25 and high volume of 6,310 in 1980 to an average weekday low volume of 3,198 and high volume of 12,749 in the year 2002. (Low bicycle counts typically are in January when students are on break and weather is cold and snowy; high bicycle counts typically are in September when University classes resume after the summer break.) Pedestrian volume is extremely high, although no counts are available. The University Avenue corridor is located in the heart of the University campus, with an enrollment of more than 40,000 students. The number of pedestrian users along and crossing University Avenue likely exceeds the number of motor vehicle users on a typical day when classes are in session.

The corridor improvements resulting from reconstruction include:

As they approach the 20-year design life of the University Avenue reconstruction project, local officials look back on the project as a major success, especially in view of the large volume of multi-modal uses and the larger-than-expected increases in traffic volume in the corridor, which still has few problems. There have been few complaints or irresolvable problems, and the safety record is very good with no remarkable issues. The primary conflicts or concerns have to do with turning traffic, both left- and right-turning traffic conflicts as well as conflicts with pedestrians at intersections. The limited number of private driveways and the relatively low volume of turning traffic at most intersections along the corridor have contributed to the good safety record.

Conclusions and Recommendations

Local officials conclude that improvements were successful. It’s likely that if the corridor were reconstructed today, the existing cross-section would not be changed significantly.

Cost and Funding

Construction costs in 1983-1984 were approximately $1 million and were funded by the Federal Aid Urban System Program (predecessor to the Surface Transportation Program-Urban (STP-U)). Cost sharing was 70 percent Federal, 30 percent local cost match


ITE Journal, February 1986 article entitled “Unique Roadway Design Reduces Bus-Bike Conflicts. “Also City of Madison Traffic Engineering project and location files.


Arthur Ross, Pedestrian-Bicycle Coordinator
Tom Walsh, Traffic Engineer
City Of Madison Traffic Engineering Division
PO Box 2986
Madison, WI 53701-2986
(608) 266-4761