Greening Monroe Street
The Friends of Lake Wingra, the watershed-based citizens’ group, has been working with the Wisconsin Environmental Initiative, Edgewood College Sustainability Leadership Program and other partners over the last few months on a plan to carry out some tactical urbanism style ideas on Monroe Street during this year’s Monroe Street Festival which is October 10th from 10am-5pm. There is no home football game that day so don’t hesitate to travel down to Monroe Street for the fun and frolic.
What is Greening and Tactical Urbanism?
“Greening” in this sense refers to the utilization of certain human-scale design and construction features that create a more livable, walkable, and bike able city and in the process lessen the human impact on the watershed. During the Greening Festival, the Friends of Lake Wingra will set up various temporary demonstrations of such features, including pop-up parks, traffic calming devices, and protected bike lanes.
What is tactical urbanism? According to the Friends of Lake Wingra e-newsletter, “It is a concept where people come together to make inexpensive, temporary changes to the built environment as a way to improve neighborhoods and gathering places.”
Project Delayed but There is No Time to Waste
The greening initiative is timely, as portions of Monroe Street are slated for either resurfacing, or much more extensive reconstruction, sometime in the near future, according to the City of Madison traffic engineering division. Although the start date has been repeatedly pushed back and the current city budget has delayed full reconstruction for the next 5-10 years, citizens, neighborhoods and businesses that line Monroe Street, watershed interest groups and others view the reconstruction as “a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” to remake Monroe Street into a vibrant, walkable, eco-district to the benefit of the residents, the business and the Lake Wingra Watershed”, according to Friends of Lake Wingra Chair Person, Ben Yahr.
This may be the last chance in the next 30 years–the typical lifespan of a traffic corridor reconstruction project–to make Monroe Street more people and environmentally friendly. But rather than let public interest and momentum wither as the project languishes–groups like the Friends of Lake Wingra, and the Wisconsin Environmental Initiative are taking advantage of the delay to educate and cultivate interest in the greening proposals. Such groups are advocating for plans to incorporate innovations that would make Monroe Street a more livable, walkable, environmentally friendly area. The basic ideas of the greening Monroe Street movement center around the notion that Monroe Street “is much more than asphalt automobile corridor overlying sewer pipes”, according to Jim Lorman of Edgewood College’s Sustainability Leadership Program. Such ideas build upon the notion that Monroe Street is an important civic place, a social corridor, and that what happens along it impacts the greater watershed and Lake Wingra itself.
Innovative and Progressive Public Amenities
The new Monroe Street could incorporate amenities that are common in progressive cities across the country; such things as providing for a variety of transportation methods; making biking and walking safer and more appealing by separating bike and pedestrian lanes from traffic; installing adequate bike parking; increase the frequency of bus service–especially on weekends; providing benches and other gathering places; capturing and infiltrating rainfall in rain gardens, bioswales, and by permeable pavement. Such design features have become standard practice in some US cities, such as Portland, Oregon.
According to Yahr, “We are presented with an amazing opportunity to improve our community, enhance our watershed, and protect Lake Wingra through the use of green infrastructure and place making on Monroe Street. This is our chance to make meaningful progress on improving lake health with clean, clear water, restored spring flow, and a community that feels a connection to the lake.”