The Madison Common Council unanimously voted Sept. 5 to temporarily ban vehicular traffic on part of State Street to test whether it could be converted into a pedestrian mall.
The measure will close off the 400, 500 and 600 blocks of State Street to all non-emergency vehicular traffic beginning in 2024. The council’s vote follows years of discussion about the possibility of converting larger parts of the street into a pedestrian mall that was renewed by the recent rerouting of many Metro Transit bus routes off State Street over the summer.
Council members hope to make the street more inviting to the public and include the voices of “everybody who has a piece of State Street” in the discussion of how to carry out this goal, according to City Planner Dan McAuliffe.
State Street residents and business owners were polled this past summer. A total of 600 postcards were mailed with 60 responses, McAuliffe said during the council meeting. While they initially surveyed those who have lived or currently live in property on State Street, students will be included in any further discussion regarding the experiment — both during and after its conclusion, according to District 8 Ald. MGR Govindarajan and District 2 Ald. Juliana Bennett.
Govindarajan told The Daily Cardinal the council is looking to receive feedback from residents before deciding whether to permanently convert the blocks into a pedestrian mall.
“The point of the experiment is to understand what steps we need to take to see whether it is a good idea or not,” Govindarajan said. “So [city staff] will be conducting various experiments — closing down portions of State Street or trying out certain delivery methods at certain times [because] business owners might still want to see some deliveries take place.”
The project is not free from opposition. Some business owners at the council meeting worried closed roads will make deliveries difficult as State Street is the most direct and, in some cases, only street accessible to businesses, according to Govindarajan.
Another fear is that the closure may negatively impact customer traffic due to fewer parking spaces, Govindarajan said.
Kyle Herman, owner of touring company Madtown Gem, said he opposed the measure because the closure of the roads would back up traffic and impede access to bars and stores on State Street for drivers.
“What we have now is good on State Street,” Herman said.
Govindarajan said city staff may be able to address the issue by creating temporary parking zones on the side of State Street for deliveries in certain areas.
The council will adjust plans for lower State Street once the closures begin next year and the council receives feedback from residents, business owners, students and city departments, Govindarajan said.
McAuliffe said the council plans to “facilitate a larger public conversation” once logistics related to vehicle access for major city departments such as fire, police and garbage have been sorted out.
Govindarajan said alders will take complaints and constructive criticism seriously.
“If we find out on day two that something's not working out and it's a major problem, and it's really affecting businesses or pedestrians or whatever, we can change it around really quickly and gather that data,” Govindarajan said. “I think [the temporary closure] will allow that flexibility of change to make sure that we're being able to get a consensus on how people feel about things before a final decision is made.”