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Sunday, May 19, 2024

The view down State Street in Madison, Wisconsin. 

UW-Madison students react to State Street pedestrian mall experiment

An “experimental closure” will see the area, spanning roughly from Parthenon Gyros to State Street Brats, entirely closed to non-emergency vehicles.

University of Wisconsin-Madison students have mixed reactions after the Madison Common Council decided earlier this month to enact a 2024 “experimental closure” which would designate the lower half of State Street as a pedestrian-only zone. 

The effort to enhance the city’s walkability and create a pedestrian mall reflects an expected push from some council members to prioritize pedestrian traffic amidst changing State Street development. Buses stopped using State Street’s lower half in June after a citywide Metro Transit route overhaul, and decreasing vacancy rates have spurred new housing development proposals and skyrocketed rents around State Street and throughout the city.

Unlike many other cities in Wisconsin, Madison is set apart by an urban environment and its iconic State Street. The street — with numerous shops, restaurants, bars and a proximity to campus — plays an integral role in students’ lives. It’s also used by many non-student Madisonians and tourists.

The 700 and 800 blocks are currently reserved for pedestrian use. The two blocks contain the University Bookstore and Memorial Library as well as food carts during warm weather. 

The decision to temporarily extend that reservation to the 400, 500 and 600 blocks for pedestrian use garnered attention from students. 

Isabella Collazo, a UW-Madison senior, supports the experiment. 

“State Street’s no-car rule adds charm to the street that often makes it a go-to place for students,” she said.

Collazo is from Chicago, and though she said the Windy City is “way more walkable than Madison as a whole,” she thinks the decision will allow students to not worry about delivery trucks and stray cars. 

Given that State Street has less biker traffic than Chicago, Collazo said a fully pedestrianized streetscape would be a more enjoyable and walkable street.

But some students felt like the move wouldn’t be necessary because State Street is pedestrian-friendly as built.

“State Street is already like a pedestrian zone,” said Kevin Rice, a UW-Madison senior majoring in environmental engineering.

Rice isn’t opposed to the experiment, he said. But he doesn’t feel it’s necessary.

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“Everyone knows you can just easily walk past a street without having to worry about cars. I’m not sure how much it matters that those blocks are being closed off,” he added.

The experiment is set to begin in 2024, though exact dates have yet to be announced.

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