For the third-straight meeting, the Fort Atkinson City Council on Tuesday discussed lowering the speed limit on Janesville Avenue from South Fourth Street to Rockwell Avenue.
The council is considering the change from 35 mph to 25 mph because of the the proximity of the Glacial River Trail bike path.
Because Janesville Avenue is a four-lane street, drivers often speed up through the area, making it difficult for pedestrians to cross the street. Councilperson Mason Becker emphasized that the change isn’t to control traffic, but to make it safer for residents walking or biking in the area.
At the council meeting July 16, the city commissioned a speed study to fully understand how traffic patterns flow through the area. City engineer Andy Selle presented the results of that study at the Tuesday night meeting.
He said the study lasted 24 hours from 7:30 a.m. Aug. 1 to 7:30 a.m. Aug. 2. Over that time, 10,437 vehicles passed through the area. Selle said that while that might seem like a high number, the typical amount of traffic for a four-lane street such as Janesville Avenue would be more like 20,000 vehicles.
The average speed of the vehicles passing through was 35-40 mph, Selle said, adding that 39 percent of the vehicles passing through traveled less than 35 mph and 61 percent went more than 35 mph.
The maximum speed a vehicle traveled during that time was 65 mph, at around 11 a.m., Selle said.
Selle said he also went back through the Wisconsin Department of Transportations crash data to see how dangerous the area has been historically.
While there were a number of crashes in the area dating back to 1994, it didn’t stand out from other parts of the city, Selle reported, adding that there only had been one crash involving a pedestrian on Janesville Avenue in that time.
Selle also emphasized that the reason for the change was pedestrian safety.
“The intent is to draw attention to folks that this is an area to slow down,” Selle said.
Councilperson Bruce Johnson said he was concerned about how the public will react to a change like this on a major strteet.
“It looks like we’re setting up a speed trap,” Johnson said. “But safety is always a prime concern.”
Police Chief Adrian Bump echoed that the point of the change isn’t traffic enforcement.
“We don’t have a speed issue,” Bump said. “Pedestrian safety is the sole intent. This is the busiest park in the city, a busy bike path and a busy business across the street. This is an easy way, a quick way, to make a bit of a positive impact even though we’ll continue to find the best way.”
Bump and Selle also said the speed-limit change is only a partial solution as they consider other ways to improve pedestrian safety in the area.
“This is only one piece of the puzzle to improve safety,” Bump said. “We’re trying to prevent a dangerous situation, we’ve been lucky.”
The city has considered a number of other options to make the area safer and still is mulling others, according to Selle.
The first idea was to put a median in the center of the street, but that would have prevented emergency vehicles from getting through, according to Selle.
The next solution was to put in what’s called a HAWK System that works as a stoplight only when pedestrians are crossing, Selle said. But the state DOT has warned municipalities against installing the system because it confuses drivers,
With the temporary solution of the speed-limit change, Selle said, it allows city officials to consider future options such as installing a flashing pedestrian beacon above the road or taking Janesville Aveue from four lanes to two lanes with a turn lane in the middle.
“This is a tough area to really battle,” Selle said.
Selle acknowledged that changing the number of lanes probably would prompt a large public reaction and said the speed-limit change allows the city to take its time in considering all the options.
Councilperson Chris Scherer pushed back a little, saying he wants to improve public safety, but doesn’t believe action should be taken until a full plan is developed.
“It feels incomplete,” Scherer said. “It feels more like a Band-Aid.”
Because the city does not yet have a full plan for the stretch of road, the city moved the proposal to a fourth reading. Typically, ordinances only go through three readings — council President Paul Kotz said this was the first time he’d ever seen this — but it was decided more time was needed.
The two weeks until the fourth reading will allow Selle to garner input from the DOT and give the public more time to weigh in.
Becker said he wants more input from city residents, saying only two people have come to meetings to oppose the ordinance.
“I want to encourage the public to reach out,” Becker said. “Two residents make public comment in a city of 12,000?”
The next council meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, Aug. 20, at 7 p.m.