A design firm’s preliminary vision for a reconstructed South Avenue includes a slower speed limit, no left turns, four roundabouts, more greenery, more lights, well-marked crosswalks and wider sidewalks.
Leading concerns voiced by residents at a public forum Tuesday evening at Central High School focused on those roundabouts — how to drive, walk and bicycle through them.
The question of property acquisition also arose, but those answers will need to come from the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, which will host a similar public forum in July.
Tuesday’s meeting was about developing design preferences for the city to present to WisDOT as the state agency draws up reconstruction plans for a mile-long strip of South Avenue from Green Bay Street to Ward Avenue.
The two efforts are related, but separate. The city hired Toole Design Group to take into account the surrounding neighborhoods in developing a recommendation for how the state reconstructs the road. The state’s focus is more narrowly on rebuilding the road and making it safer.
The state will be using a funding stream that requires making the road safer, Jason Gilman, La Crosse director of planning, said as he opened the Tuesday meeting.
The Wisconsin Department of Transportation has given the city a set of plan alternatives from which to build its recommendations.
Kevin Luecke of Toole Design Group, the project manager, presented the firm’s draft recommendation. The group backs, with modifications, WisDOT’s alternative that for the most part does not widen the roadway, but adds roundabouts at West Avenue, 16th Street and East Avenue. Continuous center medians would eliminate all left turns.
A key modification is a fourth roundabout at 14th Avenue, so residents living south of South Avenue would not be forced to drive convoluted routes through their neighborhood to access the avenue. This will add cost to the plan and require more property acquisition, Luecke said.
Recommendations regarding bicycle issues included wider sidewalks where possible and a “well-signed” bicycle route on streets close to the river.
The project also provides the opportunity for a path extension of Bennora Lee Court and a new path along the railroad tracks between Ward and Weston streets, Luecke said, although he acknowledged working with the railroad on projects like this can be “challenging.”
The firm addressed pedestrian issues by recommending high-visibility crosswalks, markings, signs and flashing beacons to highlight crossings.
Regarding traffic issues, Toole Design Group suggests posting a preferred speed limit of 25 mph but no more than 30 mph and considering using radar boards to show motorists their speed. It also calls for narrowing the inside lanes from 10.5 to 10 feet to slow motorists by making them feel constrained.
Toole Design Group said the continuous center medians should be made with mountable curbs to address worries about limiting emergency vehicle access.
Regarding aesthetics along the stretch, Toole Design recommends designing attractive roundabouts, possibly placing a gateway feature in the roundabouts at Ward and East avenues, and providing attractive pedestrian-scale street lighting and landscaping along South Avenue.
The South Avenue Steering Committee working with Toole Design on the plan to present to WisDOT includes neighborhood representatives Francis Fomanek and Michael Richards, business representative Mary Kessens and Common Council members Martin Gaul, Paul Medinger and Phillip Ostrem.
Participant of the first public meeting for this project were asked to vote on their top concerns. Speeding vehicles and the problem of pedestrians and bicyclists crossing South Avenue were the top issues.