The following are a few frustrating facts about the widening of the three block section of Highway 50 running up and down Catholic Hill in Lake Geneva.
That portion of the road has been under repair for over a year, and it’s finally nearing completion. The road widening project was begun to add a single turning center lane for cars slowing to make turns. The road will require street markings and signs for people to know and follow in order to be safe. This road design can only work on roads where all offset entrances and exits (like Havenwood Drive and East Street) are offset in the same direction as the lane of traffic on their side of the road. However, the access/entrance points for some residents living along this stretch of road are offset in the opposite direction, and they will not be able to safely access their homes from both directions.
For example; the houses on the south side of the street, just west of Country Club Drive, are offset in the opposite direction of the east bound traffic to Country Club Drive. For those residents living on the south side of Hwy 50, entering on Hwy 50 from the east and turning into the center lane to make a left turn to access their property, will put them on a head-on collision course with those heading east and turning left on to Country Club Drive. For those residents on the south side of Hwy 50 to safely return home will require them to either take a ½ mile U-turn around a city block in downtown Lake Geneva, or take a 1½ mile detour back at Curtis Street, to Townline Road, to Wells Street back to Hwy 50 and then head east on Hwy 50 to make a right turn on-to their property. Every time those who supported adding this turning lane, they should remember those who are paying the price with the complicated ½ mile U-turn around a downtown city block, or the 1 ½ mile detour through Curtis Street to access their property. Which, depending on the road marking, can be every time they leave or return to their property, and for anyone who comes to visit them.
It is also interesting to note that the road, as it stood a year ago, was 30 feet wide (two 15 foot wide lanes), and could have been divided into 3 lanes without spending a million dollars to widen it. It could have been marked for three ten foot lanes, and it would have met both the state’s urban arterial and collector road width requirements. However, spending the million dollars to add the extra 6 feet to the road width made the lanes 12 feet wide, a little safer than a 10 wide road would have been, but less safe than the 15 feet they possessed before it was widened; however, a 36 foot wide road is not wide enough for a bicycle lane too. According to the highway administration, the minimum width of a bicycle path on a road is 5 feet. Taking a 5-foot bicycle path off both directions of the road would reduce the 12 foot lanes to 8.67 feet for each lane. With 8.67 foot lanes and 8.53 foot wide trucks (not including side mirrors) it would leave only about 1.5” clearance between vehicles, so there will be no bicycle lanes. What difference does it make now?
Without a bike path, the bicycles will either use the sidewalks which makes it unsafe for pedestrians, or the bicyclists will have to travel down that hill intermingled with vehicle traffic. The next serious issue will be the signage (or the lack of it). Even today, riding down the hill and approaching Wells Street, there are no overhead signs showing the lane usage ahead, even though each lane is designated for a specific use. One lane is for only immediate left turns at Wells, one is for only a left turn on the South Lake Shore Drive, one for right turns on Mill Street, and one for cars going straight head and then continuing into the left turn lane for a turn on Center, or moving to the right turn lane for a turn on to Center Street. All of this occurs in the short distance between Wells and Broad streets. The roads are clearly marked on the surface, but on weekends in summer those surfaces are covered by cars, so tourist don’t know which lanes are for what purpose. Other streets in Lake Geneva have overhead signs on them, why not the hill?
So will the City of Lake Geneva fail to put up an overhead road sign at the top of the hill to explain the bidirectional turning middle lane? Are tourists going to learn about this by accident? The difference between success and failure is in the details of a plan, and how well the details have been thought through before the project even starts. For those who remember, the excellent city re-do of the lane markings on Hwy 50 between Wells Street and Center Street, was done after two years of accidents and resident & visitor frustrations and complaints. The re-do marking that we have today makes sense, and they are as they should have been done two years earlier. This was/is a good example of the difference between poor and good planning of project details, but unfortunately the good planning wasn’t done until two years after that project was completed. The latest road work looks like a repeat of rushed planning, with disregard and a lack of concern for the details, and without sympathy for all those who will be adversely affected by the change. Unfortunately, some of the problems that the 3 lane road will cause are not fixable, without eliminating the center lane.