Give Madison project a fair chance
June 9, 2008 · Updated 3:11 PM
"Timing is everything.So, as the autumn leaves start to turn and we begin our slow, inexorable retreat indoors, we fear that the Madison Avenue traffic calming project won't be getting the fair trial it deserves. Not because it won't slow drivers down - to the contrary, watching some motorists snake carefully through the rows of white pylons that went up this week made it look like we'd skipped traffic calming and moved right into traffic sedating. No complaints about that (unless you were stuck behind them).Rather, our concern is that the amenities that come with the project - wider sidewalk plaza areas for use by adjacent businesses, to create what architect Peter O'Connor describes as an environment of activity for shoppers and restaurant patrons - are coming too late in the year.Outdoor dining and sidewalk sales will be unseasonable within a few weeks; a Madison Avenue diner that might have used the new spaces nearby has gone out of business; there will be fewer of us out and about as the evenings grow shorter.Which is why we suggest that citizens and city officials take a long-term view when weighing the project's merits.Clearly, parts of Madison Avenue aren't now seeing their highest and best use. This is the Winslow core, where the city hopes to shoehorn much of the island's future development. So we dug out the city zoning map and gave a call to the planning staff this week, to see what types of projects are allowed between city hall and the Hobble and Hays building. The answer: high-intensity projects for entertainment; retail outfits; professional services; health care facilities; multi-family housing - all at densities equal in scale to, say, Winslow Green or beyond. In short, lots.In fact, with the amount of redevelopment that's going on - with even Doogal's Restaurant being razed to make way for a three-story office building - we're guessing that the east side of Madison Avenue will see extensive change over the next five to 10 years. It may not look like Winslow Way today, but it will soon enough.In that context, a traffic-calmed, pedestrian-friendly Madison looks ahead of its time.Yes, the plastic pylons look silly, and some of the lane markings are somewhat less that precise. If folks like it, adjustments can be made here or there to fix what doesn't work.And if nobody likes it, the city can tear it out and drivers can go back to speeding up and down Madison. The pedestrians among us can go back to running for our lives. But when the season turns again, what then? "