John Nolen Drive between Blair Street and North Shore Drive will be closed for the relocated Rhythm & Booms, starting at 2 p.m.
As Madisonians dust off their grills and stock up on American flag-themed party favors, city officials are finalizing details for the Rhythm & Booms fireworks show, which will relocate to Lake Monona for the 2014 display on Saturday, June 28.
Rita Kelliher, president of Madison Festivals, Inc., which now manages the popular Independence Day celebration, says moving the event to John Nolen Drive offers "a much, much safer venue at a lower cost."
Kelliher says the former location at Warner Park was "unsustainable" for a number of reasons, including traffic congestion. Problems with gridlock required all police officers and emergency personnel to be at the venue before any patrons arrived which Kelliher said led to a "terribly expensive" event.
Madison Police Department Lt. Dave McCaw echoes Kelliher. "When [Warner Park] became an island, you were stuck," he explains, which made it hard for emergency personnel to get in or out to assist those in need.
But McCaw is optimistic about this year's event. He says a number of police will patrol the area on John Nolen Drive by bike and on foot. Additionally, one of the lanes will remain free of event vendors and equipment to allow emergency vehicles easy entrance and exit from the area.
"It'll be easier for us to police because it'll be easier for us to move," he says. "We think people will naturally spread out, which will make it easier to get to things, to see things and then get people the help they need."
Kelliher also expects people to view the show from outside the official event grounds, which stretch along John Nolen Drive, from Blair Street to North Shore Drive. About 40% of the land surrounding Lake Monona, she notes, is public property, much of which is public parkland.
"There's many different area parks to watch from and now the crowd will be spread out across a large area and we don't have concentration of 250,000-300,000 people in one big location," she says.
Minimal traffic disruption
Spreading viewers throughout the city will also help with traffic flow and congestion, says Thomas Mohr, the city traffic engineer who has been working on Rhythm & Booms.
Mohr says the event should cause minimal disruption because the only street closure will be on John Nolen Drive. Although the outbound side will close at 4 a.m. in order to allow organizers to begin set up, Mohr says the inbound lane will be accessible until 1 p.m. on the day of the display.
John Nolen Drive opens to pedestrians at 2 p.m., with the fireworks scheduled to start at 9:30 p.m. and conclude at 10 p.m. The city's biggest concern was how to handle a large number of attendees all leaving the downtown area at the same time, Mohr says.
"For the public coming into town, it would be a good idea to park on the side of downtown you're going to after the event," he says.
A number of options will be available for reaching the event venue, including additional bus routes provided by Metro Transit. Bicycle riders can also leave vehicles in a secure bike corral at Monona Terrace, provided by Trek.
Kelliher suggests the Alliant Energy Center as a good option for those planning to drive. Approximately 8,000 stalls are available there and a bus will shuttle attendees from the parking lot to the closed-off stretch of John Nolen Drive. A number of city, county and private parking ramps are also located downtown.
"We're asking people to really be aware of neighborhoods, and to park in ramps or parking lots, and not try to jam into neighborhoods because of all the foot traffic," Kelliher says.
Adjacent neighborhoods are concerned about this additional foot traffic.
Michael Jacob, president of the Marquette Neighborhood Association, says he has heard all of the "natural concerns" that come with a neighborhood having to absorb large crowds, from traffic congestion to noise complaints to litter.
Kelliher says organizers are working with the city to provide additional trash cans in locations outside the official event venue. She encourages viewers to be responsible about cleaning up for themselves.
"We're really asking people to please 'pack it in, pack it out,' because otherwise it will fall on neighborhood associations or taxpayers to provide that service," she says.
Concerns also remain about the potential negative impacts on Lake Monona caused by debris from the fireworks, which will be shot from barges in the water.
Kelliher, however, says there is an extensive cleanup plan, which includes a construction boom surrounding the barges to prevent float-away debris, as well as volunteer teams who will conduct multiple sweeps of the lake after the show to remove any remaining materials.
Jacob also acknowledges the potential benefits brought to his neighborhood due to its proximity to the show.
"Along with all the traffic and congestion and everything is people who will eat and drink and shop in our businesses, and that's always a good thing," he says. Jacob does note that he wishes organizers had provided more opportunities for neighborhood feedback and engagement during the planning process.
"A lot of this will be a learning experience," he says. "I hope that the organizers and neighborhood will pay attention and see where things are problematic and really engage on how to make them less problematic in the future."
Kelliher agrees, saying the new Rhythm & Booms will take efforts from the entire Madison community to be a success.
"I think it's an opportunity for real community building," she says.