Near West District

see also: Near West District Findings - Near West District Recommendations


Located on the southern shores of Lake Mendota, the Near West district is home to the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The area received some of the City's first growth beyond the Isthmus in the early 1900s. Today it offers its residents close proximity to downtown and many parks, including Hoyt Park, Picnic Point, and Vilas Park. Glenway Golf Course and the Henry Vilas Zoo are also in the Near West district. Edgewood College and the zoo are located along the shores of Lake Wingra.

Single-family residences are the predominant land use in the non-university sections of the Near West. Sections of University Avenue and Monroe Street provide retail space, with Hilldale Mall, the largest retail area, located at the intersection of Midvale Boulevard and University Avenue. Multifamily residences are clustered around University Avenue and Monroe Street, with many multifamily homes in the area bounded by Lake Wingra to the south, Park Street to the east, Midvale to the west and the University on the north.

Apart from the Isthmus, the Near West district contains some of the oldest residences in the City. Neighborhoods such as Dudgeon-Monroe, Regent, Vilas, and South Campus saw development begin in earnest in the early 1900s. Nakoma was once a streetcar suburb of Madison and experienced growth through the early 1900s as well. Other neighborhoods farther west, like Midvale Heights, developed primarily after World War II. Nakoma, a portion of the Vilas neighborhood, and a significant part of the Regent neighborhood are three national historic districts in the Near West. A smaller portion of the Regent neighborhood's national historic district is also a local historic district.

In this report, the Near West region refers to the area bounded by Park Street to the east, Shorewood Hills and Lake Mendota to the north, Rosa Road and Whitney Way from Mineral Point to the Beltline to the west, and portions of Lake Wingra, the Arboretum, and Odana Road to the South. Neighborhood associations in the Near West include the Nakoma League, Midvale Heights, Dudgeon-Monroe, Vilas, Hill Farms, Westmorland and Greenbush. The region covers approximately 7.5 square miles and has a population of 41,909.

District Planning Goals

Neighborhood plans and resident surveys identified three environmental issues of significance to the Near West: traffic volume, the UW-Madison co-generation power plant facility currently under construction, and the protection of Lake Wingra. The district is home to many active neighborhood groups and citizen organizations with an environmental focus. Residents see their neighborhood associations as avenues for public participation. "They are participatory democracy at its finest," wrote one Dudgeon-Monroe resident. The University is an important presence in the community and was cited by residents as a key partner for collaboration on planning issues. As a major institution, it has opportunities to set examples of planning and sustainability for the rest of the community. Residents also expressed the desire for communication with City officials on environmental planning measures being pursued city-wide.

Vehicle Traffic Volume

Issues associated with vehicle traffic in the district include air and noise pollution and pedestrian safety. Major streets traveled by commuters going to and through campus, including University Avenue and Johnson Street, were highlighted as areas of concern. The Southwest bike path and the Lakeshore bike path were cited as highly valued amenities. These paths offer access to locations like Picnic Point, the Arboretum, and Hoyt Park. In addition to their contribution to low-impact transportation, they help connect natural and open space areas. Friends of the Southwest Bike Path is a neighborhood group formed to promote these paths and improve trail conditions. Some district residents called for additional pedestrian and bike connections along University Avenue (heading west from Highland Avenue), energy-efficient rail, and new partnerships between the City and the University. The University transportation plan presents recommendations for new pedestrian streets and future rail stations.

Power Plant Pollution

The UW/MGE West Campus co-generation power plant is located on the west end of campus and is slated to expand into a facility that will serve all 90,000 households in Madison. Concerns about this expansion include air pollution, which will cause nearby neighborhoods to approach the maximum amount of particulate matter allowable under the Clean Air Act, and increased noise that the large plant will generate. Many residents expressed disappointment in the public participation process associated with the facility and said that decisions were made "virtually unnoticed." The citizen group FORE, Friends of Responsible Energy, said that the health and welfare of area residents, hospital patients, and students will be compromised. It has been working to promote public discussion on the potential impacts of the project on the community. FORE wants "an accurate re-appraisal of the campus's anticipated energy needs, development of a fiscally and environmentally responsible plan to meet those needs, and a return to the open, inclusive planning process of the Master Plan."

Lake Wingra

Residents identified Lake Wingra as an important environmental attribute of the Near West district. The lake has been affected by a variety of pollutants, including fertilizers, road salt, and sediment runoff and by increased environmental impacts associated with development in the watershed. Friends of Lake Wingra (FOLW), a local citizen group, is working with neighborhood residents to protect this resource. Survey respondents identified the reduction of impervious surfaces as an issue important to reducing pollution in the lake. FOLW created a stormwater management plan in 2003 that addresses citizen participation and planning. A spokesperson for this group suggested that the "opportunity for stormwater improvement comes from re-development of infrastructure and improvements on residential and commercial property." Also recommended in the plan is the development of commercial, municipal, and residential rain gardens. Protecting Lake Wingra is a component in several of the neighborhood plans in this district.

The Near West district shares a number of environmental goals with other parts of the City. Like the West district, reducing vehicle traffic is an important priority. The following analysis will highlight some of the opportunities that exist for making the Near West more welcoming to pedestrians and bikers, including the addition of new sidewalks, the expansion of transit service to cover a greater area, and the creation of new bike connections to existing paths. Stormwater management is another important goal the Near West shares with other parts of the city; the reduction of impervious cover will be a major component in any environmental plan for the district. Finally, it should be recognized that the Near West's efforts to achieve sustainability will be closely connected to the University of Wisconsin, which, as a major institution, will have a significant influence on the district's development. The University's presence in the Near West can be a source of opportunities for innovation and collaboration with the surrounding communities.

Near West District Findings - Near West District Recommendations