State Street Pedestrian Mall

Madison, Wisconsin
Source: Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center (PBIC)


Many cities in the United States have attempted to create pedestrian malls, but few have been successful.


The 100-600 blocks of State Street are closed to vehicle traffic, with the exception of buses, bicycles, and authorized vehicles. At the end of the street is the State Capitol.

Throughout Europe, pedestrian streets and malls are a relatively common feature. Cities as diverse as Trondheim, Norway; Florence, Italy; and Graz, Austria have pedestrian zones that act as central features of the community. In the United States, numerous communities have attempted to create similar environments, but with much less success. Many cities have recently removed pedestrian and transit malls in favor of conventional street designs for motorized traffic. Ithaca, New York; Boulder, Colorado; Burlington, Vermont; and Madison, Wisconsin are among the few places that have successfully managed their downtown pedestrian malls. This case study looks at Madison, Wisconsin's pedestrian mall, in place since the 1970s, which continues to enhance the area as a vital part of the city.


State Street is eight blocks long, connecting the University of Wisconsin Campus with the State Capitol. It is Madison's "Main Street" in terms of downtown shopping and, increasingly, dining and entertainment. In the early to mid-1970s, State Street and the Capitol Concourse (the streets around the perimeter of the Capitol) were converted to a transit mall in the 100-600 blocks, and a pedestrian mall in the 700 and 800 blocks near the University of Wisconsin campus.

The 700 and 800 blocks of State Street are a pedestrian mall. At the end of the street is the University of Wisconsin campus.

The State Street right-of-way is 66 ft wide from building face to building face. In the 100-600 blocks, the street is 24 ft wide and centered in this right-of-way with 21 ft of sidewalk on each side. Half of each sidewalk in this area is the pedestrian zone, and the other half has been designed to have pedestrian amenities, such as street furniture, sidewalk cafes, public art, bus shelters, light poles, and trees. The 100 - 600 blocks are not completely closed to vehicles, but vehicular use of the street in this area is restricted to buses, bicycles, and authorized vehicles. Authorized vehicles include delivery vehicles, taxis, and vehicles of contractors and business owners. These vehicles are closely regulated to minimize the impact on the pedestrian environment of the street.

The State Street sidewalk provides a pedestrian zone and a zone for sidewalk cafes, bus shelters, trees, and other pedestrian amenities.

The 700 and 800 blocks of State Street near the University of Wisconsin campus are a pedestrian mall. Bicycles in these blocks are to be walked, and bike parking is only permitted at bike racks. The 700 block is typically full of food and crafts vendors.

The restaurant, entertainment, and shopping establishments on State Street are supported by activities taking place nearby. Free concerts are given one night each week during the summer on the Capitol lawn, a farmer's market is open around the Capitol Square every Saturday morning, and other weekend events are often combined with the farmer's market on Saturdays or Sundays. Portions of State Street are often closed completely for these special weekend shopping or entertainment events. This allows pedestrian traffic, vendors, and others to use the entire right-of-way for the activity.


This Plan of the State Street reconstruction project shows how the street runs between the State Capitol (lower right) and the University of Wisconsin Campus (upper left).

As has been the experience of most U.S. pedestrian streets, there have been attempts to re-open State Street to general car traffic, get rid of the buses, and add on-street parking. Yet, State Street continues to be successful. Ground floor occupancy rates are consistently near 100 percent, and lunchtime restaurant business has been excellent. The success of the street has provided continued support to keep pedestrians, bicycles, and buses as the primary means of mobility on State Street.

When the City's current plan to improve State Street was drafted, it indicated that the character of State Street should remain much as it is, but with fewer bus shelters, more flexible street furniture, a cleaner look, and new trees. The plan was reviewed by 12 City boards, commissions, committees, and local neighborhood and business associations. This plan was unanimously approved on April 9, 2002, and calls for funding from City, Federal, State, private, University, Business Improvement District, and foundation sources.

State Street's success is due in part to supportive land use in the surrounding areas. The University of Wisconsin Campus on the west end and the Capitol Square (a major employment center) and Capitol Building on the east end act as anchors on both ends of the street. The distance between these two anchors is less than 1 mi, so the entire length is a comfortable walking distance.

State Street looking towards the State Capitol.

State Street is a unique public space that attracts both residents and tourists, and its pedestrian-friendly orientation is an essential component of its success. The pedestrian-only environment in close proximity to the University and downtown residential neighborhoods creates a place where people can enjoy an evening out without worrying about drinking and driving. The environment also reduces the chance of a pedestrian-vehicle conflict due to the low vehicle volumes allowed on the street. Where State Street does cross other roads, there are curb extensions to limit the amount of time the pedestrian spends in the roadway. In addition, holding special events on State Street and in the surrounding areas helps maintain the street's reputation as one of the cultural centers of Madison.


Arthur Ross, Pedestrian/Bicycle Coordinator
City of Madison Department of Transportation
P.O. Box 2986
Madison, WI 53701
Phone: (608) 266-6225
Fax: (608) 267-1158


Madison's State Street 2000 website: statestreet.htm
State Street Strategic Plan, 1999:

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