10/7/13 Letter from PPSP to Division/Church Study Project Staff

This is Bob Fisch from Poky Pedaling Stevens Point. I am writing to offer comments regarding the Division/Church Business 51 Improvement Study. This e-mail is the seventh of several I have sent and was composed after the open house held at the AECOM facility on October 3 and before the October 10 deadline listed on the available comment form.

I would like to express my appreciation to both Bruce Gerland and Scott Schatschneider for taking the time to show me the most recent set of options for this planning project during the open house.

My comments are based on my recollections from the open house. Since there were no take-away materials to cross-reference my recollections, I might have some incorrect details below. Even in the presence of inaccuracies, the spirit of what I mention below should be accurate.

To start, let me say that I have a positive impression about many of the features I saw that will create a safer and more comfortable environment for people riding bicycles. Let me list many of these:

Minimum 5 foot bike lanes on almost all of the corridor (with the exception of the block between Main and Clark): It is terrific to see bike lanes as a prominent design feature along the corridor.

Buffered bike lanes between NorthPoint Dr and Maria Dr (I might have the southern boundary wrong): I am extremely pleased to see the use of a buffer on the corridor. This would be Stevens Point’s first buffered bike lane. Let me add here that I hope you can find some way to extend the buffer, even if only 2 feet wide, down to Fourth Ave where this commercial section extends to.

Realignment of Rice St to make a direct crossing to Whiting Ave (with a signal added there if I recall correctly): This would make this crossing much safer (even if I’m mistaken about the signal).

Option to realign Patch St to make direct crossing to Francis St: This realignment would make this crossing much safer.

Roundabout at Northpoint: Although bicycle traffic will still feel small in this large intersection, the calming effect of the roundabout could make this treatment feel much more comfortable on a bike than the current intersection. I would need to see more detail about how bicycles are expected to negotiate this roundabout before I can feel more enthused about this treatment.


Now, let me mention items where I was concerned with what I saw. For each, I suggest recommendations for improvement to accommodate bicycle travel.

Create a bicycle cut-through in the Division St median for crossing Ellis St: Ellis is a particularly safe, comfortable, and convenient E-W bicycle street. It would be extremely poor design to eliminate the ability to cross Division on Ellis by bicycle. By creating narrow cut-throughs in the raised median on Division, bicycle traffic can cross Division conveniently at this intersection.

I am certain this sort of cut-through treatment (to allow bicycle passage but not motor vehicles) is common elsewhere. I used such cut-throughs frequently in Portland, and I have read of several more such implementations in the years since I left (often when creating a bicycle boulevard designed to prevent motor vehicles from using them as short-cuts away from main arterials).

Create a buffer between the bike lane and the standard traffic lane on the section travelling under the railroad bridge between Madison St and Patch St: In remarks about his appearance at the 2013 National Bike Summit, then US Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said, “We need to make it clear to community leaders that a bike lane means more than just painting an extra stripe on the pavement.” (Reference: http://usdotblog.typepad.com/secretarysblog/2013/03/5th-times-a-charm-at-bike-summit.html#.UlLWju2VhMs )

The section of the corridor under the railroad bridge is exactly the sort of situation Sec. LaHood was bringing attention to. With a downhill that increases speeds of all traffic, followed by an uphill that is a minor challenge for a significant portion of bicycle riders, a 5-foot bike lane with only 4 inches of paint as separation from truck and car traffic will not create a safe and comfortable place for bicycling. Because of the very few locations to cross the railroad corridor that are safe and comfortable for bicycle riders, attention to this section should be heightened. (By the way, Water St as a crossing of the railroad corridor is not safe and comfortable for bicycle riders due to the narrow cross section of that street and the moderate-to-heavy amount of motor vehicle traffic that uses it.)

The proposed design of this section includes a 9 foot sidewalk on either side of the street. I wonder if this sidewalk could be narrowed to 7 feet on each side in order to provide a 2-foot buffer between the bike lane and the standard motor vehicle lane.

In the absence of this sort of treatment, the lack of comfort in the bike lane will merely encourage bicycle riders to ride on the 9 foot sidewalk. Maybe this is intentional in your design. If it is, it seems there should be safer and more efficient ways to use the 14 feet on either side of the standard travel lanes to accomodate bicycling and walking.

Create a buffered bike lane on Church St south of Heffron St: This openness of this area – a consequence of vast adjacent parking lots – coupled with being a 4-lane street currently makes this section of Division feel like a place to be travelling well in excess of the 25 MPH speed limit. I didn’t get the impression that the redesign would change the feel of the street in this section for motor vehicle operators. This means that only 4 inches of paint will separate bicycle riders from big trucks and other traffic often travelling in excess of 35 MPH.

This sort of bike lane on a busy street like Church is suitable for 30-year-old males in lycra. This is hardly the sort of bicyle infrastructure that 12-year-olds or 60-year-olds or the vast majority of women would want to use. Yet these are the sorts of people you need to design bicycle infrastructure for in order to create an equitable balance among all road users.

It may be difficult to attract bicycle riders to use the bike lanes (instead of, say, the sidewalk) in the design I saw. Even a two-foot buffer between the bike lanes and the adjacent standard travel lanes would make a substantial improvement in the comfort of these bike lanes. I ask you to examine your options to see if there is room to create such a buffer for these bike lanes.

Sharrow problematic between Main St and Clark St: I need to look at your options here more closely to have a more definite opinion, but my gut reaction is that using a sharrow on this sort of street for such a short distance doesn’t feel right. It may cause confusion being only one block long. Because of how busy this area is with motor vehicle traffic, this would essentially turn into a gap in the bicycle network for anyone but the 1% of Brave and Fearless riders. Few other riders would feel comfortable riding towards mid-lane at, say, 5PM on this block. And having to shift from a bike lane towards mid-lane and back to a bike lane seems unsafe.

Either there is enough room within a lane for a car to pass a bicycle, or there isn’t. A sharrow is an indication that there isn’t, meaning towards mid-lane is the only safe place to ride. I may have misinterpreted, but I got a sense that the sharrow treatment was going to be used to tell bikes to stay to the side because there isn’t room for a bike lane. If my sense is correct – and please forgive me if it isn’t – then my understanding from other sources is that such a treatment – essentially replacing a sub-standard width bike lane with a sharrow – is not a proper way to use a sharrow.

Concern about intersection of Fourth Ave and Division St: I didn’t spend enough time looking at this piece, but I didn’t really get a sense that the safety issues were addressed adequately. Widening Fourth and adding bike lanes are certainly an improvement, but it still looks squeezed. (A cross-sectional diagram with lane and right-of-way widths for Fourth Ave would be helpful in understanding the design of this intersection – perhaps it is not as squeezed as my impression leads me to believe.)

With the amount of motor vehicle traffic travelling both N/S and E/W, bikes can still be easily overlooked without other treatments (such as bike boxes) at this intersection. Reducing N/S motor vehicle traffic to one lane in each direction will likely reduce car-car crashes, but do you expect your treatments to reduce the big red dot of crash rate to a green dot? Or even a yellow dot? Perhaps your analysis says it will, and perhaps there are other treatments planned for this area to reduce crash numbers that I am unaware of. This is just the feeling I came away with about this intersection.

Desire to see treatments such as bike boxes and green paint where bike lanes cross right-turn lanes: When I asked about your intended use of such street treatments which have been demonstrated to improve safety, I was told that you weren’t far enough into the design to consider these treatments. I strongly encourage you to elevate the priority for considering these street treatments. A design without these appears to be a motor vehicle oriented design with bicycle considerations tossed in as an afterthought. A design with these show a concerted effort to create balance among all road users in providing safe and comfortable streets.

The places most obvious to me for such treatments are the following:

– northbound bike lane approaching Heffron where the bike lane crosses the right-turn lane: making this piece of the bike lane green will alert right-turning traffic to watch for bicycles;

– intersection of Fourth Ave and Division St: bike boxes in all directions will reduce the potential for right-hook crashes and will create awareness of the significant amount of bicycle traffic that uses this intersection.

I suspect there may be other locations on the corridor where these sorts of treatments would be appropriate. Use in roundabouts comes to mind. I would need another look at the current version of the corridor plan to suggest other locations.

Bike boxes and other green paint treatments are illustrated in the NACTO (National Association of City Transportation Officials) Urban Bikeway Design Guide. This past August, the FHWA (Federal Highway Administration) released a 3-page memo stating that “FHWA supports the use of [the NACTO Guide and other] resources to further develop nonmotorized transportation networks, particularly in urban areas,” and that “FHWA encourages [transportation] agencies to appropriately use these guides.” An official with City of Olympia Public Works stated that this memo “liberates us to create context-appropriate improvements to make our streets more safe and inviting.” (References:
– FHWA memo: https://www.dropbox.com/s/ew247oft8livxxx/BicyclePedestrianFacilityDesignFlexMemo.pdf
– People for Bikes analysis of memo, “Another Milestone for US Biking: Highway Administration Backs the NACTO Guide”: http://www.peopleforbikes.org/blog/entry/another-milestone-for-u.s.-biking-highway-administration-backs-the-nacto-gu )

I hope FHWA’s support for innovative bicycle treatments such as bike boxes and other green paint treatments encourages you to consider using them to make bicycle travel in the Division/Church corridor safer and more comfortable for all road users.


To conclude, I would like to highlight a quote from Mayor Halverson that appeared in a story about this project in the current Portage County Gazette dated 10/4/13. In discussing bicycle and walking accomodations on public streets, our Mayor is quoted as saying, “The idea that we can just ignore pedestrian and biking needs is irresponsible; bikes and pedestrians are what the 21st century is all about.”

I am pleased to see such strong support from our Mayor regarding active transportation. I hope his stance encourages you to make additional efforts to find 21st century solutions for balancing transportation needs on the Division/Church corridor for all modes: walking, bicycling, transit, motor vehicles, and freight.

Thank you for taking the time to read my comments. I hope you are able to incorporate my suggestions into future iterations of the design of the Division/Church corridor.

Bob Fisch
Poky Pedaling Stevens Point