Yesterday, the Urban and Rural Steering Committees for the Portage County Bicycle and Pedestrian Planning Project each held meetings to get updates on current progress and to provide feedback for future direction. The two meetings covered similar topics but differed with respect to committee focus on urban or rural issues.
Read on to get an overview of what was discussed in these meetings. Although the two meetings were held separately, I will be merging the discussed items below.
Summary of Public Workshop
Safety issues in our urban biking and walking networks were brought up repeatedly during the workshop. Locations mentioned, mainly in a bicycling context but often in a walking context, included:
- Green Circle crossings of major streets,
- limited opportunities to cross the major barriers presented by the E-W railroad tracks and by I-39, together with poor bike/ped infrastructure provided at many of these spots,
- the connections via Hwy 10 and County HH to businesses and neighborhoods east of I-39,
- Division St issues in the area near UWSP, including problems both accessing Division St businesses as well as crossing Division from side streets,
- access to K-12 schools.
Comments about rural riding indicated that roads outside the urban areas and villages were generally good for riding.
As for foot traffic issues, there were many comments about disjointed sidewalk connectivity. Poor compliance with sidewalk snow removal ordinances causes difficulties for people on foot, especially for people with disabilities or in wheelchairs. Snow removal issues also have adverse impact on the utility of corner ADA curb ramps. At signalized intersections, buttons provided for activation of WALK signals sometimes do not work.
The Safe Routes to Schools discussion illustrated both successes and challenges among Portage County schools in encouraging K-12 students to walk and bike to and from school.
The health and wellness discussions demonstrated great interest in encouraging healthy living and providing incentives for people to choose to walk and bicycle more frequently.
The discussions about education, enforcement, and encouragement touched on several items.
- Several schools provide first and second grade bicycle rodeos to teach youngsters how to bicycle safely.
- There was interest in providing how-to-ride classes targeted at adults.
- A major concern is the poor enforcement of laws requiring vehicles to yield to foot traffic in crosswalks.
- When monitoring traffic behavior (foot, bicycle, and motor vehicle), law enforcement personnel should be encouraged to focus on a few key laws whose violations contribute to the vast majority of collisions where one of the parties is on foot or bicycle.
- Enforcement of laws should be balanced to promote safety without discouraging people from choosing to walk or bike.
Mr Huber indicated that there was a great deal more that the consultants noted from the workshop, but these were many of the themes that stood out. He appreciated the breadth of useful feedback received at the public workshop.
At the Rural Committee meeting, a committee member indicated that additional outreach may be necessary to get adequate feedback from people living in rural areas of Portage County. Mr Huber expressed openness to that idea. The totality of feedback that the consultants gather through the many tools provided for public feedback will dictate if one or more sessions taking place in rural areas of the county might be warranted.
Safe Routes to School Progress
Ryan Garcia of SAA Design Group gave a presentation on Safe Routes to School (SRTS) and the progress made to date on this effort. SAA Design Group is responsible for the SRTS part of the county bike/ped plan.
SRTS is a national program whose goal is to increase the proportion of children who walk and bike to school. Generally, SRTS projects focus only on elementary school students, but the Portage County effort is examining all K-12 schools with respect to SRTS standards.
Although SRTS is a separate focus within the bike/ped plan project, the SRTS recommendations will integrate into the overall bike/ped network developed in the plan.
Twenty public and private schools throughout urban and rural Portage County have been considered in the SRTS effort. This effort has included:
- discussions with principals,
- examination of school and district policies with regard to transportation,
- on-the-ground observations of how students arrive at and depart from schools,
- site assessments and neighborhood audits detailing current traffic infrastructure.
Several current issues were identified:
- busses carry about 25% of students to school, generally those living more than 2 miles away,
- schools currently do limited tracking of the transportation modes for getting to school used by the other 75% of students,
- transportation plans other than drop-off and pick-up policies were lacking at most schools,
- there are education and encouragement initiatives at some schools but none at others.
Many possible SRTS strategies likely to be included in the bike/ped plan were categorized under the 5 E’s of traffic safety:
- Education – maps of recommended routes, drop-off and pick-up routines, staggered start and release times for different grades, bike rodeos and walkable communities training;
- Encouragement – mileage clubs, Golden Sneaker awards, Walk and Wheel Wednesdays, walking school busses;
- Enforcement – keeping sidewalks clear of vegetation and snow, “Your Speed Is XX” electronic displays, coordination with law enforcement;
- Engineering – enhanced striping and signage at crosswalks and signage for school zones, better bike rack facilities, coordination with capital improvement projects;
- Evaluation – community transportation surveys, work with local advocacy groups, school tallies, reviews of municipal policies for relevance and impact.
This discussion ended by briefly displaying a few maps for a single school in order to provide an example of the work already performed in creating neighborhood audits, site assessments, and proposed solutions.
Bicycle Study Area Selection
Tom Huber discussed the range of roadways to be studied as part of the county bike/ped plan.
The vocabulary of roadway classifications was explained. Arterials are generally more heavily traveled roadways that connect communities – these are often interstates, state highways, and busy urban thoroughfares. Collectors are main streets that feed places which tend to attract traffic – these are often county highways and moderately busy urban streets. Unclassified roads include neighborhood streets and town roads. The situation is actually more complex than this, as there are subclassifications and the classification boundaries are sometimes gray, but these definitions give the general idea.
For the urban area, foot traffic infrastructure will be examined on all arterials, collectors, and neighborhood streets. Bicycle infrastructure analysis will focus only on the arterials and collectors, since neighborhoods streets are known to generally be calm and provide safe and comfortable routes for bicycling.
For the rural area, analysis of foot traffic infrastructure will generally be limited to the villages and will only selectively look at town or county roads beyond village boundaries. Bicycle infrastructure will be examined on all town and county roads, with an emphasis on transitions from urban/village to rural areas.
On-the-ground surveys of existing infrastructure are planned for May. Much of this survey work will be done on foot or by bike. In response to a comment, the consultants embraced the idea of committee members and other interested bike- and walk-oriented citizens to accompany the consultants on these investigations as local experts for pointing out particular challenges in the bicycle and foot traffic networks.
Discussion of Biking and Walking Issues
The floor was opened to committee members to bring up any bicycle or foot traffic issues that concerned them. The list below combines the topics discussed at the two meetings:
- issues specific to UWSP and how it is probably the largest attractor of bicycle and foot traffic in the county,
- priorities in the Village of Plover regarding bicycle and foot traffic issues,
- the type of bicycle rider in mind when considering the suitability of bicycle infrastructure on a given rural road,
- consideration of future increases in motor vehicle traffic volume when making recommendations,
- how frequently motor vehicle counts are taken on roads throughout the county,
- what sorts of bicycle and foot traffic counts are taken in both the urban and rural areas of Portage County, as well as limitations in getting better counts,
- shoulder width and motor vehicle speed issues on rural roads,
- connectivity among villages and other rural destinations, such as county parks.
Sarah Wallace of the Portage County Planning and Zoning Dept ended each meeting by describing the next steps in the process for committee members.
The next Urban and Rural Steering Committee meetings will take place in approximately six weeks. Dates and times will be determined later after polling committee members for their preferences.
In advance of these next meetings, drafts of portions of the bike/ped plan document will be distributed to committee members for review. These drafts will reflect much of the work completed by the consultants at that time. Feedback from committee members on the content of these drafts is highly encouraged.
PPSP Personal Impressions
I am thrilled to see so much activity on the part of the project staff in evaluating our urban and rural bicycle and foot traffic infrastructure. As a member of the Urban Steering Committee as well as a citizen who bicycles and walks for almost all of my local transportation, I look forward to more opportunities for providing feedback and helping produce a quality final bike/ped plan document.
Poky Pedalers have much to gain from this bike/ped plan. Based on the discussions in yesterday’s meetings, project staff is earnestly considering the needs of Poky Pedalers. There is ample reason to believe that the final plan will be a useful tool for influencing local leaders to expand the local network of safe, comfortable, and convenient places to ride bicycles that are suitable for Poky Pedalers.
I encourage more people – whether Poky Pedalers or not – to contribute their opinions about biking and walking in Portage County. The more voices there are, the better the final plan will be. You can learn how you can make yourself heard by selecting the project link under the Speak Your Poky item on the top menu bar.
Disclosure: Bob Fisch, Chief Bike Fun Officer of Poky Pedaling Stevens Point, is a member of the Urban Steering Committee for the Portage County Bicycle and Pedestrian Planning Project. Posts about this project appearing on the PPSP website are part of a broader PPSP effort to keep readers informed of bikey news in our area. Nothing posted on the PPSP website should be considered to be official communication from the Portage County Bicycle and Pedestrian Planning Project. The official website for this project can be accessed at http://portagecobikepedplan.wordpress.com.
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