Portage County Bike/Ped Plan: Report on November steering committee meetings

Last night, both the Rural and Urban Steering Committees for the Portage County Bicycle and Pedestrian Planning Project met. The main topic for discussion was a draft document containing the recommendations for bicycling and walking. Links to this draft document can be found on the bike/ped plan website or in my PPSP blog post announcing the meeting.

The 41-page document starts with the goals, objectives, and policies statement that was discussed at the previous two sets of meetings. After that, a section titled Non-Infrastructure Recommendations lists recommendations for 4 of the 5 ‘E’s: encouragement, education, enforcement, and evaluation. These recommendations specify actions that can be taken to increase the number of people who bike and walk while emphasizing safe and legal use of our public roadways by all road users. Also included in this section are some other recommendations such as connections with transit, funding sources, and zoning issues.

The remainder of the document discusses topics associated with the 5th ‘E’: Engineering.

The next section provides an overview of various facilities for bicycling and walking. These include items such as bike lanes and shared lane markings for bicycling; sidewalks and median islands for walking; and shared use paths for both modes.

The final three sections specify the bicycling network for the rural area, the bicycling network for the urban area, and countywide walking recommendations. The bicycling network recommendations list streets and roads, together with an appropriate facility for each, that should be added to the existing bicycling network. The walking recommendations do not list specific streets or intersections for new infrastructure, but instead give a more general get of guidelines for upgrading existing streets. Individual municipalities are expected to be aware of locations needing structural improvements for foot traffic.

At the start of both the rural and urban meetings, project staff explained that this recommendation draft document is pulled out of the context of the full plan document. A large amount of background discussion is absent from the available draft document. At the next set of meetings, which should take place in early December, a more complete version of the full draft document will be available.

Both meetings had fruitful discussions about the draft document. Below are summaries of many of the topics discussed at the two meetings.

  • Bike rodeos: There was discussion about which agencies have put these on in the past and how to capture the ‘recipe’ to aid agencies new to staging rodeos.
  • Crosswalk enforcement programs: Ideas about using positive language and incentives were mentioned.
  • Coordination with law enforcement regarding traffic harassment incidents: An idea was mentioned to create a program to facilitate the reporting of these sorts of incidents. Although this would not result in the issuance of citations, it could help identify habitual harassers. This may allow law enforcement to initiate a conversation with such individuals to create better cooperation among all road users.
  • Lawn signs encouraging motor vehicle traffic to slow down: Some coordination strategies were discussed to make this sort of campaign more effective countywide.
  • Grant opportunities: Options for funding opportunities from a few sources were outlined.
  • Rural bike route naming and signage: There was discussion about whether the county should create a system of named or numbered bike routes. There was also mention that individual municipalities could use their newsletters to publicize additional local loops for the benefit of their residents.
  • Bike route parking/staging areas: Tied to the concept of identified bike routes, a need for parking or staging areas was mentioned. This could encourage visitors to local municipalities in order to ride such bike routes. These visitors would be more likely to spend money in those municipalities on food or other items.
  • Sidewalk detail to recommend: Project staff asked whether municipalities want a list of all the specific locations where sidewalks are recommended, or whether they prefer mere guidelines on where to consider building new sidewalks. In some locales, maps of recommended sidewalks can inflame local residents who do not want a sidewalk on their property. Project staff wants guidance on which approach would best serve local leaders who want to add more sidewalks within their communities.
  • Desire to lower speed limits on rural roads for more comfortable bicycling: There was discussion about how local municipalities are limited by the state in setting speed limits. Speed limits must be set based on the characteristics of roadways and the surrounding land use.
  • Lack of recommendations connected to health and wellness: Early meetings in the bike/ped planning process showed considerable support for positive health and wellness outcomes for the plan. This inertia seems to have been lost, as the recommendations make no mention of health and wellness related encouragement. Project staff acknowledged this lack and will add some appropriate recommendations.
  • Objectives for 5-year and 20-year mode splits (percentage of trips by bicycle or by foot): These target percentages have not yet been identified. After discussion, a proposal was made to take current figures, increase them by one-fourth for the 5-year mode split, and double them for the 20-year mode split. Reevaluation of these targets will take place at a future meeting.
  • Benefits of land use planning to encourage bicycling: There was discussion about barriers to bicycling and walking due to poor land use planning. It becomes hard to choose to bike or walk regularly when the distances between home, work, shopping, and other destinations are far.
  • Proposed Minnesota Ave bike/ped bridge over the railroad tracks in Stevens Point: This recommendation in the plan was singled out as a notable one. This comfortable connection across the major barrier formed by the tracks can create a convenient and safe north-south bicycle route currently lacking within the Stevens Point city limits. This would be a very long-term project with an expensive price tag (reasoned guess of $3 million), but bold visions like this are expected from a bike/ped plan.

Before each meeting ended, project staff announced that a tentative date of December 3 was set for the next steering committee meetings. A more complete draft of the full plan will be available for review before that meeting.

Also, an open house to get input from the general public about the plan is tentatively set for that same date in the evening. Stations would be set up to allow attendees to learn about plan features and give feedback directly to project staff.

Once the schedules of the steering committee meetings and the open house are more definite, I will post that information on the bike/ped plan project webpage whose link can be found under the Speak Your Poky menu bar item. That webpage also has pointers to all my past posts about the bike/ped plan, including meeting reports.

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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