Last night, the Division/Church Corridor Study project held its third public information meeting. This provided an excellent opportunity to ask questions of project staff about the detailed alternatives.
Before I proceed, I want to mention that readers of my comments below might think, based on local media reports, that I’m talking about a different meeting. I assure you that I am talking about the same meeting. At the end of this post, I’ll comment on the acrimony that I observed and that was reported in other local media.
The walls of the meeting room were covered in giant maps, one for each of the three sections of the corridor being studied. Each section map – Minnesota to Patch, Patch to Fourth, and Fourth to Northpoint – displayed a photographic bird’s-eye view of that section with lines overlaid to show the proposed changes. Inset maps showed alternative designs for several locations along the corridor.
As far as I could tell, the design alternatives presented on these maps are the same as those presented at the October Board of Public Works meeting. If there are variations, I’m fairly certain they are minor. Links to these maps can be found on the PPSP webpage for this project here.
Several members of the AECOM engineering team were present to answer questions. I had much to ask, and I found these knowledgeable traffic engineers happy to explain the constraints they had to work with, the considerations they made in creating the alternatives, and the relative feasibility of location-specific alternatives based on current data.
Although I wasn’t necessarily happy with all the answers, I also understand that balancing all the constraints is difficult and that no community member can expect to be totally satisfied with the final design. I appreciate the patience of the AECOM staff in speaking with me and the many others who had questions and comments.
I want to share a few of my impressions about the alternatives presented, coupled with a few things I learned from the project staff.
Fourth and Division
As far back as the first public meeting in January, project staff have identified this intersection as having the worst crash statistics of the entire corridor. This may actually be the most dangerous intersection in Stevens Point.
Not only does it carry large motor vehicle traffic volumes in all directions, but it has an exceptionally large amount of foot and bicycle traffic due to its proximity to UWSP. I did a bike/ped count at this intersection a couple of years ago, so I know first hand the vast amount of bicycle and foot traffic that crosses here compared to several other Stevens Point intersections where I have counted. Providing safe accomodations for people biking and walking is of paramount importance at this intersection.
Although this intersection is currently signalized, there is a large amount of turning traffic in this busy intersection. The need to watch carefully for other motor vehicle movements makes it easy to overlook people bicycling and walking due to their relatively small size. This is part of what makes this intersection so dangerous.
One of the proposed alternatives here is for a one-lane roundabout. Assuming the data shows that a roundabout can function properly, this is my preferred alternative for this intersection. It appears that safety considerations for bicycle and foot traffic are best handled by this alternative. The traffic calming effect of the roundabout, coupled with the availability of mid-crossing islands for safer and more comfortable crossings, are the highlights of this design.
The other alternative for this intersection is a widened version of the current intersection. Although it has improvements from what exists today, it doesn’t really look like it will significantly improve safety for people walking and bicycling. Islands are infeasible for this alternative due to right-of-way width constraints, and the crossing distances appear to be longer than they are now.
This is the most troubling area in the design with regard to bicycling. The current street width is the same as generally exists between Dixon and Fourth, and bike lanes are proposed outside the College-to-Ellis piece. But most of the stretch between College and Ellis is in the Clark/Main Historic District. I was told that due to this historic designation, the project might be unable to acquire enough right-of-way width to implement bike lanes over these 3 blocks.
As a result, the design most likely to be implemented will require someone riding a bicycle to merge into traffic and “take the lane” over these three blocks. The lane width available will be less than 14’ wide, the standard for having enough room for a motor vehicle to stay in the lane and safely pass a bicycle positioned towards the right. At rush hour, only a brave and fearless bicycle rider – statistically only about 1% of those who bike – would attempt such a maneuver on such a busy thoroughfare.
Railroad bridge underpass
The proposed design has one standard travel lane in each direction, a 5’ bike lane in each direction, and a 9’ sidewalk on either side. The exit from the underpass in either direction has an uphill which may be troublesome for a notable percentage of people on bikes. These people are likely to feel uncomfortable when only 4 inches of paint separates them from motor vehicle traffic on these uphills.
With plans for a 9’ sidewalk, it seems that space can be shifted to create a 2’ buffer for the bike lanes under the tracks while still providing a generous 7’ sidewalk on either side. When proposing this at the meeting, I was told that the priority was to give the entire excess room to foot traffic because of the frequent complaints about the safety and comfort of the sidewalk as it currently exists. I can certainly attest personally to that lack of safety and comfort – I walked that stretch on a weekly basis for about 3 years when I lived in that area. Yet I feel that a 7’ sidewalk, separated from traffic by a 5’ bike lane plus a 2’ buffer, would provide ample safety and comfort for foot traffic.
I have several more comments to make to project staff about the proposed designs, but the above are my top concerns. I recommend that Poky Pedalers look over the design alternative maps – particularly in these three locations – form your own opinions, and then voice them to project staff. A handout from last night indicates that comments should be made by December 20. E-mail and US Mail addresses for sending comments, as well as links to the design alternative maps, can be found on the Division/Church Corridor Study webpage under the Speak Your Poky menu bar item.
Another handout says that a preferred alternative will be selected in Spring 2014, and that another public meeting will take place then.
Despite what you might read in local media, project staff have been receptive to constructive comments. The relative importance of creating safe places to bicycle along and across Division can be influenced by public interest in such priorities. The voices of Poky Pedalers can make a difference, and I hope you decide to join that chorus and make project staff aware of your opinions.
Local media reports
The Stevens Point Journal (”Business Highway 51 Meeting Gets Heated”) and the online Stevens Point City Times (“Bus. 51 Presentation Leaves Unanswered Questions, Angry Residents”) both ran articles on last night’s meeting. (I did not see an article in the 11/22 Portage County Gazette that became available today, but I would expect them to write some sort of story to appear next week.) Both articles included coverage of hostile comments from meeting participants.
A brief presentation was given by Bruce Gerland, AECOM Consultant Project Manager, to the audience of well over 100 people. He reviewed the goals and process for the project and how these led to the proposed design alternatives. He also provided some context based on a similar project in another city to support staff conclusions that the proposed design alternatives will create an adequately functioning roadway for traffic volumes projected over the next 20 years. Once he finished, he asked for questions.
I observed as the second commenter launched into an angry meltdown laced with profanities while speaking about a lawsuit with the city. Some audience members applauded. After she stormed out of the room, many others rudely expressed nonconstructive opinions expressing anger toward the project and its staff. After observing this for 10-15 minutes, I tuned out. In my opinion, speakers from the audience seemed to have no interest in proposing ideas for how the project goals might be better achieved.
Upon tuning out, I proceeded to the map-filled wall area and engaged with project staff as I reported above. By ignoring what was going on in 90% of the room, the public information meeting was actually an excellent source of information.
I respect the opinions of those who want to see implementations different from those proposed. These people have the same opportunities as any other citizen to express their opinions orally and in writing. I have personally taken advantage of such opportunities and have written 7 letters to project staff, some of them quite long and detailed, expressing problems I currently encounter and how my proposals would improve safety and functionality. I am not entirely happy with the set of alternatives presented, but I do feel that my input has been seriously taken into consideration.
Others obviously feel differently about the process than I do.
For those wondering what the process has been for this project, the Division/Church Corridor Study webpage under the Speak Your Poky menu bar item has links to 9 posts I have written about this project since January, including reports on all meetings to date which have been accessible to the public.
I hope our community comes together as this project moves forward, ready to accept reasonable change and compromise, to create the best street possible that is safe, comfortable, and meets the needs of all road users: people who walk, people in wheelchairs, people who bicycle, and people who drive.
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