Division/Church Corridor Study: February updates

There were a couple of meetings this week regarding the Division/Church Corridor Study project. Before mentioning these, let me provide some recent context on this project.

After the underproductive November public meeting which got sidetracked by rude and inappropriate behavior by a segment of the attendees, project staff has been struggling to identify how to gather constructive feedback and determine a balance among the variety of expressed opinions in order to move the project forward. In December, they proposed hiring a consultant with expertise in managing the public process, but the Stevens Point Common Council voted down this option due to its $30,000 price tag.

At January’s Board of Public Works meeting, city officials revealed that even though the Division/Church corridor within the Stevens Point city limits is a city street, it still is a part of the National Highway System (NHS) due to its status as a principle arterial, its connections with other highways, its importance for serving key destinations within the urban area, and other qualitative features. The NHS designation means that any substantial reconstruction of the roadway must adhere to a collection of federal and state criteria. Among the criteria for this type of urban street, accommodations for bicycling and walking are required. Even if only local money is used to pay for the project, federal and state laws require that the reconstruction must meet all these criteria.

February Board of Public Works meeting
This past Monday, the Board of Public Works meeting included a discussion about the Division/Church corridor. Two representatives from Wisconsin Dept of Transportation came and answered questions about the inclusion of the corridor on the NHS, the federal and state statutes for bicycling and walking accommodations, and related topics. State DOTs are the agents that receive federal money for construction projects and distribute these funds to local projects, so they are good sources for information about both federal and state requirements.

The WisDOT representatives reiterated and expanded upon what was stated by city officials at the January meeting. Board members and alderpersons asked numerous questions to better understand the relevant issues and their relationship to the agreement made in 2009 that transferred jurisdiction of the corridor from the federal government to the city.

As part of their responses, the WisDOT representatives did mention that federal and state laws specifying the requirements for reconstructing roadways do include exceptions. A couple of alderpersons in attendance reacted fervently upon learning of such exceptions. Their subsequent statements suggested that they saw no purpose to providing bicycle accommodations on the Division/Church corridor and that they intend to identify hardships this project meets to merit such exceptions so that bike lanes can be eliminated from the project.

I find the tone of statements made by these alderpersons to be insulting to the demonstrably significant portion of the city’s residents who regularly use non-motorized transportation for conducting their personal business.

Southside Business Association meeting
Last night, the Southside Business Association (SBA) held a meeting to have a discussion with the Division/Church project staff. This meeting, attended by about 30 people, allowed business owners along the corridor to express their individual concerns about the design alternatives that have been proposed.

This meeting, which lasted over two hours, provided much good dialog. There was an undertone of frustration and anger that eminated from several business owners, and a few times they crossed a line and rudely expressed contempt and disrespect towards the project staff. Even in the face of such hostility, project staff replied with grace to all questions and comments throughout the meeting.

Driveway access was a key topic mentioned by many business owners. It was apparent that project staff has put great effort into finding the best workable solutions for each business owner and is still open to further discussion for identifying additional options within the constraints of the project.

Another topic that got significant attention was the crash history along the corridor. Detailed maps showing site-by-site crash data was presented. Despite the presentation of such data, several business owners seemed to be in denial that there are an unacceptable number of crashes along the corridor in front of their businesses.

The need to provide bicycle accommodations along the corridor was briefly discussed. I had an opportunity to share information from my recent guest article in the Portage County Gazette to illustrate that a substantial portion of Stevens Point residents do not drive. I also pointed out, as has been documented by studies in San FranciscoPortland, and Toronto, that bicycle traffic does bring a significant number of paying customers, suggesting that improving bicycle access can increase revenue at a large number of the businesses along the corridor.

There was some discussion about the exceptions to NHS requirements that came up at the February Board of Public Works meeting. Project staff provided detail about the nature of these exceptions. After going through the list, the only exception not yet ruled out by available data is the exception related to additional project costs specific to implementation of required federal and state criteria. The main reason this exception has not yet been ruled out is that such project costs have not yet been calculated. Based on the current design alternatives and past experience, project staff stated that they do not expect costs for the Division/Church corridor reconstruction to trigger this exception.

In response to a question about schedule, project staff stated that they wanted to start construction in 2017. Although that seems far off, a significant amount of work must be competed in the near future to enable this start date.

Previous communication from project staff mentioned that they wanted to select a preferred alternative by spring of 2014. At the SBA meeting, it was stated that there is currently no set timeframe for selecting the preferred alternative and that it was unlikely this selection would be made by the spring. This delay in the selection of a preferred alternative is a direct result of the fallout from the November public meeting and the need to get the public process for creating informed consensus on a preferred alternative back on track.

Moving forward
These two meetings showed some potential for moving the Division/Church corridor project forward. Some participants still seem to be in denial of the significant constraints which require substantial compromise among all stakeholders. Yet others expressed willingness to work through the process and find a proper balance.

Part of this proper balance is enabling all residents to access destinations on the Division/Church corridor regardless of the transportation mode they choose, whether by foot, by bicycle, by transit, or by motor vehicle.

I will continue to keep Poky Pedalers informed about this project on the PPSP blog. The PPSP webpage for the Division/Church corridor project under the Speak Your Poky menu bar item is another good source for staying up-to-date and learning how to make yourself heard.

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