PPSP comments to Portage County Planning & Zoning Committee regarding the bike/ped plan

(Note: The following is a transcript of a statement I made at a public hearing about adopting the Portage County Bicycle and Pedestrian Plan during the March 25 Portage County Planning and Zoning Committee meeting.)

My name is Bob Fisch and I am the Chief Bike Fun Officer of Poky Pedaling Stevens Point. I am asking you to vote to approve the Portage County Bicycle and Pedestrian Plan.

I created Poky Pedaling Stevens Point as a means of encouraging more people to ride bicycles. These slow themed urban rides typically attract 15-to-20 people. My main demographic is in the 45- to 65-year-old range, equally split between women and men. I have had children under 10 and adults over 80 enjoy these community building events.

I want to clarify that I realize no financial benefit by acting to make bicycling better. I don’t own or work at a bicycle business. My Poky Pedals are all free, and I accept no advertising on my website. I don’t get paid to write my blog posts or to speak to you about bicycling. I am not trying to persuade you for my own monetary gain.

My motivation for making bicycling and walking better is to make my county and my city better places to live. Creating better transportation and recreation options has numerous benefits for our community.

Better bicycling and walking create good independent mobility options for our elderly, enabling them to participate more fully in civic life.

Better bicycling and walking give more good transportation options to low-income residents, allowing them more control over their finances and providing a clearer path to the ranks of the middle class.

Better bicycling and walking create safe options for children to travel to school, which is an important step towards addressing the childhood obesity epidemic affecting our community.

Better bicycling and walking improve public health. Not only does this reduce health care costs for those who bike and walk, it also creates a healthier community resulting in reduced health insurance expenses for public employees. Reduction in these taxpayer-funded expenses means that even people who don’t bike or walk see financial benefits from better bicycling and walking.

Better bicycling and walking encourage tourism. Some tourists explore the urban area, and this experience becomes more pleasurable when it is safe, comfortable, and convenient to bike and walk to get around. Some tourists explore the rural area, and a quality network of routes through scenic countryside is appealing to these more athletic visitors. Some tourists are passing through on multi-day bicycle rides, and they are more likely to stop for meals, supplies, and shelter in a village that is bicycle friendly. Regardless of what sort of tourists we attract, they all spend money. Better bicycling and walking provide a direct economic boost to local economies throughout our county via tourism.

Approving the Portage County Bicycle and Pedestrian Plan is a crucial step towards better bicycling and walking all around our county. This plan has taken shape over the past year and a half, guided by a collection of elected officials, municipal staff, and ordinary citizens. I am one of the ordinary citizens who served on the Urban Steering Committee. The team of consultants who led our efforts has excellent credentials and used their ample knowledge of current bicycling and walking trends throughout Wisconsin and the US as a whole to inform us committee members in our guidance.

The collective expertise and commitment of all these contributors have led to an outstanding document that serves as a blueprint for making bicycling and walking better in Portage County. The plan not only makes excellent recommendations for routes and infrastructure that comprise the engineering part of better bicycling and walking, but it also provides exceptional guidance for education, encouragement, enforcement, and evaluation. For those less informed about such topics, the first few chapters lay out a compelling case in plain language for making bicycling and walking better. Plan recommendations draw on these motivations for explaining the expected benefits from their implementation.

I want to make two final points.

First, this is truly a countywide plan that considers the disparate characteristics of the urban and rural areas of the county in making its recommendations. Although Stevens Point gets much attention in the plan because of its relatively large population and high concentration of destinations for bicycling and walking, the other urban and rural areas of the county are fully considered on their own merits.

Second, this plan is simply a plan that does not come with any commitments for expenditures. The plan does make dollar estimates to inform decision makers considering implementation issues. However, adoption of this plan does not commit any municipality to spending a dime on its recommendations. Many of the plan recommendations that might be expensive as stand-alone projects are likely to be implemented as part of scheduled road reconstruction projects when the additional cost for making bicycling and walking better can be negligible. Your approval of this plan is not an approval to spend taxpayer dollars. It is merely an approval of the blueprint for better bicycling and walking that can be implemented opportunistically as fiscal priorities allow.

Please vote to approve the Portage County Bicycle and Pedestrian Plan.

Thank you for listening.

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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