Public Works presentation: No bike, walk accommodation exceptions for Division/Church

I recently reported on some of the actions relevant to the Division/Church project that took place at the May Board of Public Works meeting. I want to outline one other important topic discussed at that meeting.

A presentation from Bruce Gerland of AECOM and Lynn Saeger of the Wisconsin Department of Transportation detailed the situations that could allow Stevens Point to receive an exception for accommodating bicycling and walking in the reconstruction of the Division/Church corridor. The slides from that presentation are available here (~6 MB PDF).

Div Ch comp st slide pic

Slide from Board of Public Works presentation

Gerland first gave an overview of the concept of ‘complete streets’ and presented some brief context about their appropriateness for the Division/Church corridor. He then described in detail the five situations where federal and state laws permit exceptions to providing biking and walking accommodations. Below are these five situations and the explanation given as to why each fails to apply (other than one limited exception possibly allowable between Main and Clark):

  • Bicycling or walking prohibited: This situation only applies to interstate highways. Biking and walking are allowed on all other federal and state highways, such as the Division/Church corridor. (Even though the Division/Church corridor is a local street, it is on the National Highway System. I discussed this issue in a previous post.)
  • Absence of need: This situation applies to certain low-density rural areas. The Division/Church corridor does not qualify for this exception due to its high population density.
  • Refusal to maintain: Since the city has an ordinance to maintain sidewalks, this exception does not apply.
  • Constrained environment: In a constrained environment, the following treatments are considered before granting an exception:
      • Reduce the number of lanes
      • Reduce lane widths
      • Implement a road diet (such as replacing 2 standard travel lanes in each direction with a 3 lane configuration with one lane in each direction and a center two-way left turn lane)
          • For the constrained portion of the Division/Church corridor between Clark St and Michigan Ave, the current design alternatives based on a road diet for this section fit into the space available. Projected traffic volumes indicate that the proposed road diet will result in an efficiently functional roadway.
      • Reduce the terrace width (grass strip between sidewalk and curb)
      • Eliminate the terrace
      • Use a narrower bike path
          • The only section of the Division/Church corridor that might qualify for an exception is the block between Main St and Clark St because of its status as an historic district. Even in this short section, only a limited exception is likely to be granted that would result in shared bike markings (sharrows) instead of a separate bike lane.
  • Excessively disproportionate costs: This exception can trigger only when the cost of providing bicycling and walking accommodations exceeds 20% of the total project cost. Gerland gave some detailed explanation (available in the final slide of the presentation) to illustrate that this does not apply for the Division/Church corridor.

Based on this analysis of federal and state laws, the conclusion is that there are no exceptions available (other than possibly between Main and Clark) for eliminating bicycling and walking accommodations in the reconstruction of the Division/Church corridor. There might be a limited exception granted in the block between Main and Clark where a sharrow would be provided instead of a bike lane.

At this point, Saeger from WisDOT continued the presentation. She stated that WisDOT has overseen the process for coming up with the current alternative designs for Division/Church. The state concurs with the project purpose and need which has been clearly expressed at every public meeting. She went on to say that the choices of design elements to incorporate into the design alternatives are appropriate, and that the design alternatives demonstrate the ability to accommodate bicycling and walking except possibly for the stretch between Main and Clark mentioned earlier by Gerland.

Gerland then finished the presentation by pointing out that it is time to move forward on this project. The safety issues will not go away on their own and the roadway will continue to deteriorate. He ended by saying that the design process is a lengthy one and that it must maintain its momentum to avoid wasting money and to retain the ability to acquire right of way necessary for this project.

This presentation made it very clear that the preferred alternative that would result from the current design process would be similar to the design alternatives already presented. In particular, the preferred alternative would include bicycling and walking accommodations and would have no choice but to include a road diet in the constrained portion of the corridor. There are no provisions in federal and state law that would permit the reconstruction of the Division/Church corridor to preserve the current lane configuration.

The presentation was followed by a few brief comments from Board of Public Works members and some alderpersons. Some thanked the presenters for making their point very clear, and others continued to express denial regarding the road diet and its ability to handle projected traffic on Division/Church.

This clarity about design options for the Division/Church reconstruction will frame the upcoming discussion at the June Board of Public Works meeting. At that meeting, board members are expected to take up the issue of whether to have AECOM complete the design process that started nearly a year and a half ago. A sum of $450,000 has already been spent on this design process, and another $300,000 must be paid to AECOM to complete this phase of the design.

Those who might want to withhold that $300,000 payment (and instead apply it to the Hoover overpass project) in order to terminate the AECOM design effort must also justify the waste of the $450,000 already spent. Whenever the Division/Church corridor is reconstructed, currently expected to be around ten years from now, the efforts completed to date by AECOM cannot be reused. At that future time, the city would have to again pay for an equivalent design process that would start anew.

If any action is taken at the June Board of Public Works meeting, the June Common Council meeting one week later would be expected to make a final decision on how Stevens Point should proceed.

The June Board of Public Works meeting is expected to take place the evening of Monday June 9 at the Lincoln Center. Once that meeting agenda is published, I will share those details on the PPSP blog. Poky Pedalers can also stay informed by visiting the PPSP webpage about the Division/Church Corridor Study.

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