The Stevens Point Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee held a public meeting Thursday evening at the Portage County Library on Main St. The primary goals were to inform the public about the Portage County Bike/Ped Plan and to get feedback about which plan recommendations specific to the city of Stevens Point should be prioritized.
I observed a good turnout, estimating approximately 75 people participating. Besides members of the BPAC, I saw several alderpersons and city staff members present. I was also pleased to see State Representative Katrina Shankland in attendance to take note of local interest in bicycling and walking issues.
As good as this turnout was, I feel it is relevant to mention that the demographics were heavily skewed towards an older age group. I noticed very few attendees who appeared to be under age 25. The BPAC should note this demographic skew as they interpret any feedback received.
The room was ringed with tables staffed by local organizations offering information about bicycling and walking. The first portion of the meeting was informal, allowing attendees to browse the available materials and to engage in discussions about biking and walking.
This was followed by a brief presentation by members of the BPAC that provided context regarding the content of the Bike/Ped Plan and the committee’s role in initiating action on plan recommendations.
The presentation culminated in an explanation of the public feedback portion of the meeting. Attendees were given stickers to be applied to their preferences among Bike/Ped Plan recommendations listed on large posters displayed at the front of the room.
Once the crowd had applied their stickers, the posters showed broad appeal among the numerous recommendations. Yet there were a few that received extremely strong interest.
On the poster listing encouragement recommendations, there was overwhelming support to “develop bicycle user maps for area streets.” When I moved to Stevens Point over five years ago, one of the most surprising things I discovered was the lack of bike maps to indicate safe, comfortable, and convenient routes for transportation bicycling around the Stevens Point urban area. This lack was my motivation for creating Poky Pedaling Route Maps that were available at each Poky Pedal over the first three years of PPSP. From the feedback at Thursday’s meeting, the public seems to feel that creating and publishing this sort of local urban bicycle map is a very high priority.
Another poster listing enforcement recommendations provided a clear message to focus on “crosswalk enforcement,” clarified as “motorist must yield to pedestrian in crosswalks.” When I’m not using a bicycle to get somewhere, I’m almost always walking. Although I encounter many people driving who demonstrate courteous and legal behavior at crosswalks, I also encounter too many people driving who exhibit behavior threatening to those with the legal right-of-way while walking a crosswalk. I frequently hear anecdotes from others expressing experiences similar to mine. The large cluster of stickers requesting better crosswalk enforcement sends a statement to Stevens Point leaders to take meaningful action to discourage people who drive from exhibiting threatening and illegal behavior at crosswalks. One such action listed in the Bike/Ped Plan is for local law enforcement officers to stage regular crosswalk enforcement actions, where warnings or citations can be issued to those failing to yield the right-of-way as required by law.
An item among “other recommendations” that got strong sticker response asked the city to “incorporate bicycle and pedestrian facilities into new street projects.” This demonstrates strong public support for bicycling and walking, so that Stevens Point officials should not balk at including high-quality bike lanes, sidewalks, and similar accommodations when planning future street reconstruction projects.
A final observation I want to make concerns the poster on “engineering recommendations.” The format of this poster was substantially different from the others, showing a map covering two-thirds of its space. Direction for feedback on this poster was poorly communicated. Very few stickers were placed on this poster. My experience on one of the committees that helped produce the Bike/Ped Plan gives me strong reason to believe that the public is extremely interested in engineering recommendations for improving bicycling and walking. For this reason, I feel the paucity of stickers showing preferences for engineering recommendations is a reflection of poor poster design and not of popular opinion. I hope the BPAC recognizes the shortcomings of this poster design and does not conclude that there is a lack of public interest in engineering recommendations from the Bike/Ped Plan.
Now that the BPAC has heard from the public, they will have to decide how to interpret the information received and how to turn this feedback into action. Ultimately, the success of Thursday’s public meeting on the Bike/Ped Plan will be measured by how well it influences civic leaders to step up their game when it comes to improving bicycling and walking in Stevens Point.
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