Last night, the Whiting Village Board voted 6-1 in favor of adopting the Portage County Bicycle and Pedestrian Plan. This makes the bike/ped plan an official village planning document that can inform village officials on future decisions that impact the village’s bicycling and walking environment.
On April 26, the Whiting Public Works & Parks Committee voted 4-1 in favor of recommending to the Whiting Village Board adoption of the plan. When the Village Board considered this recommendation at their May 10 meeting, the board decided by voice vote to postpone any decision until after a public hearing scheduled during the May 24 Public Works & Parks Committee meeting discussing a possible road diet reconfiguration of McDill Ave. At that May 24 meeting, the PW&P Committee, based on the feedback from the public hearing, voted by a voice vote to make no recommendation to Portage County regarding the McDill Ave configuration.
The agenda for last night’s Village Board meeting included both an item to consider adopting the Portage County bike/ped plan and a separate item to consider the action taken by the PW&P Committee regarding a recommendation to Portage County for the configuration of McDill Ave.
Deliberation on the bike/ped plan started with Director Jeff Schuler of the Portage County Planning and Zoning Department addressing the committee. Director Schuler was directly involved in overseeing the plan creation process in 2013 and 2014.
Director Schuler started by outlining how the Portage County bike/ped plan was created. He then expressed some perspective on the purpose of a countywide plan. He mentioned that it is a Portage County goal for all municipalities within the county to adopt the plan, as that is the best way to move towards quality bicycling and walking networks countywide.
Specific to the Village of Whiting, Director Schuler indicated that the plan provides information on items such as what to build when opportunities arise, how to educate village residents about laws and ordinances related to bicycling and walking, and how to improve biking and walking networks for village residents.
He provided the board with printed information from the Village of Plover’s current efforts to incorporate recommendations from the bike/ped plan into their Comprehensive Plan. Plover’s work not only includes statements about why the village considers it important to make bicycling and walking better, but it also includes discussion on Plover’s attitudes about plan recommendations.
Director Schuler emphasized that the bike/ped plan is not a list of mandates from the county for Whiting to implement. He also acknowledged the difficulties in funding plan recommendations and that Whiting wouldn’t be forced to build anything it cannot afford.
In closing, Director Schuler mentioned that improving bicycling and walking in Whiting is about providing transportation choices for its residents. For Whiting’s low-to-moderate income residents, having better options for choosing less expensive transportation modes is beneficial.
Discussion then moved to the village trustees. A clarification that Trustee Bill Horvath requested was whether adoption of the plan would require the village to implement its recommendations. Director Schuler confirmed that there would be no such requirements and that the plan was merely a guide.
Trustee Bill Taugner noted that it is now common for municipalities to make efforts toward improving transportation options other than personal motor vehicle usage. He stated that adopting the plan would better align Whiting with such trends, thereby improving the village’s reputation as a good place to live.
Trustee Kevin Lutz expressed concerns that adoption of the plan will result in future financial obligations for the village. When asked to clarify, he stated that the plan will encourage people to petition the village to implement plan recommendations, and this sort of behavior will waste lots of time and money.
Director Schuler added that the village would be in a better position to apply for grants for biking and walking improvements if they have a bike/ped plan outlining the framework that any specific project would fit into. He suggested an option to update the transportation chapter of the village Comprehensive Plan with bike/ped plan recommendations.
Trustee Lutz moved to postpone consideration of the bike/ped plan until after the Whiting Plan Commission assessed how to incorporate bike/ped plan recommendations into their Comprehensive Plan. His motion did not get a second.
Trustee Taugner moved to adopt the bike/ped plan for the Village of Whiting. Trustee Richard Marquard seconded this motion. On a voice vote, the motion passed with only one voice voting against. Village President Paul Stroik recognized that the board voted 6-1 in favor of adopting the bike/ped plan for Whiting.
McDill Ave Configuration
The conversation among Whiting trustees about the configuration of McDill Ave focused mostly on what was heard at the public hearing on May 24. In a show of hands at that public hearing, approximately 2/3 of those expressing an opinion indicated that they did not want to see McDill Ave reconfigured with a road diet.
A few trustees chided the PW&P Committee for voting to make no recommendation to Portage County regarding the McDill Ave configuration, stating that this did not reflect the will of those attending the public hearing.
Trustee Taugner mentioned that the current short-term configuration of two lanes, a result of construction activity on McDill, seemed to be working well enough. He floated an option to the board of recommending that Portage County try out a road diet for a limited-time trial period to see how it works, after which McDill could revert to its current configuration at the county’s discretion. This would give practical data and experience on whether or not the road diet is a feasible option for this roadway.
Trustee Lutz moved to recommend to Portage County that McDill Ave should not undergo a road diet and that the current 4-lane configuration should remain. Trustee Horvath seconded this motion. Upon taking a voice vote, President Stroik announced that the motion passed by a 4-3 vote, meaning that Whiting would recommend to Portage County to keep the current 4-lane configuration.
As for the county bike/ped plan, the Village of Whiting joins Stevens Point among the municipalities in Portage County that have adopted it. The Village of Plover is in the process of considering the plan as part of its Comprehensive Plan update. I do not know the status of plan adoption among other county municipalities.
Hopefully, Whiting will find the plan useful in its efforts to make biking and walking better within the village limits.
As for the configuration of McDill Ave, the Village of Whiting has made its preferences known. McDill Ave is also County Hwy HH, and being a county road, it is Portage County who will make any decision on how to configure McDill Ave. The Portage County Highway Committee met yesterday with a discussion about the McDill/HH configuration among its agenda items. I was unable to attend that meeting, and its minutes are not yet available. When they become available, my understanding is that the minutes will be accessible through a link off the meeting agenda webpage.
Director Schuler attended yesterday’s Portage County Highway Committee meeting, and I asked him after last night’s meeting for a summary of the discussion there about McDill Ave. (The Highway Committee met early in the day, so that last night’s actions of the Whiting Village Board were not available to that committee.) He said that there was good discussion and that Highway Committee members expressed a variety of opinions on the McDill Ave configuration. The option of a limited-time trial period for a road diet configuration was part of that discussion. Director Schuler mentioned that the topic of configuring McDill would come back to the Highway Committee in a few weeks when a decision for how to stripe McDill at the conclusion of the current construction project may be made.
Having another municipality in Portage County officially adopt the Portage County Bicycle and Pedestrian Plan is certainly excellent news. As for McDill Ave, I will continue to keep Poky Pedalers informed by posting information on the PPSP blog regarding the ongoing deliberations on its configuration.
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