2/4/13 Letter from PPSP to Division/Church Study Project Staff

This is Bob Fisch from Poky Pedaling Stevens Point. I am writing to offer comments regarding the Division/Church Business 51 Improvement Study. This e-mail is the first of several I will send – about one per week – before the February 28 date you indicate on the comment form distributed at the public information meeting of January 22.

In future e-mails, I will discuss issues about specific locations in the Division/Church corridor. But in this first e-mail, I want to focus on the opportunity provided by this project as a whole.

Cities nationwide are realizing that continuing to build transportation infrastructure prioritizing the movement of motor vehicles results in economic degradation. The key to economic growth in the new millenium is creating places where the ‘creative class’ – think recent UWSP and MSTC grads – want to live. Members of the ‘creative class’ value vibrancy over career-opportunity when deciding where to relocate. As a result, successful businesses are discovering that they need to be located in cities that provide such vibrancy in order to be able to have a quality pool of potential employees to hire from.

Vibrancy comes from attracting people. If you build your transportation system to prioritize moving people, you get more people. If you build your transportation system to prioritize moving cars, you get more cars. And more parking lots. And a city that members of the ‘creative class’ – and the companies that want to employ them – have little interest in.

A transportation system that prioritzes moving people is one that finds an equitable balance between motor vehicles, bicycles, and foot traffic. In the always ongoing economic competition among cities, those that ignore this balance simply lose. Portland and Minneapolis are winning. Detroit is losing.

On which end does Stevens Point want to be?

The rebuilding of the Division/Church corridor provides an opportunity to substantially improve the quality of Stevens Point’s network of bicycle infrastructure. Currently above average, the new city-wide connectivity realized upon making the Division/Church corridor bicycle-friendly would make Stevens Point an exceptional place for those choosing a bicycle for their local transportation needs. Such a transformation would be worthy of statewide and possibly national attention, which would in turn provide enormous leverage in attracting and retaining the ‘creative class’ and the companies that want to hire them.

The Division/Church corridor has a very large number of diverse businesses. Anyone who uses a bicycle to get to any one of these businesses must travel at least a block or two on the Division/Church corridor in order to reach their destination. This is why it does not suffice to relegate bicycle traffic to parallel streets one or more blocks over – those streets are not where the destinations are.

At the January 22nd meeting, you spoke of possibly implementing 5-foot-wide bike lanes on Division/Church, presumably providing a 4-inch wide strip of paint separating bicycle traffic from intimidating car and truck traffic. This sort of bike lane on a busy street like Division/Church is suitable for 30-year-old males in lycra. This is hardly the sort of bicyle infrastructure that 12-year-olds or 60-year-olds or the vast majority of women would want to use. Yet these are the sorts of people you need to design bicycle infrastructure for in order to create the equitable balance that the ‘creative class’ is looking for.

I encourage you to seriously consider the possibility of a road diet for this corridor. One 12-foot wide through lane of traffic in each direction – wide enough for truck traffic – with a center median for left turns in both directions, can accomplish many things. It would reduce the 85th percentile speed to something closer to the current 25 MPH speed limit, it would provide adequate space for the creation of safe and comfortable infrastructure for bicycle traffic, it would provide safer crossings of the Division/Church corridor for foot traffic, it would reduce the amount of privately-owned land that the city would have to acquire for the right-of-way, and it would cause this corridor to feel less like a highway and open the door to making it more of a people-oriented urban commercial district.

I encourage you to consider adding to each direction a 6-foot wide bike lane plus a 3-foot wide “no-drive” zone buffering bicycle traffic from motor vehicle traffic on this corridor. Or better yet, creating a separated bike lane using some sort of concrete barrier.

I encourage you to consider the NACTO Urban Bikeway Design Guide when identifying possibilites for the Division/Church corridor. These solutions were developed by transportation experts in the cities that are winning in the aforementioned economic competition.

You might argue that current bicycle counts do not justify these sorts of bicycle infrastructure treatments. This calls to mind a quote I read recently: “You can’t decide where to build a bridge by counting how many people are swimming across the river.”

I realize you have many constraints in the reconstruction of the Division/Church corridor. Nevertheless, I suspect there are feasible options for providing high-quality bicycle infrastructure along this corridor. Another major reconstruction of ths roadway is unlikely for decades to come. Yet Stevens Point has immediate needs to reinvigorate its economy. Ten years from now, the city cannot afford to look back and admit that mistakes were made in planning for its future.

Bike lanes along urban thoroughfares are not recreational niceties. Bike lanes are enablers for economic growth. Leaders in vibrant cities understand this. I hope you keep this thought in mind as you consider the options for the redesign of the Division/Church corridor.

Bob Fisch
Poky Pedaling Stevens Point