5/7/14 Letter from PPSP to Hoover project staff

This is Bob Fisch from Poky Pedaling Stevens Point. I am writing to offer comments regarding the Hoover Road Rail Grade Separation project. This e-mail is the first I have sent and was composed after the public information meeting of May 6 and before the May 20 deadline you indicate on the comment form distributed at that meeting.

My comments will focus on various aspects of the bicycling and walking accommodations associated with this project.

My comments below all assume that an overpass design will be chosen as opposed to building the road under the rail. I know this has not been decided, but past public comments indicate the overpass is the clear favorite for cost considerations. This assumption simplifies my descriptions below.

Context for providing quality bicycling and walking access
Creating a spectrum of good transportation options for residents to move about our city is simply equitable as well as beneficial.

From an equity perspective, statistics clearly show that 10-20% of adult Stevens Point residents frequently do not drive. Many have no choice in this matter due to poor health, poverty, or legal issues. Although not a majority, these are significant numbers of people who deserve equitable access to the public right-of-way for travel throughout our city.

From a benefit perspective, it is well documented throughout the US over the past decade that cities that do well at providing bicycling and walking accommodations are more successful cities. Millennials want more options to bike and walk to work. As a result, businesses are less likely to relocate to places without good bike/walk access. They know that without good bike/walk commuting options, they will have difficulty recruiting young talent.

The time has come for project engineers to stop claiming that bicycling and walking accommodations are included simply because federal or state rules require them. (I heard a statement to this effect from the leader of the presentation at the May 6 public meeting.) This makes bicycling and walking accommodations sound like some sort of unfair burden. “People who bicycle and walk don’t really count, and our city would be better off if they all just moved to Minneapolis or Portland, cities that are struggling to survive in the new economy. We should be more like that thriving car-oriented metropolis of Detroit.” I am pretty certain you would never make this statement, so you should stop talking about bicycling and walking accommodations as if you agree with it.

(Note: Bike-friendly Minneapolis and Portland have booming economies. Stubbornly car-oriented Detroit is bankrupt. Which model should Stevens Point use for its future success?)

I am fairly certain that at our highest levels of Stevens Point municipal government, the attitude is that bicycling and walking accommodations are included in road projects because they make our city a better place to live.

This is the message that should always be presented when the topic of bicycle and walking accommodations comes up in discussions about any city road project. It is the language that helps our residents understand that bicycling and walking are normal ways for people to move about our city. Bicycling and walking accommodations are included on all road projects because this is the best choice for maintaining Stevens Point as a great place to live.

Multi-use path on overpass should be on the WEST side of the overpass
To understand my comment on this topic, one needs to look at the broader bicycle network in the region.

The Hoover multi-use path (MUP) to the south is on the WEST side of Hoover. This excellent MUP connects Industrial Park Dr with the area around Pacawa Park in Plover.

The mayor stated at the May 6 public meeting that it is very possible in the future that the city will create a MUP north to Main/Hwy 10 on the WEST side of Country Club Dr (possibly using a strip from the country club’s land). This is a plausible option, since the Town of Hull controls some of the property on the east side of Hoover so that the city’s control of land use is on the west side of that road. Furthermore, no streets meet Country Club Dr from the west, and there are very few driveways between the railroad tracks and Main/Hwy 10 on the west side of that road. In total, these create ideal conditions for a future MUP on the WEST side of Country Club Dr.

Given these two items, it makes no sense for the overpass to put the multi-use path on the EAST side of the overpass. Bicycling and walking traffic should not need to cross Hoover twice in this short section in order to travel on this otherwise direct MUP.

The MUP on the overpass should be put on the WEST side of the bridge. This does not change the bridge footprint, since you would merely be shifting which side of the roadway surface the MUP would be situated.

Imagine a no-stress path with a small number of street/driveway crossings that spans from Main/Hwy 10 all the way to Pacawa Park in Plover! That would be a 5.3-mile-long (!!!) bicycle corridor separated from motor vehicle traffic. How often does the opportunity to create something like that come along?

Furthermore, it connects to the existing MUP towards Iverson Park, making a great connection with the Park Ridge area and points west in Stevens Point.

In addition, it makes unnecessary the current awkward bicycle crossing from Industrial Park Dr through the intersection with Hoover to the path towards Joerns that is accessed just north of the Delta Dental driveway.

As for connecting to Joerns, a bike/ped MUP underpass near the RR tracks (but perhaps on city land) similar to the I-39 underpass can be built to connect from Joerns Dr to the west side of the overpass at ground level. Then a ramp along the retaining wall on the west side of the overpass can lead bike/ped up to the overpass MUP (on the WEST side of the overpass). (From the presentations on the overpass, my understanding is that a retaining wall is required on the west side of the overpass south of the railroad tracks, regardless of which of the overpass options is chosen.)

The pinch point in this area is several hundred feet south of the railroad tracks. It appears from my rough measure on the map handed out at the May 6 meeting that there is at least 300’ to run a ramp of reasonable slope providing 10’ of width for bike/ped traffic from the surface MUP immediately south of the RR tracks to wherever it reaches the height of the overpass MUP (situated on the WEST side of the overpass) to the south. You can do the engineering analysis (since you have all the elevation data and slope requirements), but this sort of ramp design seems clearly feasible to me. The space is available.

As a byproduct of implementing this ramp-and-underpass connection to Joerns Dr, you can eliminate all the bike/ped paths in the current design to the east of the Hoover right-of-way which connect directly to Joerns – these paths would be unnecessary.

This design idea just plain makes the most sense. I cannot imagine the cost differential is high enough to rule out this design. Anyone actually trying to make bike/ped access better there (rather than simply following federal/state rules at their minimum) wouldn’t consider any other option for bike/ped.

Creating a design that causes bicycle traffic to unnecessarily have to cross a busy road, only to have to cross back again a quarter-mile later, is simply bad engineering. If you take offense at that comment, that is unfortunate. But from an objective point of view, it is true. Think about that before reacting.

If we don’t put the MUP on the WEST side of the overpass, we’ll be talking about this mistake for the next 50 years – the 5.3-mile high-quality separated bicycle corridor that could have been.

I urge you to put your bicycle traffic engineering cap on and design the overpass with the MUP on the WEST side of the overpass.

Buffered bicycle lanes on the overpass roadway surface
A roadway situated in an open area (such as this overpass) with two standard travel lanes in each direction will generate speeds well over the signed 35 MPH speed limit. If you have any doubt about this, I suggest taking a speed gun over to the RR overpass on Brilowski/Cty R. I would be surprised if you found more than half of that traffic travelling at or under the posted speed limit of 40 MPH there. (Or is it 45 MPH there? I don’t recall at the moment.)

Let us say that the 85th percentile on the Hoover overpass turns out to be 40 MPH. (This is probably a conservative estimate – reality is likely to be closer to 45 MPH.) In such an environment, providing only 4” of paint to separate bike lane travel from the fast motor vehicle traffic is insufficient. And considering that a significant portion of the travel in the bike lanes on this overpass will be uphill, 4” of paint separating a 5’ bike lane from 40 MPH traffic is simply irresponsible.

By providing a 3’ no-drive buffer between the bike lane and the nearest standard travel lane, the hazard created by this configuration can be mitigated. (I would actually prefer to see a separation barrier between each bike lane and its nearest standard travel lane, but I realize there are maintenance issues with such configurations.)

Without such a buffer, the bike lanes will probably only get used by the 1% of Strong and Fearless bicycle riders. (If you are unfamiliar with the generally accepted categorization of transportation bicycling, see this link to a description on the City of Portland (OR) Bureau of Transportation website:
http://www.portlandoregon.gov/transportation/article/158497 )

With such a buffer, you can probably attract the 7% of Enthused and Confident bicycle riders to use these bike lanes. With a better overall bicycle network, you could probably attract some of the Interested and Concerned bicycle riders to decide that such a buffer provides enough comfort for using.

I understand the minimum design guidelines you are adhering to for bike lanes on this overpass. These are minimums – the guidelines don’t prevent you from creating a buffer. Although cost is a critical consideration, value is perhaps more critical. Does it make more sense to build in 10’ of bike lanes that will get almost no use (save for the few elite bicycle riders)? Or does it make more sense to build in 16’ of bike lanes and buffers that will get usage from a significant share of bicycle traffic? It is penny-wise and pound-foolish to spend money on infrastructure that will hardly get used.

By again putting on your bicycle traffic engineering cap, it will be plainly obvious that adding a 3’ buffer on this overpass between the bike lanes and their nearest standard vehicle lane is the best engineering choice. Engineers want to design stuff that people actually use. That won’t happen for the bike lanes on this overpass without a buffer.

Transit access to future public meetings
Transit access to the May 6 public meeting was extremely poor. This is very unfortunate and should be addressed for future public meetings. I will describe here the nature of the poor transit access for the May 6 public meeting.

To get to the meeting using Stevens Point Transit, one needed to catch an Eastside/Crossroads bus that was scheduled to arrive at Hoover Ave and Industrial Park Rd at either 4:30 PM or 5:30 PM. (The public meeting ran from 5:30 – 7:30 PM.) From that location, it is a roughly a half-mile walk to the meeting location. If that were the worst of it, it would be a tolerable walk for many but prohibitive for some.

The worse issue was catching a bus after the meeting. The daytime routes do not run to that area past 5:30 PM. Instead, one had to catch a Late Night Transit bus. The closest such bus to the meeting, the Campus Shopping route, runs on Main St/Hwy 10. That walk is about a mile.

But it gets even worse. There is no bus stop at the intersection of Country Club Dr (the extension of Hoover to the north) and Main/Hwy 10. The closest bus stops on Main/Hwy 10 are another half-mile away in either direction.

So to catch a bus back, it was a mile-and-a-half walk to a bus stop. This is prohibitively far to walk for most people. (By the way, if you think one could have shortened that walk by flagging a bus down at Country Club, I confirmed with the travel trainer at Stevens Point Transit that busses will only stop at designated bus stops.)

It is extremely unfortunate that the city chose a location for a public meeting about this separated grade crossing that has such poor transit access. Bicycling and walking access for this crossing and for connecting to nearby streets are important to people who do not drive. These people deserve the same opportunity as other citizens to learn about this project, speak with the project engineers, and participate in the conversations taking place at the public meeting in order to influence how bicycling and walking are treated in the final design.

My intent for this comment is not to make anyone feel they are a bad person. My intent is to create understanding that especially in an urban context, transportation is largely about moving people, and not only about moving cars and trucks. This means that in any context where transportation is relevant, whether in project design or in deciding where meetings should be held, consideration needs to be given to all reasonable modes of transportation so that all residents, whether they drive or not, are considered. This is simply equitable to all. And adopting such an attitude is an important step for making Stevens Point a better city.

I hope that for any future public meetings about this project (and any other public meetings on any project for that matter), the city chooses a location reasonably accessible by all residents, regardless of the mode of transportation they rely on.

Thank you for taking the time to read my comments. I hope you are able to incorporate my suggestions into your next round of designs for the Hoover Road Rail Separation Project.

Bob Fisch
Poky Pedaling Stevens Point