6/1/13 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 fifth of several I have sent and was composed after the public information meeting of May 16 and before the June 16 date you indicate on the comment form distributed at that meeting.

In this e-mail, I want to make some general comments as they pertain to the updates provided at the May 16 public meeting. I will send another e-mail in about a week with more specific comments on how the various options might apply to different sections of the corridor.

First, I want to express my appreciation for the excellent information you provided during the May 16 meeting.  It is extremely useful to have data on traffic counts, current cross section measurements, proposed cross section alignments and measurements, projected impact on motor vehicle travel times, and tradeoffs of the various proposed designs. I also appreciate your making all the posters from that public meeting available as PDFs on the city website. I encourage you to meet this same standard for providing information at future public meetings.

I provided many suggestions in my previous four e-mails to you about ways to improve bicycle access on the Division/Church corridor. I generally won’t repeat those suggestions in this and future e-mails.  Please continue to consider my past suggestions as you continue your analysis and planning of the corridor.

I do want to mention that regarding my second e-mail, I now realize that I was mistaken when I stated the corridor south of the railroad bridge is “rather wide”. From the data you provided, I now see that the current right-of-way is less than 65 feet in most of this stretch, the exception being the short stretch from Nebel to Heffron which is only moderately wide at 72 feet.

I suppose I felt this portion was wider due to the expansive feeling caused by the large parking lots lining this southern portion. This shows how important it is to provide us citizens with actual data as we can be misled by how the roadway feels.

I also want to mention that my feeling of a “rather wide” roadway is probably shared by those driving motor vehicles along this portion of the corridor. This likely encourages higher speeds despite the 25 MPH limit. Any design components that promote a feeling that the road is somewhat narrow will likely slow traffic and improve safety in this section.

Project staff has clearly stated the high priority for this project to make this corridor safer. Yet at the public meetings, the public is generally overlooking safety due to understandable concerns about losing their homes. In this context, I personally have felt awkward asking questions publicly about safety issues. It’s like I’m at the wrong meeting.

I understand that the process has to initially create some generic designs before you can move to a block-by-block detailed analysis. Nevertheless, the framing of the presentation of this project has created a paranoia that inhibits valuable public input on what citizens want the street to look like.

For example, how the portion north of Fourth Ave is redesigned is extremely important because our city has a chance to implement a more welcoming northern “entrance” to Stevens Point from the interstate. Creating a good first impression to visitors can provide economic benefits to the city. Yet this aspect of the project publicly seems to be all but ignored due to the general fear of demolishing dozens of homes in the section between Fourth and the railroad bridge. Management of this fear has been extremely poor.

I realize AECOM merely designs what the city asks it to. Its job is not to manage public fear about consequences of the engineering analysis. I feel a city official needs to make some sort of public statement regarding its priorities for minimizing the number of existing structures that need to be destroyed in the rebuilding of this corridor.

Frankly, I cannot imagine that our elected alderpeople would vote for any project that would destroy dozens of long-standing homes and useful buildings. It’s not so much about cost as it is about angering the voting public. Politically, I can envision a reluctant tolerance for destroying at most 2-3 existing buildings that would be in the way for even the most compromising of designs. (And even this would not be without quite a bit of noise from the voting public.)

It is time for the city to admit this white elephant and express its attitudes regarding the potential demolition of buildings as part of the Division/Church corridor study. This conversation needs to happen so the project can move forward and solicit useful opinion about how to make this corridor safer for all road users.

Related to the above comments on public concerns about widespread demolition, I have recognized an undercurrent in the public conversation pitting this project as homeowners vs. bike lanes. Indeed, federal and state complete streets laws require bike lanes on certain projects. But to make comments that would lead a concerned homeowner to conclude on an emotional level that the bike lane requirement is why their house is being destroyed is both inaccurate and irresponsible.

The city is ordering that 12 feet of terrace be designed into the alternatives, wider than the 10 feet of bike lanes proposed. Yet no one is focusing on that terrace space – wider than the bike lanes – as the “cause” of home demolition. This demonstrates a bias in how the project is being framed.

I realize that no one portion of the cross section is the “cause” of anything. The broad design has to meet various standards overall, which results in a cross section width that may or may not have adverse consequences.

Some of the proposed designs include 30 feet of greenspace in the cross section, counting terraces and median. On a 60 foot right of way, this is obviously a luxury that cannot fit into the current character of the street in the most constrained portions.

If the city really feels it needs to change the character of the street between Clark and the railroad bridge to be a commercial thoroughfare rather than a residential artery, it should have the courage to clearly state this so that this unpopular topic can be discussed outside the context of how to design the corridor.

To fan a dichotomy of homeowners vs. bike lanes is nonconstructive. I certainly have no interest in seeing the project framed in this manner.

In my next e-mail, I will make suggestions about how to implement bike infrastructure in the most constrained sections of the corridor. For now, I want to mention that the city may have the option to raise local funds (i.e., tax revenue) to rebuild constrained sections of the corridor without federal or state funding in order to provide narrower options for bicycle infrastructure. Although the public might not like choosing between higher taxes and destroying homes, it is a choice they should have the opportunity to make.

Assuming that the section between Clark and the railroad bridge generally keeps its current character, a 5-foot bike lane in each direction may be more bicycle infrastructure than necessary in this section. Such bike lanes would certainly be welcome if the right-of-way provides room, but there are obviously doubts about having the available width. Adequate bicycle accommodations that use less of the cross section are possible.

I favor a cross section that works for bicycle, motor vehicle, and truck traffic without needing to destroy any existing structures. I will discuss this in my next e-mail.

Thank you for taking the time to read my comments. I hope you are able to incorporate my suggestions into your preparations for the next public meeting about the Division/Church Corridor Study.

Bob Fisch
Poky Pedaling Stevens Point