6/7/13 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 sixth 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 will make suggestions of how to apply the preliminary alternatives and variations of these to different sections of the Division/Church corridor in order to provide quality bicycle infrastructure while still meeting project goals for other road users: foot traffic, motor vehicle traffic, and truck traffic.

NorthPoint Dr to Academy Ave
This project is an opportunity to create a grand “entrance” to Stevens Point from the interstate offramp to the north. By providing attractive greenspace, comfortably wide motor vehicle lanes, and quality infrastructure for bicycle and foot traffic, visitors will get a highly positive first impression of our city. From an economic standpoint this is a good thing, whether that means they will make Stevens Point a regular rest stop on their travels, or whether they might someday decide to move here, or whether they might want to relocate their business to this area.

North of Academy Ave, Division has more than enough room for the 4-Lane Raised Median alternative that uses the desirable widths.  In this design, 7’ is designated for each bike lane. I would recommend upping this to 9’ for bike lanes on each side – this provides a 3’ no-drive separation buffer next to a 6’ bike travel lane wide enough for bikes to pass each other safely. Because motor vehicle traffic is likely to be faster in this section, in part because the speed limit is as much as 35 MPH, a 3’ buffer is more appropriate here to make this section feel safe for bicycling.

One other thing I want to point out is that NorthPoint Dr is on the Green Circle. This means that there will be a lot of bicycle traffic that will want to take a detour to visit Division businesses for a snack, as long as traveling down Division by bicycle feels safe. The new Culvers, in particular, is likely to be a key destination for bicycle traffic, both for children and adults.

Since those taking these detours will want to head back north to continue their Green Circle ride, bicycle-friendly crossings of Division will be necessary to access the bike lane heading north.

“Build it and they will come”: the better the bicycle facilities are in this section, the more bicycles you will attract to those businesses. Bicycles are a ‘cheap date’ compared to expenses for other road construction and maintenance, and the right-of-way is available for state-of-the-art separated bicycle infrastructure. I urge you to build high-quality bicycle infrastructure here, because in 15 years the city will regret bulding anything less.

Academy Ave to Fourth Ave
Although the discussion above applies to this section as well, the right-of-way budget is not as generous in this section. Furthermore, there is probably more need to provide Division motor vehicle traffic with opportunities to turn left into the driveways of the many businesses along this section, especially between Maria and Fourth. For these reasons, the 4-Lane TWLTL option is probably a good compromise.

Just as above, the primary role of bicycle infrastructure in this section is so that people on bicycles can access businesses along this section. Some of this will be from the Green Circle to the north, but a lot of it will come directly from the UWSP campus area. Because the use of bicycles is heavy in this area (although not currently on Division itself because of the lack of safe bicycle infrastructure), the “Build it and they will come” discussion above applies to bicycle infrastructure in this section as well.

Under the optimized widths, there is still at least 7’ of additional right-of-way that can be apportioned. I would recomment that 4’ of this be used to restore the bike lanes to the desirable 7’ widths. This will provide a 2’ no-drive buffer beside a 5’ bike travel lane. Since this section of Division will still look and feel like a big highway, a 2’ buffer is the minimum necessary to make this section feel somewhat safe for riding a bicycle to businesses along this section.

I want to add that a 3’ no-drive buffer would be even better. The ability to implement that would depend on your options for squeezing into the existing right-of-way or acquiring additional right-of-way.

Clark St to Monroe St
(I will discuss the section from Fourth Ave to Clark St after this section.)

This section of the corridor is mostly residential. Although the street is a major transportation artery, the character of this section of the corridor should be designed with this residential character in mind. A calmer street encouraging slower speeds is appropriate.

Truck traffic throughput is not the top priority for this section of the corridor, so the design should merely make it reasonable for trucks to navigate this section safely, even if that means they might have to expect to travel at a slow speed.

Because traffic volumes do not dictate the need for a 4 lanes, and because the right-of-way is highly constrained, a 2-lane option is a better choice here. Because foot traffic crossings are common here, a median is necessary.

Through bike traffic has good nearby routes parallel to the corridor – this is not the primary need for bicycle infrastructure on this section of the corridor. The need for bicycle access on this section comes from two sources: people who need to travel to/from a home on the corridor (e.g., residents or visitors), and people who need to cross the corridor using unaligned streets (e.g., Center to either Shaurette or Pine).

Providing 5’ for bike lanes in each direction would suffice for these bicycle needs. The purpose of bicycle access in this section is to get bicycles to a nearby side street where they will turn off the corridor to access a good parallel route.

The 2-Lane Raised Median alternative requires 76’ of right-of-way. Unfortunately, in this section only 57’-60’ is available. For this reason, I propose the following modification.

Between Clark St and Monroe St, do not allow any left turns off the corridor except at the signals at Madison, Jefferson/Wisconsin, and Clark, and for northbound traffic onto Church by Belts. By adopting this, raised median can be narrowed to 6’ along most of this section of the corridor, reducing the required right-of-way by 12’. (I’ll discuss the signalized intersections allowing left turns later.)

The no-left-turn restriction is likely to be unpopular. But it is likely to be less unpopular than having to destroy many existing homes on this section of the corridor. When presented as the possible alternatives, residents on the corridor will probably accept the inconvenience of an extra trip around the block to be able to access their driveways, and others will probably accept the need to plan for left turns at the 3 permitted locations in this section and to travel a bit further on neighborhood streets to get to their destination.

Let me clarify that left turns from side streets onto Division could be permitted. It is only left turns off of Division that I am suggesting be prohibited.

The 12’ reduction in width brings the required right-of-way down to 64’, still 4’-7’ more than available. Hopefully that is a small enough margin for you to find an acceptable solution without the need to destroy any homes. Perhaps the terraces can be shortened to 5’, maybe the sidewalk and bike lane widths can be combined into an 8’ multi-use path on each side, perhaps a few feet of additional right-of-way can be acquired without having to destroy any homes. Your engineering analysis can evaluate what might be possible. It is the no-left-turn restriction that is key to getting to that point.

This solution doesn’t apply near the signals at Madison, Jefferson/Wisconsin, and Clark where left turns off Division would be permitted. At these locations, a left-turn lane is necessary. Since these are signalized crossings, perhaps a median for foot traffic crossings is not necessary.

Two 12’ travel lanes, a 12’ turn lane, and two 5’ sidewalks add up to 46’. There is 11’-14’ remaining for terraces and bike lanes. Any solutions depend on the specifics of these locations. Engineering staff must identify possible tradeoffs before any citizen can propose meaningful alternatives. The suggestions I mention above in the no-left-turn zone can be applied here as well – that is as much as I can suggest without more information.

Fourth Ave to Clark St
This is a transition zone between the grand 4-lane roadway north of Fourth and the residential 2-lane street south of Clark. This section will undoubtedly be problematic.  Truck traffic needs quality access to the east-west Main/Clark couplet, which probably requires a 4-lane solution. Yet the right-of-way is highly constrained like the section south of Clark.

Furthermore, this section is currently the least safe based on crash data. Crossings by foot in this section are notoriously bad. The intersection of Fourth and Division is a strong candidate for the most dangerous intersection in the city.

More engineering analysis is needed before citizens can suggest any meaningful possibilities to solving or mitigating these many problems.

The reasons for bicycle access here are the same as for the reasons on the section south of Fourth. Something less than a 5’ bike lane on each side may provide adequate bicycle access. But it is hard to make meaningful bicycle infrastructure suggestions without having some idea of other possible designs for Division on this section that help fix the many existing problems.

Monroe St to Patch St
This is the section under the railroad bridge. From the 9’ lane comment on one of the posters, I am assuming that the right-of-way under the bridge is 53’ wide.

This section should continue the 2-Lane Raised Median design from the north with the 6’ median and no left turn lane. In addition, by removing the terraces along this section, the required right-of-way is only 54’, assuming 5’ sidewalks and 5’ bike lanes on each side. Being within a foot of the right-of-way I am assuming, I presume an engineering solution based on this design approach is possible.

With regard to bicycle traffic, one difference from the section to the north is that this section is likely to be used a great deal by bicycles due to the limited availability of crossings of the railroad tracks on streets safe for bicycles. For this reason, it might be a better tradeoff to create 4’ sidewalks and 6’ of bike lanes on each side, allowing a 2’ separation buffer and a 4’ bicycle travel lane for each bike lane. Another idea is to create a grade-separated multi-use path on each side that is 8’-10’ on each side.

By adopting the 2-Lane Raised Median design with 6’ median, no left turn lane, and no terraces, the ideas I mention here illustrate that providing a good compromise for quality foot and bike traffic passing under the railroad bridge is feasible. These ideas can put an end to other current discussion about reconstructing the bridge itself – a discussion that is probably pointless since it is unlikely the railroad company would agree to participate in such a project anytime soon.

Patch St to Heffron St
This section is mostly commercial, yet it feels more residential because many buildings resemble houses or apartments with small setbacks. Although its right-of-way is constrained, at about 64’ it is slightly wider than the section from Clark to Monroe. It is probably appropriate to create a similar-feeling streetscape from Patch to Heffron as in that section to the north.

Bicycles have a greater need to travel along the corridor in this section in order to access the businesses located here. Furthermore, the north-south options on nearby parallel streets between Patch and Heffron are not as bicycle-friendly as they are between Clark and Monroe. This suggests that providing 7’ for bicycle lanes – a 2’ separation buffer and a 5’ bicycle travel lane – is appropriate in this section.

The 2-Lane Raised Median design with a 6’ median and no left turn lane is appropriate here for the same reasons it is appropriate between Clark and Monroe. Left turns off of Church would only be permitted in this section at Patch/Francis, Rice/Whiting and Heffron. Left turns would not be permitted off of Church at any other street or driveway. As discussed for the Clark to Monroe section, this might be the key compromise to avoid having to demolish any existing structures to create additional right-of-way.

New signals would be installed at Patch/Francis and at Rice/Whiting. In each case, the unaligned streets would be treated as a single signalized intersection, with signals placed and timed appropriately. If designed well, these signals would aid bicycle traffic using the unaligned streets to cross Division.

Additional width for left turn lanes at Patch/Francis and at Rice/Whiting would be required. Because these crossing would be signalized, a 6’ median at the intersection itself might not be necessary. Just as I discussed regarding the signalized crossings in the section from Clark to Monroe, more engineering analysis is necessary to identify options for making this design fit into the right-of-way at these two signalized intersections.

Away from the intersections permitting left turns, the 2-Lane Raised Median alternative with 12’ less median and 4’ more bike lane (to enable 7’ bike lanes) occupies 68’. This is about 4’ more than currently available in the right-of-way. Ideas for the difference include acquiring additional right-of-way (without needing to destroy any current structures), shrinking the bike lanes by 1’ (leaving a 2’ separation buffer but providing only 4’ for the bicycle travel lanes), and shrinking the terraces by 1’.

Heffron St to South City Limits
This section is heavily commercial. Its nature does not suggest the sort of grand “entrance” treatment that is appropriate for the northernmost section. This section needs to be primarily functional to serve the businesses located here. It will connect to the section of road coming from Whiting, which I presume will be similar to either the 4-Lane Raised Median or 4-Lane TWLTL alternatives. And it must transition to the more residential-feeling modified 2-Lane Raised Median design I outlined above for the Patch to Heffron section.

Just as in the section from Patch to Heffron, bicycles have a greater need to travel along the corridor in this section in order to access the businesses located here. One difference here is that Water St, with some bicycle-friendly improvements, can provide a good parallel route for bicycles. Furthermore, the businesses on the west side of Church also have access from Water St. This suggests that a southbound bicycle lane on Church can be built to minimal width while still providing good access by bicycle. However, the northbound bicycle lane would still need substantial width – 7’ comprising a 2’ no-drive separation buffer and a 5’ bicycle travel lane – for quality bicycle access.

Because of the constrained right-of-way available in this section (63.5’ to 72’), the 4-Lane alternatives are probably unfeasible unless substantial right-of-way can be acquired. Because of this, the 2-Lane TWLTL is probably the best choice. Providing 5’ for the southbound bike lane and 7’ for the northbound bike lane, this design can fit into 72’. This will fit into the portion north of Nebel but is still about 8’ too wide for the portion south of Nebel.

None of the alternatives provided come close to fitting into the current right-of-way south of Nebel. To find a solution for the region south of Nebel, engineering staff must identify possible tradeoffs before any citizen can propose meaningful alternatives.

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