December 2013 Common Council – Comments on hiring a consultant for the Division/Church project

My name is Bob Fisch, and I am the Chief Bike Fun Officer of Poky Pedaling Stevens Point. I will speak to the action of hiring a consultant for the Division/Church project.

Many people do not drive motor vehicles. Some are too young to drive, some can’t afford to drive, some are physically unable to drive, some are legally unable to drive, and some choose not to drive.

A recent Washington Post article cites a University of Michigan study reporting that among 18- to 39-year-olds, over 15% do not have a driver’s licence.

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Recent US Census data show that 4.5% of Stevens Point residents commute to work by bicycle, and 12.5% walk to work. That totals 17% of our city who bike and walk to work.

(Source: Computed from 2007-2011 American Community Survey, Table B08301: Means of Transportation to Work, 5-year estimate.
Raw numbers in the table: Total workers – 13647, Bicycle – 608, Walked – 1702.)

It is simply fantasy to believe that everyone drives.

Those who don’t drive need the same access on Division/Church for the same reasons that those who do drive: that’s where they work, that’s where they shop, that’s where they live, and that’s where they go for entertainment.

Our city streets, unlike state and federal roads, are largely constructed and maintained using Stevens Point property tax. Every homeowner and renter pays for our streets through these taxes, whether they go by foot, by bike, or by motor vehicle. Some claim that those who don’t pay gas tax or motor vehicle fees are not paying for city streets and have no right to expect access. But that argument ignores the facts to the contrary and is invalid.

Everyone deserves safe, comfortable, and convenient access to the public right-of-way, regardless of the legal mode of transportation they choose. Division/Church currently does not meet any reasonable standard of being safe and comfortable for those who do not drive.

Some claim that accomodating non-driving people on Division/Church is pointless because there are no such people. I counter that past decision-makers built a street hostile to non-driving people. The potential for walking and bicycling on Division/Church is unrealized today due to their failed planning.

Bicycle accommodations are one of the fundamental goals of this project. This goal addresses the lack of safe and comfortable bike access along Division/Church. Claims that bike lanes are included only to access federal funds are false. Those requirements merely restrict the types of accommodations allowed. Funding this project without federal dollars does not eliminate the goal of providing bicycle accommodations on Division/Church.

Our elected officials have a responsibility to find a balance so that all residents can use the public right-of-way on Division/Church for their personal business. Your trip to your destination on Division is not more important than my trip to my destination on Division just because you drive and I bike. If any alderpeople believe that the business of people who bike or walk is less important than yours, then I challenge you to state that for the record.

Cities across the US have discovered that when streets are built to be safe and comfortable for non-driving people, then walking and biking increase, resulting in vibrant places to live, work, shop, and play.  According to Wikipedia, about 20,000 projects like ours have been built across the US.

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The Project for Public Spaces webpage has case studies of a dozen of these successful projects. These include projects in Milwaukee, Orlando, Seattle, and Poughkeepsie, which is about the same size as Stevens Point. Opponents of those projects warned of the same problems that have been heard here. Yet after construction in those places, such problems failed to materialize.

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Our city has an excellent staff of traffic engineers. In addition, one of our alderpeople has substantial traffic engineering background. These experts have explained repeatedly based on data collection and Federal Highway Administration guidelines that the proposed designs for Division/Church will create a functional street for decades to come.

But some people with absolutely no experience in traffic engineering and no data for making decisions feel they understand how to design streets better than these trained professionals. You would spend $35 million while ignoring the data and ignoring expert analysis and you don’t consider that a wasteful approach to spending? If any alderpeople actually believe that our traffic engineers are incompetent, then I challenge you to state that for the record.

As for the consultant, do we need to spend that money to fix the current process? Frankly, I don’t know the answer to that. What I do know is that it is irresponsible to ignore the plain fact that a significant portion of our residents do not drive. All residents must be ready to accept reasonable change and compromise so that our city can become an even better place for everyone: people who walk, people in wheelchairs, people who bicycle, people who take transit, and people who drive. If we need a consultant to achieve this, then that is money well spent. I leave it to our alderpeople to decide if this is our best way forward.

A transcript of these remarks with references can be found on Go to the Division/Church page under the Speak Your Poky menu.

Thank you for listening.