By Brandi Makuski
Roadways in Stevens Point could look and function very differently in the future if a Complete Streets policy is adopted by the city council on Dec. 17.
A proposed resolution from the bicycle and pedestrian street safety commission came before the city’s plan commission on Monday, one that calls for massive changes to city streets.
While the term “Complete Streets” isn’t specifically defined in the resolution, the effect of such a policy “ensures that the entire right-of-way is routinely designed and operated to enable safe access for all users. Pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists and transit riders of all ages and abilities must be able to safely move along and across a complete street”, according to a memo from the community development department.
The resolution includes “principles”, according to associate city planner Kyle Kearns, the city can adopt via the zoning code.
BPSSC Chairman Trevor Roark, who works by day as the program director for UWSP Adventure Tours, has been at the forefront of the local Complete Streets movement in recent years, along with Councilwomen Tori Jennings and Mary McComb. All three have referenced Complete Streets during public forums on several occasions.
“It’s evident to staff, public officials, residents, and visitors alike, that our streets are not safe for all users, and they are primarily car-centric,” Roark told the plan commission on Dec. 3. “Walk on the sidewalk along the north side of Center Point Dr.—how safe do you feel? Ride your bicycle on Division St. between Maria and North Point [drives]—how safe was that ride? Walk from Main St. downtown to the riverfront; I bet you thought you were playing Frogger.”
Roark said it was “critical” the city “construct, reconstruct, and improve streets for the safety of all users”, adding neighborhood streets should be the “safest place, and the slowest, in our community”.
The proposed resolution prompted very little discussion by the plan commission, though Commissioner Anna Haines questioned how the policy would be implemented into existing ordinances. Roark responded by calling the resolution “a starting point”.
“Eventually, after it’s adopted, we’ll work closely with streets and community development to develop complete streets,” he said.
The resolution falls in line with new zoning requirements adopted in July for a section of Division St. North, which calls for more pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly elements along with traffic-calming measures. Those changes were adopted unanimously and without any objection from the public.
Mayor Mike Wiza alone pressed Roark for background on the proposed resolution.
Roark said the bulk of the resolution came from BPSSC Commissioner Michael O’Meara, a retired WisDOT engineer who previously served on the city council. Roark said O’Meara drafted the resolution based on various sources, to include similar policies from other cities. After reading the draft, Roark said he “picked it apart and made my own edits” before sending it to the community development department.
Wiza asked if any local emergency services agencies or disability assistance organizations had been consulted before the resolution was written. When Roark said they hadn’t, Wiza said that was a problem.
“I would ask that those groups be consulted before this comes to [city] council,” Wiza said Monday.
Jennings, one of several council members in the audience on Monday, said the measure was all about economic development.
“Businesses move to places where people want to live, so it’s really about that,” she said.
Ultimately, the policy would make Stevens Point streets “more liveable for inclusion that brings more social equity, more business opportunities, the greater movement of people from A to B, and greater connections to each other with safer and aesthetically-pleasing corridors,” Roark said.
During a follow-up interview on Tuesday, Wiza said the policy was wide-reaching and he was disappointed more input wasn’t taken from local police and fire agencies.
“That kind of input is essential,” Wiza said. “You can’t propose these kinds of changes to the city’s roads without checking with those agencies who use emergency vehicles daily, or without getting input from organizations who are well-versed in helping the disabled in our community.”
He also expressed concern over a lack of public engagement on the issue.
“There was nobody from the public who commented, and I was surprised; I thought the weight of something like this would get some people to attend and speak their minds,” Wiza said. “The people involved with the bike commission are [sic] concerned about ensuring roads are designed for all people to use, and I would submit that they are: because people are using them.”
The resolution now moves to the city council, which meets at 7 p.m. on Dec. 17 on the second floor of the Portage Co. Courthouse, 1516 Church St. The public is welcome to attend.