Editorial: City residents should be concerned over ‘Complete Streets’ adoption

By Brandi Makuski

The Stevens Point City Council doesn’t have nearly enough information to consider adopting a ‘Complete Streets’ resolution, although a vote is scheduled for Monday night.

The resolution’s 15 bullet points, spread over two pages, was presented to the city plan commission by the Stevens Point Bicycle and Pedestrian Street Safety Commission on Dec. 3. It contains a lot of information, unfortunately, not the right kind: nearly all of it is comprised of generalizations and summaries of successful examples of street safety improvements conducted elsewhere.

But it doesn’t say what, exactly, Complete Streets is.

The term is defined in the resolution as: “A complete streets 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.”

Following the Dec. 3 meeting, Mayor Mike Wiza argued it’s the very ambiguity of the resolution that is also its saving grace. Because no specific standards are outlined, he’s confident the city will have broad oversight before any changes are implemented.

One has to wonder how true that sentiment is. There are several books written on Complete Streets, and while the Wisconsin Dept. of Transportation also refers to the term as being “broadly defined”, it offers a 52-page section in its 2018 Facilities Development Manual on the topic.

The pages contain detailed information on state laws relating to sidewalks, pedestrian/bicycle traffic usage, grading, curb necessity, and other statutory rules spanning hundreds of references—none of which were presented to the plan commission, nor were they included in the city council’s Dec. 17 packet.

Adopting any policy without knowing exactly what it contains is foolish. We all remember the infamous remark made in 2010 by then-Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, “We have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it.”

The Complete Streets resolution passed the city plan commission on Dec. 3 with very little discussion. Commissioner Anna Haines questioned what, specifically, the resolution would require the city to change on existing roadways.

BPSSC Chairman Trevor Roark replied to her concerns by calling the resolution “a starting point”, adding the Pelosi-esque remark, “Eventually, after it’s adopted, we’ll work closely with streets and community development (departments) to develop Complete Streets.”

City residents have watched as this council forced through a controversial project to re-stripe Stanley St., despite public objection over the series of four public meetings on the matter. Also, despite concerns raised by our own public works director, as well as the results of a third-party project review, some on the council sought out different information that supported the lane conversion. Later, and through a series of private meetings between single members of the council and the mayor, the director of public works, or both, some on this council found a way to purchase striping equipment, although without the checks and balances a public discussion provides.

While the public had a chance to provide their thoughts during public meetings held later approving the purchase of the equipment, many in the community said they saw no point, saying they felt some on the council had already made up their minds.

But Stanely St. is just a recent example of why the public needs to become more involved in local government on a regular basis. The public should be demanding answers on Complete Streets before it becomes an adopted policy within city government.

When something so broad becomes part of city policy, the city is essentially requiring itself to follow a set of standards it doesn’t yet fully grasp. The Federal Highway System, Wisconsin DOT, Bike Federation, the BPSSC: all organizations which, at some point in the future, could conduct, or uncover, a study that concludes “X” fits into Complete Streets and should now be implemented.

Most troubling, there’s been no challenge at all to the idea of Complete Streets. No questions, outside of Haines’ query, have been asked as to the ramifications of the resolution. How will this affect existing roadways? What is the effect on annexations into the city? What conditions need to be present before specific changes are made to certain roads? Will roads become wider in some areas and narrower in others? Will this resolution ultimately require the acquisition of private properties to implement roadway changes? Will this automatically increase the cost of future road work? Will this resolution require changes in zoning for future construction of homes and business—and if that is the case, how many public meetings will need to be held to approve how many variances to existing structures? What are the long-term effects on business and traffic circulation? How will this affect the public works department budget?

No one has answered these questions, largely because they haven’t been asked. But because of the sweeping reforms this policy may ultimately require, city residents should be alarmed, and they should demand more objective information prior to its consideration.

The city council meets at 7 p.m. on Dec. 17 on the second floor of the Portage Co. Courthouse.

The resolution follows in its entirety:

A Resolution Establishing a Complete Street Policy for the City of Stevens Point, Wis.

WHEREAS, Streets are a critical element of public space and play a major role in developing the image and identity of a city, and

WHEREAS, The mobility of persons and freight, as well as the safety and convenience of all users, should be considered in the planning and design of the transportation system of the City of Stevens Point, and

WHEREAS, Integrating sidewalks, bicycle facilities, safe crossings, traffic calming treatments, and transit facilities in initial designs avoids costly retrofits in the future, and

WHEREAS, The City Council seeks to make Stevens Point a more livable, vibrant, healthy, and economically robust community with system-wide choices of safe, convenient access to roadways and trails for all users with a more balanced human-scale streetscape environment, and

WHEREAS, A complete streets program is designed to reduce congestion, increase the transportation network capacity, and increase consumer choice while decreasing consumer transportation costs, improving air quality, improving community health, enhancing community aesthetics, promoting economic growth, increasing community resilience to intense storm events and climate change by
providing accessible and efficient connections between home, school, work, recreation, and retail destinations; and

WHEREAS, The City Council recognizes that there are some streets and corridors that would not fully satisfy a complete streets environment, but that sidewalks, crosswalks, bicycle facilities, and transit stops need to be installed wherever feasible, and

WHEREAS, Establishing and implementing a complete streets program will improve the health of the citizens of Stevens Point by encouraging more active lifestyles, and

WHEREAS, Numerous studies and surveys, including each of the most recent years of the National Association of Realtors, Smart Growth Surveys, indicate a strong and growing preference among homebuyers for walkable, mixed-use communities when selecting where to live due to enhanced individual and community economic vitality when all aspects of community living intertwine with effective, safe, accessible and reliable transportation choices, and

WHEREAS, The majority of Americans want to walk places and spend less time driving according to 2015 reports by the Urban Land Institute and the National Association of Realtors, and

WHEREAS, The American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), a member of the National Complete Streets Coalition, strongly endorses Livable Communities policies such as walkable and bikeable communities that realize the benefits of significantly higher property values, additional business activity, increased tourism, and greater health savings; and

WHEREAS: Travel by foot, bicycle or transit represents money retained in the community as demonstrated by a 2010 case study by the University of Massachusetts that compared the employment impacts of pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure with traditional roadway projects and found that on-street bike lanes and pedestrian measures created more direct jobs, more indirect jobs, and more
induced jobs per dollar than either road upgrades or road resurfacing, and

WHEREAS, The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) of the United States Department of Transportation (US DOT) Design Guidance for Accommodating Bicycle and Pedestrian Travel issued in 2000 provides that bicycle and pedestrian ways shall be established in new construction and reconstruction projects in all urbanized areas. Excluded projects are those where bicyclists and pedestrians are prohibited by law from using the roadway, when costs are 20 percent of higher than
the larger transportation project, and where the sparsity of population indicate an absence of need, and

WHEREAS, Cities that have infrastructure that encourages all modes of transportation including, pedestrian, bicycle, transit, freight as well as accommodating the needs of persons with disabilities, have more success in attracting economic development.

WHEREAS, The Portage County Countywide Bicycle & Pedestrian Plan’s Policy C2.1 states “Adopt a Complete Streets resolution at the County level and encourage local municipalities to adopt their own Complete Streets resolution.”

NOW THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED BY THE CITY OF STEVENS POINT THAT, City street and transportation facilities must be designed so that the safety and convenience of all users of the street system, including pedestrians, bicyclists, those with differing abilities, transit users, automobile drivers, commercial vehicles, freight haulers, and emergency vehicles is accommodated. Each street must
facilitate multi-modal use and assure that all users can travel safely in the public right of way to the greatest extent practicable.