Former Councilwoman Tori Jennings. (Metro Wire photo)

New bicycle commission gets early nod; city council expected to approve

By Brandi Makuski

City government is expanding its footprint to include a formal bicycle and pedestrian safety commission, pending final approval from the city council on April 16.

The public protection committee on Monday approved the proposal from Councilwoman Tori Jennings, which turns the bicycle/pedestrian advisory committee (BPAC) into the the bicycle‐pedestrian street safety commission (BPSC). Under the new organization, Jennings said, the group would have more authority to carry out projects, with assistance from city staff.

Other benefits of the formality, she argued, include a transparent process for public observers and recognition under city ordinances.

Jennings said without the change, many BPAC proposals that could benefit residents are left out of the mix when it comes to new city projects or updates. The new group would be called the bicycle‐pedestrian street safety commission (BPSC).

“If we are serious about moving into the 21st century, cities must look to all modes of transportation, including walking, biking, transit, and also how these fit into placemaking,” Jennings said on Monday.

Councilwoman Mary McComb said the change fell inline with efforts to make Stevens Point a “Green Tier” community—an initiative approved by the council without any public objection in August 2017—that put the city on a path to implementing “environmental protections beyond what is required by local, state or federal law”. The city’s recent push on installing additional bicycle lanes is part of that initiative.

“I’m been involved with Alder Shorr on the Green Tier efforts in town, and I believe making this commission an actual committee is going to help us accomplish some of our Green Tier initiatives,” she said. “We talk allot about making our roadways available to anybody, not just cars…so as a city I think we need to bike and walk the talk if we’re serious about community sustainability, residents’ health, encouraging forward-thinking business to come here. It communicates to our residents this is something to take very seriously.”

Councilwoman Heidi Oberstadt said she was encouraged by the change because it would bring an extra layer of accountability to the group.

“I’m very impressed by the work done by the BPAC committee; those accomplishments were not without hurdles,” she said. “I’m looking forward to an even more accountable group.”

Alderman Mike Phillips was the public protection committee’s lone dissent on the issue, saying his concern was for the additional time city staff would have to spend with the new commission. Community Development Director Michael Ostrowski said the change would “probably” increase staff time, but added, “it’s an appropriate stance to take to promote bicycle and pedestrian transportation” in the city.

Phillips remained unconvinced.

“People have plenty of streets, trails, to ride on,” he said, adding only a handful of residents rode bicycles year-round.  “I can’t see starting a commission that’s going to take staff time that’s strapped already. I think it’s unwarranted.”

The commission was created by a vote of 4-1. Council members McComb and Oberstadt, Cathy Dugan and Meleesa Johnson voted in favor; Phillips voted against.

The final approval comes to consideration during the April 16 city council meeting, held at 7 p.m. at the courthouse.