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The intersection of Fourth Ave. and Division St. on Feb. 8. (Metro Wire photo)

The Fourth Ave. vote, and Wiza’s veto: What does it mean?

By Brandi Makuski

Mayor Mike Wiza earlier this week announced his veto on a Common Council decision to deny installing traffic signals — essentially favoring a roundabout — at the Fourth Ave. and Division St. intersection.

It was the Stevens Point Board of Public Works that voted 4-2 on Feb. 12 to recommend keeping the intersection signalized following an in-depth roundabout study by AECOM costing $30,000. The study was requested by the Council last year, shortly after it approved the roundabout to be included in the approved alternative design.

After seeing the report, the majority of the Board, which is advisory to the Council, agreed a roundabout was not the best path forward.

Mayor Mike Wiza. (Contributed)

But the full Council voted to overturn that recommendation, voting 7-3 to deny the vote on keeping traffic signals. D10 Councilwoman Keely Fishler absent, as she was out of town for work.

The veto

Wiza issued his veto on Feb. 20, the day after the final Council vote. But he emphasized that his veto may not have the effect some people think it does.

“Vetoing a negative action does not instill the affirmative [action]; if the vote was to go with blue, and I veto it, that doesn’t mean it automatically goes to red,” Wiza said. “If effectively just nullifies their turning down the signalizing of that intersection.”

The Council can successfully override a mayoral veto with a two-thirds vote, meaning eight Council members would need to vote together.

The Metro Wire was able to reach Fishler by phone on Feb. 23. She confirmed she did plan on serving out the remainder of her term — which expires in April — but declined to give her thoughts on the issue, or say how she would vote if an override was attempted.

Fishler did say, however, that she had not heard from her constituents any feedback on the roundabout.

Despite the possibility of an override, Wiza remained resolute.

“Nobody can show me comparables with anything close to 600-800 pedestrians,” Wiza said of the AECOM plans and related study. “And there’s no accounting at all for bicyclists in this.”

The Feb. 12 Board of Public Works meeting

Wiza said while roundabout collisions were generally less serious than those at a signalized intersection, he believes a single-lane roundabout at Fourth Ave. would also create a bottleneck that impedes police and fire department response times.

“When we move this to one lane in each direction, and the fire department needs to go north, and school’s getting out, and that roundabout is blocked, what happens?” Wiza asked at the Board’s meeting earlier this month. “Now, I know our firefighters and paramedics are going to get there however they need to get there — they’re going to get the job done, I assure you of that. Same with our police department. But is it going to be the safest thing? I doubt it.”

Councilwoman Ginger Keymer (D3), who sits on the Board, disagreed, saying she believed a single-lane roundabout would be much easier for pedestrian crossing than a two-lane roundabout, similar to the one installed at North Point Dr.

“And I think the fact that people are going slower, there’s less chance for collision,” she said. “I don’t think [roundabouts] are as exotic or unusual as they have been in the past. And I think being able to cross one lane of traffic is very different than having to cross four lanes of traffic. Yes, there will be a learning curve, yes, there’s a potential for accidents, but I think the potential for accidents would be lower.”

Councilwoman Mary Kneebone (D7), also on the Board, said she, too, favored a roundabout. She referenced a study (but did not provide its results) conducted last year by a Community Transportation Academy, operated by Madison-based 1000 Friends of Wisconsin, that conducted a pedestrian count at the intersection last year, saying, “They weren’t that bad; there wasn’t this horde of students trying to cross at the same time. They kind of trickle across.”

Kneebone said the roundabout would be designed to slow traffic and “make people more aware of who’s around, making it safer to cross. And it is a law to stop for a pedestrian in a crosswalk. If people don’t stop, that’s on them, if they have an accident. It’s not on the road design; it’s on the driver.”

But while Scott Beduhn, public works director, said the North Point Dr. roundabout has a speed limit of 15 miles an hour, Police Chief Bob Kussow said since that roundabout was installed in 2018, vehicle collisions have increased at that intersection by 150 percent compared with five years prior to the installation.

Before becoming a roundabout, the North Point Dr. signalized intersection had 47 traffic collisions between 2013 and 2018, Kussow said. Between the time of the roundabout opening in 2018 through the end of 2023, 115 collisions were recorded.

“And those numbers are skewed, because for two years, Sentry wasn’t in and SPASH wasn’t in (due to COVID), some of our really big employers up there,” Kussow said.

The Feb. 19 Common Council meeting

For the final vote on keeping Fourth Ave. signalized, Council members in favor of keeping the intersection signalized were David Plaisance (D6), Dean Shuda (D8), and Shaun Morrow (D11).

D1 Councilman Marc Christianson, David Shorr (D2), Ginger Keymer (D3), Lara Broderick (D4), Allison Birr (D5), Mary Kneebone (D7), and Sam Lang (D9) voted against, with each saying they essentially favored a roundabout. D10 Councilwoman Keely Fishler was absent.

Several members of the public spoke in favor or opposition to the roundabout, but all had similar concerns about safety.

Craig Tesch, who is running for a seat in District 2 in April, said roundabouts don’t provide a stopping point for motorists so pedestrians can cross, and most of the people he’d talked to in that district were not in favor of a roundabout at Fourth Ave.

Mary McComb, who previously served on the City Council representing the 9th District, appealed to the Council for “data-driven decision-making” for the roundabout.

“Since the roundabout possibility was brought up, Mayor Wiza has poisoned the well, constantly, against a roundabout,” McComb said. “I’ve been to countless meetings, both as I was an alder and since I was an alder, in which Mayor Wiza has clearly stated his preference not to have a roundabout. We know he doesn’t like roundabouts. And I think that’s irresponsible of a mayor to be so outspoken about his preference. At any rate, he has convinced some people, and three members of the Public Works [Board] to agree with him, to share their opinions, their instincts, their intuitions that a roundabout wouldn’t work here. However, the weight of the evidence is that a roundabout would be safer for both cars and pedestrians.”

McComb said the AECOM study concluded that delays were lessened with a roundabout, and said the Council should vote “according to data rather than intuition or gut feelings.”

Soo Marie Ave. resident Lawrence Levitan, who took the Community Transportation Academy last year, participated in the transportation audit of the northern segment of Division St, also undertaking a three-week study on the feasibility of the roundabout at Fourth Ave.

“During my study, I stood on the corner and overserved traffic patterns and did pedestrian counts during eight separate occasions,” he said. “During my observations, I noticed it was not a stream or steady flow, it was more a steady trickle; you have two-to-three pedestrians going through every couple of minutes.”

Levitan said he also saw two vehicles run a red light at Fourth Ave. on the day of the Council meeting.

“People speed up at red lights; it just seems to be human behavior today.”

Neil Prendergast, who lives on Plover St., said he didn’t have a clear opinion one way or another but emphasized his desire for the safest option. One line of the AECOM report stood out as most significant for him: “As documented in Wisconsin DOT’s Phase Three Roundabout Safety Evaluation, single-lane roundabouts reduce severe crashes by up to 41 percent compared to signalized or stop condition intersections.”

“To me, that’s just a remarkable figure,” Prendergast said. “It’s a single-lane roundabout we’re talking about here, not like the North Point roundabout.”

Ron Carlson, a retired assistant chief from SPPD, said the roundabout proposal seemed contrary to the city’s recent push for making the city more bicycle and pedestrian-friendly, but that wasn’t his main concern.

“I’m just here to clear my conscience because I have a really bad feeling about the roundabout on Fourth and Division — especially with 600-to-800 people going through there a day, oblivious to traffic because they’re on their cell phones texting and messaging people,” he said.

“I’m excited about roundabouts, but I’m not excited about a roundabout at Fourth and Division,” Carlson, who was a police officer for 32 years, added. “Though there may be signs and postings, accidents happen. The driver of that vehicle, whether they’re in the right or in the wrong, carries that guilt and pain for the rest of their life. And I don’t want any citizens to carry that guilt and pain because of a roundabout.”

Carlson also said that if the Council voted down the signalized option, he hoped Wiza would issue a veto.

Andrea Olson, a resident of Franklin St., said the traffic signal was “a proven problem” and that a single-lane roundabout would be easy for nearly any driver to figure out.

D1 Councilman Marc Christianson called the cost of the AECOM study “money well spent” to ensure the roundabout was the safest option. “I’m still very comfortable with the decision made at that meeting (last year), to have a roundabout,” he said.

District 4 Councilwoman Lara Broderick said the Council should rely on the data from AECOM over their gut reactions.

“There’s a lot of precedent for roundabouts in high-pedestrian areas,” Broderick said. “Rather than relying on driver behavior, we designed these intersections in a way that we don’t have to, and that’s what the roundabout does; it makes it safer for everyone, regardless of whether they’re paying attention. It’s a physical mechanism; we have the data to support that.”

Alderman Dean Shuda (D8) had strong reservations against the roundabout.

“I’ve heard from many constituents against the roundabout, to be very honest with you,” Shuda said. “I can’t help but think the ‘trickle’ effect is worse than the group because it’s going to be constantly, a stop to let those people go across. If there’s 600 [pedestrians], there’s going to be at least 60 stoppages of traffic in that roundabout. That’s against what a roundabout is supposed to be.”

David Plaisance, the alderman for District 6, noted the lack of planning for bicycle safety in the roundabout, saying, “With bicycles, they’re going to be on the road; do you think they’re going to cross with the pedestrians or try to zig-zag their way through there? I look at that as  potentially a problem.”

Councilman Sam Lang of District 9 said he’s heard concerns from his constituents, too, but his decision will be made based on the data presented.