“This is Absurd”: Reaction to Stanley St. Proposal Mixed; Residents on the Corridor Clearly Opposed
By Brandi Makuski
While a potential plan to re-stripe Stanley St. was met with a mix of strong reaction from both advocates and critics, several members of the City Council have already indicated they support the idea.
During a public input meeting on Oct. 26, more than 70 area residents heard about a proposal to reduce lanes on Stanley St., followed by more than an hour of public comment.
The meeting, according to Mayor Mike Wiza, was just the first in what he said would be a series of presentations and public input sessions that will take place prior to any decision to put Stanley St. on a “road diet” — reducing four lanes of traffic to one in each direction, with a center left-turn lane. Five-foot-wide bicycle lanes would also be added along the corridor, but the roadway itself would not be narrowed.
The proposal has been in the local water supply for several months, following a series of presentations from a local bicycle advocacy group.
Nearly all the residents who live on Stanley St., or in the surrounding neighborhood, said they disagreed with the proposal and did not want it implemented. Support for the lane conversion was heard largely from residents who lived in other areas, to include some who said they did not use the road often.
Those against the idea listed several concerns, to include difficulty accessing their own driveways, unnecessarily congesting traffic flow and problems relating to school and city buses, or emergency vehicles, on a single-lane roadway which is already heavily-used by semi and logging traffic.
Proponents of the proposal largely focused on the increase in safety for the road.
Eva Richter, who has lived across from Kwik Trip on Stanley St. for more than 40 years, said she’s already seen the roadway be increased from a four-lane to a two-lane, and doesn’t want to see it change back.
“I think changing Stanley Street from four lanes to two lanes would be a disaster in my area,” Richter said. “There are a lot of emergency vehicles that travel through that area, and school buses are dropping children off. Stanley St. is not a good area for bicyclists…if you’re concerned about safety on Stanley St., you should really consider reducing the speed limit.”
Jackson Case, who lives on the corner of Frontenac Ave. said he believes trying to cross Stanley St. from an intersecting road would become “much more difficult” following a lane conversion, but he’s open to hearing more about it.
“Right now, turning into my driveway as I’m out in the road waiting for traffic to move by, there’s a lot of times cars don’t even see that I’m in the road waiting. So there are a number of issues I have with this, but I don’t have an opinion on which way I’m leaning yet.”
Dave Wysocki, who mused, “The bikes have gotten a lot of ink,” said he objects to the proposal because he doesn’t see enough bicycle traffic from his Stanley St. office to warrant the time or expense.
He also referenced the traffic problems which would arise during times when school buses drop off students, or on garbage day along the roadway.
“Everybody’s going to have to stop behind them. You’ve got to think about that,” he said. “You’ve got to think about that’s a main thoroughfare into the city; you’ve got to keep the traffic moving.”
Wade Wilquet, who also lives on Stanley St., called the idea of a lane conversion “absurd”, and became emotional as he addressed the crowd.
“I have two children, and I want to know, are you guys going to come console them when they’re washing blood off the street because some bicyclist gets killed out there? I’m sorry, this is an absurd idea. I don’t know why we’re even in here tonight,” he said. “There are business that have trucks coming out of there, off the highway, this is just ridiculous. And for anyone who thinks this is a good idea, you’ve got your head up your culo [Italian for ‘butt’].”
Robert Ostroski lives on the corner of Stanley and Michigan, and said his biggest concern is the long line of cars he sees daily waiting to turn into the parking lot of Ministry St. Michael’s Hospital.
“Also, you take a 52-foot logging truck coming in at 30 miles and hour, turning that corner, you think he’s going to make it?” Ostrowski asked the crowd.
“I’m all for safety, and if this is something that makes it safer, then I’m all for that,” said Megan Mapes-Martins, who lives in the neighborhood. “You see the ‘Frogger’ effect, especially at Minnesota. For kids, elderly people, it’s scary.”
Julie Schneider, who lives on Peck St., said those against the proposal should not be targeting the lack of bicycle traffic on the road.
“I didn’t know it was a biker thing; I thought it was a safety thing,” Schneider said. “From what I understand from this presentation, it will improve safety overall. My understanding is, it will overall slow traffic. This seems like a good thing to do.”
Several members of the Stevens Point City Council also spoke, sharing their thoughts and what they’ve heard from residents in their districts.
“The folks with whom I’ve spoke, they feel an avoidance for that area, and that was the sense I got from them, that they don’t even like to go out there,” said Ald. Meleesa Johnson. “One woman said the traffic goes so fast, she doesn’t even like to go out there. So this is a conversation about slowing the traffic down out there.”
Council members David Shorr and Cathy Dugan also said they had several residents in their districts who approved of the project.
Ald. Mary McComb said she kept hearing critics say, “If it’s not broken, don’t fix it,” but she believes the road is already broken.
“I’ve been wondering about what are our criteria to define, ‘broken’,” McComb said. “It has been defined as roads where the surface is rough, or there’s cracks and potholes. But clearly you can broaden the definition of ‘broken’ to talk about a street where drivers go too fast, a street that is dangerous for pedestrians or autos to cross, a street upon which we see few bicyclists because it’s unsafe for them. I’d like to see us enlarge our criteria for what needs fixing. Streets are broken, I think, if they’re designed solely for cars to go as fast as drivers feel they need to go on those streets. To me, that’s a broken street.”
The story on Stanley
The history of Stanley St. goes back more than a century. According to the Wis. Dept. of Transportation, the street was a local roadway until becoming part of the state highway system in 1921. According to Kristin McHugh from WisDOT, the roadway was removed from the Hwy. 10 expansion project — and the state highway system — in 2009.
McHugh said because the roadway is a local one, WisDOT is “not participating” in the discussion about a potential lane conversion unless it extends past the I-39 Interchange to the east. At present, according to the city, it will not.
Scott Schatschneider, director of public works, also said the roadway is also a main artery for semi traffic — particularly logging trucks — headed to the pulp facility in Wisconsin Rapids, which is one factor that should not go unnoticed.
According to Schatschneider, the roadway has seen 90 motor vehicle accidents and two bicycle-related accidents in the past five years. A road diet, he said, could reduce by almost half.
The road diet
The lane conversion, also called a “road diet”, is a proposal to reduce motorist lanes from four to two, and install a non-raised, painted center TWTL (two-way turn lane) as well as bicycle lanes.
Advocates say the Stanley St. corridor is the perfect test case for such a conversion, and will likely prove successful so it can be later implemented as a solution for the city’s lingering safety problems on Bus. 51.
The idea of a road diet is not new to the area. It’s been heavily referenced in various forms throughout the Portage Co. Countywide Bicycle & Pedestrian Plan from 2014, and Schatschneider said he discussed the idea with the Wis. Dept. of Transportation, even before he was the city’s director of public works.
“I think Stanley Street is a good candidate for this,” Schatschneider said. “There’s a misconception that a four-to-three lane [conversion] kills businesses, but that couldn’t be further from the truth — when cars are going slower, there’s more of an inclination to stop and shop.”
Schatschneider said for all the potential the project has for the roadway, there are still a lot of unanswered questions. Studies on average daily traffic counts, turning patterns along the street and average vehicle speed — as well as projections on bicycle or pedestrian use — have yet to be completed, he said.
If approved, the city would contract an outside company to scrub off existing lane striping, then re-stripe the roadway using an epoxy paint. The city does not have the specialized equipment needed to paint the epoxy, Schatschneider said, which is more desirable for this kind of project because, while more expensive, it has a life of about five years — longer than latex paint typically used on city roadways.
A re-striping on Stanley St. would take about two weeks, he added, and cost just over $50,000.
Schatschneider said he’s never approached city leaders with the idea because with it’s never been a priority.
“There are plenty of other things to work on, so I didn’t go looking [at other projects],” he said.
Schatschneider added there were “no environmental concerns” with the corridor and the roadway itself was structurally sound. The biggest concern he sees with implementing the lane conversion is a simple learning curve.
“It would be something different, so it would be getting folks to understand there’s now a single lane, and some of the driving habits would need to change,” he said.
The Minnesota problem
Whether or not the re-striping moves forward, Schatschneider said the renewed attention on the roadway could kick off a serious look at improving safety concerns at the Minnesota Ave. intersection, which he agrees could use some form of traffic control. It could be a good candidate for Rectangular Rapid Flash Beacon (RRFB), which costs about $16,000, he said.
“Minnesota is just Franklin and Division all over again,” he said, referencing the recent installation of a RRFB at the heavily-used pedestrian crossing on Bus. 51. “It would be something we could definitely look at. It’s tough, when you’ve got pedestrians crossing a four-lane road: you’ve got that Frogger experience, because somebody may slow down for you, but someone in that other lane may not.”
Mayor Mike Wiza said the intersection holds the biggest concerns for safety, but overall the corridor is quite safe.
“We’ve only had one bicycle-related accident there in three years,” Wiza said. “That’s the same as on Water Street during the same period of time.”
But safety has proved be to relative term when it comes to Stanley Street. At a Sept. presentation on the proposed lane conversion, Ald. Cathy Dugan claimed she “take[s] her life into her own hands” when she tried to cross the street.
How to foot the bill
The re-striping of Stanley St. is not a part of the 2017 city budget, though some on the City Council have said they would support a budget amendment to include the project.
On Oct. 10, Schatschneider gave the Stevens Point City Council a rundown of planned roadway projects for 2017.
Re-striping Stanely St. was not among them, prompting Ald. David Shorr to question why.
Shorr argued the cost was likely to be small, and said “there is compelling case” to include the re-striping in next year’s budget.
Schatschneider’s department uses a rating system called PASER — Pavement Surface Evaluation and Rating — to help determine how it can do the most good with its limited amount of road maintenance dollars on the worst city roads.
For 2017, his office has identified about $625,000 in needed repairs to city roadways, but due to a tight city budget, he has only been allocated $400,000 to complete as much as he can.
“We obviously have more projects than we can afford,” Schatschneider said. “I think what would happen [if Stanley St. was approved] is we’d still do our chip seal projects, but we’d push Whiting Avenue off.”
The Whiting Ave. project, he said, involves resurfacing the roadway between Water St. and Riverview Ave., which is riddled with holes.
“We could just add the Stanley Street project next year, but it would make it harder to complete the already over-packed schedule that we have,” he said.
Wiza told the Council in October it could also vote to use money from contingency to pay for the project, prompting some on the Council to vocally oppose the use of the city’s “just in case” funds.
Has the Council already decided?
Ald. Jeremy Slowinski said while he didn’t oppose the project, he strongly disagreed with the idea of using contingency funds.
“That contingency is set for emergencies, and I don’t want us to start planning projects based on those funds,” he said in October.
Councilwoman Mary Kneebone and Council President Mike Phillips also both said they weren’t opposed to the project, but they question the need to move forward with it so quickly.
“Especially when so many other roadway projects have been waiting in the queue,” Kneebone said.
Slowinski, Kneebone and Phillips have so far been in the vocal minority on the Council. In Sept., three city alders — Cathy Dugan, David Shorr and Shaun Morrow — hosted a public meeting intended to, in part, educate residents of their respective districts on the proposal, which at that time had not been vetted by the city.
Tori Jennings addressed the audience during that meeting, and also played a video — created by Jennings herself — showcasing a successful lane conversion project on a similar corridor in the City of Tomahawk. Jennings’ presentation was followed by one from Nathan Sandwick of UW-Extension on the importance of civic involvement.
During that meeting, all three alders, as well a Ald. Garrett Ryan, who was in attendance that night, said they had not heard any objection to the proposal. At that time, Ryan said provided public feedback on Oct. 26 was positive, he planned to call for a budget amendment including the re-striping of Stanley.
Jennings, who has a PhD in anthropology and is a lecturer at UWSP, admitted during the Sept. meeting to having no formal training in roadway engineering, saying she’s “obsessed with roads” and observing travel patterns. Jennings works with the local grassroots organization Revisioning Point, and is the appointed chairwoman of the mayor’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee.
Jennings’ presentation was met with mixed reactions from the public, but several members of the Council have already publicly supported the project.
“While we don’t have a sharp-pencil estimate, we have, I think, an estimate of $50,000,” Shorr said at the Oct. 13 Board of Public Works meeting. “I think it’s a strong enough case to be made this would be a good thing to do in 2017, but it will involve trade-offs with what’s been presented [in the budget].”
Ald. Cathy Dugan said she strongly supported the project, referring to Jennings as “the chief educator on this particular item”, also saying Jennings had “the best information” on the lane conversion.
Wiza said if the Council does its job, the decision on whether to move forward with the re-striping project in 2017 will be based on constituents’ wishes, not their own.
“I encourage every constituent to reach out to their alder and give them your thoughts on this,” Wiza said.