Alderperson Shorr: “I Strongly Support” Stanley St. Lane Redraw
To the Editor:
It’s been about 18 months since I wrote on this page about the proposal to redraw the lanes of Stanley Street to have three lanes for drivers and two for bike riders, which I strongly support. While my initial idea of prioritizing this project for the 2017 capital budget was too rushed of a timeframe, a year and a half of robust public debate has made the issue is ripe for decision. So I would like to offer a closing argument.
In a nutshell, the current outdated four-lane style of roadway running right through town is going the way of the dinosaur. Cities are realizing it doesn’t help the life of a community when streets are tailored for letting cars zip through neighborhoods and business districts as quickly as possible. To have a vibrant neighborhood, it’s better to have streets where drivers, bike riders, and people on foot all feel safe. For local shops and restaurants, the key point is that people always spend more money the slower they go—when they walk down the street rather than whizzing by.
In all the months of debate, many points came up that deserve response:
- The Stanley Street proposal has supporters as well as opponents. My personal rule as a politician is never to make claims about what “the people” want or think on a debated issue. Absent extensive and expensive opinion polls, the most that can be said is that opinion is split. Some issues on our City Council agenda offer a chance to find consensus, but except for a possible compromise on how far the restriping would extend, Stanley Street is not one of those consensus-building opportunities. So we can only say there are residents and businesses in support as well as opposition to the proposal.
- Three lanes leave ample room for emergency vehicles. Even before public debate got underway, the Police and Fire Departments confirmed that—just as in other communities—the redesign posed no obstacle for their vital work. Do opponents raising this question really think we’d even be considering the change if this weren’t so?
- Three lanes of auto traffic will be safer than four. Time and again this type of 4-to-3 lane conversion has been shown to calm traffic and reduce crashes. They remove the danger that cars going the same direction will sideswipe each other, and there are fewer rear-end collisions when cars pull into the middle lane for left turns. But the most important safety issue for me involves bike riders. When opponents say that bikes should go on the sidewalks, they are flying in the face of everything we know about safety—as the SPPD’s former community officer reminded us at the September 2016 public meeting. Despite some residents dramatic comments about cleaning blood off their curb, they should really worry about backing out of their drive and hitting a bike rider who’s coming down the sidewalk. It’s a matter of needing a better angle to see them coming, which is exactly what the manager of GT Mobility worries about in his driveway.
- This proposal is about people walking and local businesses just as much as people on bikes. To an extent, the 4-to-3 conversion is about giving Stevens Point a better road network for those who ride bikes as their transportation. We’re not in a position to rest on our laurels as a bike-friendly community. The League of American Bicyclists rating of Stevens Point highlighted the major gaps in our bicycle routes.
But the redesign is safer for pedestrians too—for instance by getting bikes off the sidewalks to make them safer to walk on. One 2nd District constituent who grew up in our neighborhood also remembers crossing Stanley very easily and now says she never crosses it with her own kids. With the new layout, she could to use the middle turning lane as a pedestrian island to cross halfway at a time. Equally important, the sidewalks will be more appealing once bike lanes become a buffer between pedestrians and car traffic—helping draw more customers to local businesses.
So then what is the main disagreement about the Stanley Street proposal? It boils down to whether you believe our city streets should be tailored solely for the benefit of car drivers. For instance I’ve heard opponents mention the reduced use of bikes during Wisconsin winters. Based on that argument, we shouldn’t build baseball diamonds or any other sports fields because they aren’t year-round either.
Even more relevant is the question I heard recently about commuters who drive to work at Sentry or the hospital. These employers are vital to our local economy, something our Council always keeps sight of. But if the choice is between a minute or two of extra commuting time versus more livable neighborhoods, I’ll pick the latter every time.
Alderperson David Shorr lives in Goerke Park Neighborhood and represents District Two.