Bike/pedestrian commission recommended
By Gene Kemmeter
The Stevens Point Public Protection Committee recommended Monday, April 9, an ordinance amendment to create a Bicycle-Pedestrian Street Safety Commission (BPSC).
The committee had delayed the proposal by Alderperson Tori Jennings, District 1, last month for further study. Jennings said she felt bicycle interests weren’t being addressed by the city and she wanted the bicycle group to have the same status as the Board of Public Works and Plan Commission, with staff time available to address issues.
Jennings said she worked with City Attorney Logan Beveridge to rewrite the proposal she submitted in March. She said if Stevens Point is serious about moving into the 21st Century it has to look at all forms of transportation with transparency.
The purpose of the BPSC is to implement the Portage County Countywide Bicycle and Pedestrian Plan, and generally advise on matters of pedestrian and bicycle accessibility. The BPSC ensures that bicycle and pedestrian projects in the city are consistent with the plan and goals.
The commission would consist of five commissioners and one alternate appointed by the mayor and confirmed by the Common Council. The commission member should include an engineer or planner, pedestrian and bicycle safety advocate, bicycle friendly business owner, safety educator, alderperson and a non-voting Community Development or Public Works staff liaison.
The proposed ordinance says each member “should have, to the extent practicable, known experience and interest in pedestrian and bicycle transportation safety, as well as familiarity with the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO) and the Portage County Countywide Bicycle and Pedestrian Plan.”
The commission will replace the Bicycle & Pedestrian Advisory Committee (BPAC) established in 2015, and Jennings wrote “the notable success of BPAC obscures the ongoing challenges this committee faces in light of its ambiguous ‘citizen advisory’ status and lack of formal staff oversight.”
She wrote the Common Council that creating the BPSC will give the bike/pedestrian infrastructure permanent status and help assure that the city’s transportation, safety and livability goals and objectives are met.
Kyle Kearns, associate planner/zoning administrator for the city, wrote a memo in support of creating the commission, pointing out that he has served as the city’s informal liaison to BPAC since its inception and has attended nearly every meeting.
Kearns wrote that in his opinion BPAC should operate similar to other city commissions and committees or dissolve. Creating the commission would allow staff to advise on the agenda, document meetings and create conformity in operation of the commission, plus city staff could provide additional assistance by funneling projects through the commission to ensure a thorough review and documented action.
While creating a political structure for a formal bicycle/pedestrian committee for may be burdensome in some aspects, it would solidify the importance of pedestrians and bicyclists in the community, Kearns wrote.
The benefits from BPAC have been tremendous and the work put in by the volunteer members should be applauded, he said, adding, however, flaws exist within the current operational structure that could be improved with a new structure. “Yet, this transformation of BPAC may reflect significant changes on staff and department operations, which must also be weighed,” he wrote.
Alderpersons Mary McComb, District 9, Cathy Dugan, District 8, Meleesa Johnson, District 5, Heidi Oberstadt, District 3, and Mary Kneebone, District 7, spoke in support of the proposed ordinance.
Mike Phillips, District 10, said he was concerned about the additional cost of staff time or more staff for something since most bicyclists only ride six or seven months of the year.
Johnson said the ordinance isn’t only about bicyclists but about pedestrians, and pedestrians required sidewalks.
Kneebone said she feels the ordinance will actually save time for the Public Works Department planning sidewalks because there will be one group to coordinate pedestrian safety to help with the need for new sidewalks.