Stanley Street Road Diet Approved by Council
By Joe Bachman
STEVENS POINT — The saga of Stanley Street will soon see a new chapter, as city officials voted to approve the proposed road diet that would drop a portion of Stanley Street from four lanes to three.
The measure will have the Public Works department solicit bids in June for a project that will see four car lanes reduced to three from Michigan Avenue to Indiana or Lindbergh Avenue. Re-striped lanes will include a standard 14 foot two-way left turn lane, as well as five foot demarcated shoulders (bike lanes) in both directions. Minnesota Avenue will also be affected, as that intersection at Stanley Street will have all-way stop signs added to it. This includes appropriate transitions at the east end of the lane conversion.
In addition, a new crosswalk will be added at Clayton Avenue, and consideration of such at Lindbergh and Indiana Avenues. In a second item, a measure will also see work with the Bicycle and Pedestrian Safety Commission for further examination of near and long-term effects of the re-striping.
After three-and-a-half hours of public commentary and discussion from alderpersons, the council would eventually vote to pass the controversial measure. With over three-dozen members of the public conveying their thoughts to city officials, as well as comments from emails to representatives, the consensus was surprisingly split — most in opposition of the measure being those who live closer to Stanley Street.
Major concerns among those in opposition include fears of slowed and congested traffic due to one-less lane, safety concerns over those backing out of Stanley Street driveways onto a street with one-less lane, and whether or not the city simply needs to put time and effort into such a project.
A petition opposing the measure was started both on paper and online by former District 8 candidate Lynn Schulist, who made additional comments at the public meeting. The petition at the time of this publication has received close to 500 signatures, though not all signatures have come from the Stevens Point area.
“I have yet to see any type of iron-clad statistics or guarantee that it will not make it worse for people on Stanley Street,” said Schulist. “I think it comes down to ‘are you making it more difficult for those who live on Stanley Street to back in and out — just to have bike lanes?'”
“We’re looking for facts; give us some data about accidents, et cetera,” said business owner Dave Wysocki. “…Why inconvenience 10-12,000 of vehicular traffic for the convenience of 10 to 12 (bicyclists)– it just isn’t worth it, and the people don’t want it.”
However, facts were very much present at this meeting, and those in favor of the measure we’re well-equipped with them — all while citing the importance of not letting emotional public opinion override studies and scientific data related to the subject matter.
One outspoken resident in favor cited a study done by AARP, which utilized other studies from the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) regarding road diets. According to these studies, road diets tend to be good for business due to lesser speeds, and tend to be statistically safer, resulting in less accidents, and are built for roads that see no more than 15,000 vehicles per day. According to the FHWA: “FHWA has deemed Road Diets a proven safety countermeasure and promotes them as a safety-focused design alternative to a traditional four-lane, undivided roadway”
According to the study, a similar measure was put in place in Lewistown, Penn., where it was opposed by 95 percent of the public. After completion, nearly 95 percent favored it. These studies also show that turning could potentially be made easier, and provide safer access to homes and businesses.
Many in opposition also spoke out against having a project put in place by a small number of alleged bicyclists, as well as those that do not live in the Stanley Street area. However, on a financial level, this turned out to be anything but the case.
Stevens Point Community Media Manager John Quirk spoke as a resident, and pointed out that the large majority of street construction projects come from city property tax — not just from those on Stanley Street, but from all residents, who do use the street on a daily basis. Approximately 16 percent comes from the state’s transportation fund, which desires to pay for all forms of transport — including bicycles.
However, as far as city statistics go for Stanley Street, it is a fairly safe place for pedestrians and bicyclists. In the past five years, only two accidents have been reported where a bicyclist was hit by a vehicle; another striking a skateboarder. Nearly 85 percent of drivers on Stanley habitually averaged between 33 and 37 mph on that road, though the maximum speed recorded in both directions was as high as 50 mph.
However, from 2012-2016, a total of 70 vehicle-on-vehicle accidents were reported on Stanley Street. Public Works officials recommended alternative solutions such as adding crosswalks, controlled intersections, 4-way stops, and even the possibility of decreasing the speed limit.
District 6 Alder Jeremy Slowisnki greatly opposed the road diet motion, originally made by Alder David Shorr.
“I would never take my daughter or grand-kids, riding our bikes together down Stanley Street, with only a strip of paint separating us from traffic,” said Slowinski. “Even though it’s going slow, things happen. I don’t know why you’d want to do it. We have rules that keep bicycles off sidewalks due to the fact that there’s potential that a pedestrian and a bicycle run into each other, but we’re telling that bike to go on the road and take the risk of getting hit by a car. It doesn’t make sense to me.”
District 1 Alderperson Tori Jennings gave her thoughts on the matter, and also pointed out that UW-Stevens Point Chancellor Bernie Patterson is in favor of the 4-3 conversion. Much like those in favor, Jennings cited cost efficiency, and the ease of a 4-3 conversion, as reason why she supports the measure.
“The reason I support a four-to three lane conversion is pretty straight-forward. It’s a low-cost way to improve this corridor for all road users, using nothing but paint,” said Jennings. “…the road enforces itself; not needing police; and traffic is calmer, and more coordinated.”
District 4 Alderperson Heidi Oberstadt pointed out that Stanley Street is slated for re-striping as is, so there will be an incoming cost no matter what.
“Yeah, this will slow down traffic; and we could prefer to reduce the speed limit — but in order to do that we have to slow down the speed limit and ask an officer to sit there all day — and we can do that, but I don’t want to create a speed-trap, and then punish our community,” said Oberstadt. “If we need to slow down traffic in order to create a safer corridor, I support that.”
At 9:31 p.m., alders voted 8-3 in favor of carrying the motion. Jennings, Kneebone, Dugan, Nebel, Oberstadt, Johnson, McComb, and Shorr voted in favor, while Phillips, Morrow, and Slowisnki voted against. The second measure passed 10-1 with Slowinski voting against.