Construction Ahead: Transportation Planning in 2015

Big changes are proposed for transportation in the La Crosse region this year, with high stakes for everyone, including cyclists and pedestrians. There’s a limited window of opportunity for the public to be involved in the complicated plans; here is a bare-bones summary of many different issues with a few specific links, dates and events. But things are changing so fast that this list will probably be outdated by the time it hits the web, so be ready to sprint to stay informed.

 

Dates to remember:

 

February 23, 7PM, Myrick Center La Crosse – City Transportation Vision – opening public meeting

February 26, 7PM, Myrick Center La Crosse – City Transportation Vision – closing public meeting

April 11, 8AM-Noon, Myrick Center La Crosse – Mayor’s Neighborhood Conference: Transportation

TBD – State DOT Coulee Region Transportation Study public meetings

 

After decades of complicated history, including a referendum in 1998 and a spirited discussion before the La Crosse Area Planning Commission in 2014, the Wisconsin Department of Transportation has announced a new study of what was once known as the north/south corridor. This project is described in state law as covering USH 53 extending approximately 6.2 miles between I 90 and USH 14/61 near 7th Street, but recent public statements from the DOT have broadened the area to include WI-16 and WI-35 along with USH 53. In La Crosse itself, those highways are better known as Copeland, Rose, George, 3rd, 4th and La Crosse streets as well as West Avenue and Lang Drive.

Now under the name Coulee Region Transportation Study, the DOT is conducting a year-long process to come up with a plan for a major highway construction project, listed in state law for decades (though still without dedicated funding set aside for its estimated $140 million price tag). While state statute seems to require this type of project to either build new road or add new lanes to existing roads, the DOT has indicated that many different options are still possible; at this point in early 2015, no one knows what the recommended option will be – a new highway? New lanes on existing highways? New technology or improved roads? No new construction?

In the planning world, one year is an incredibly short time, and indeed this is an accelerated process that is entirely new to the region: it’s an innovation known as Planning and Environmental Linkages, or PEL, an attempt to speed up existing National Environmental Policy Act requirements for environmental studies that has only been applied once before in Wisconsin. While observers don’t know a great deal about this new process, we can see that public involvement in the early stages is incredibly important to the eventual outcome. The study’s Citizen’s Advisory Groups have already been formed. If they’ve not been invited to those positions, DRBC members can sign up for announcements of upcoming public meetings to get their viewpoints included in the DOT planning process.

No matter what option is planned, it will still have to go through environmental permitting and the state budgeting process, in a time of great budget uncertainty. This means that the possible eventualities range from nothing at all to the largest construction project in the region. With this huge variety of outcomes, there is of course a chance of great impact on cyclists and pedestrians – will increasing traffic volume, speed, or lane numbers on north/south roads include bicycle traffic options, on-street lanes or off-street paths? What about transit? Will changing north/south roads alter the ability of cyclists and pedestrians to move east/west in La Crosse? What will be the impact future land use patterns for neighborhoods, suburbs and surrounding communities?

1.  La Crosse City Transportation Vision

In an attempt to contribute to the state DOT’s planning process over the rest of the year, the city of La Crosse is organizing its own Transportation Vision process. The first public meeting is Monday, February 23rd at 7PM at the Myrick Center, with additional meetings with key stakeholders and open office hours over the rest of the week and a closing presentation Thursday, February 26th at 7PM. (Complete schedule). Consultant Toole Design Group, a firm with nationally-recognized expertise in complete streets design and bike-ped planning, will use these meetings as a basis for a document summarizing a city Transportation Vision, which the DOT has indicated that they will include in their own planning.

2.   Mayor’s Neighborhood Conference

With all of these transportation issues going on, it makes sense that the La Crosse Mayor’s Neighborhood Conference would pick transportation as its theme for this year. Come to the Myrick Center April 11, 8AM – 1PM to hear invited keynote speaker Chuck Marohn of the nonprofit Strong Towns, reports from neighborhood associations, tables and information from representatives from groups and companies involved in transportation, and short presentations on a variety of transportation topics in the region.

3.  Wisconsin

Of course, all of this is happening with a background of a rapidly-changing state budget. In particular, the proposed Senate Bill 21 would repeal Wisconsin’s Complete Streets law. As the Wisconsin Bike Fed puts it, The law requires that bicyclists and pedestrians be taken into account whenever a road is built or reconstructed with state or federal funds. In addition, SB 21 would eliminate all state support for the Transportation Alternatives Program (cutting about $2 million from state bike programs and construction projects), and essentially eliminate the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Fund, which funds state trail purchases.

There are obvious implications for state-controlled road building here in the La Crosse region, which has recently jumped into a leading position in complete streets planning. The County and City of La Crosse and the City of Onalaska all have passed their own complete streets ordinances in the last several years, with the DRBC’s support. Along with a 2011 La Crosse Area Planning Commission resolution, the city and county ordinances were recently named in The Best Complete Streets Policies of 2014 by the non-profit Smart Growth America. Respectively, they were ranked 4th, 6th, and 25th in their categories from the more than 700 policies examined nationwide. While no one knows what might happen in practice if the state eliminates its own complete streets requirements, in principle it certainly looks like a step backward for sustainable transportation options in the La Crosse region if SB 21 is passed with the repeal intact.

 

For all of these issues, the best way to stay involved is to stay informed; I encourage DRBC members to follow the issues that motivate them and attend the city Transportation Vision meetings, February 23-26, as a key opportunity to contribute to the future of getting around in the La Crosse region.

 

— James Longhurst is an associate professor at the University of Wisconsin – La Crosse, studying the history of urban and environmental policy. He is the author of Bike Battles: A History of Sharing the American Road, out this spring from the University of Washington Press.

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Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plan

 

THE BICYCLE AND PEDESTRIAN STEERING COMMITTEE INVITES YOUR PARTICIPATION IN THE PREPARATION OF LA CROSSE’S “Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plan”.

Public Participation Meeting

All Bicyclists and Pedestrians are Welcome

Radisson Ballroom

200 2nd Street S in La Crosse’s Downtown

Monday, June 4th from 5:00 pm – 8:00 pm

Valet Bicycle Parking will be Available

 

Come see the Preliminary Concept Plan and help provide your input. Open House: 5pm to 6pm. Presentation at 6:00 with questions and discussion.

Additional Information about the Bike/Ped Plan is available at http://www.cityoflacrosse.org/index.aspx?NID=2553 

Download flyer here: Bike Ped Master Plan meeting

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ACTION ALERT: La Crosse Bicycle Pedestrian Plan 2012

We are in need of 2-3 DRBC members to attend the Bike and Ped workshops on April 14th and 15th, respectively. Check out the City’s website for more details here. If you are able to attend, please send an email to info@driftlessbicycle.org.

APRIL 14, 2012 BIKE WORKSHOP AGENDA

 

9:00 am – Presentation on Bicycle Design Issues

  • Bicycling principles
  • Basics of bikeway design
  • Intersection design
  • Shared use paths

10:00 am – Bicycle Tour of City

Noon – Discussion of Bike Tour over a Box Lunch

12:30 pm – Small Group Bike Workshop

  • Destination mapping
  • Good cycling route mapping
  • Fill in the gaps mapping
  • Identify issue locations

3:00 pm – Adjourn

 

APRIL 16, 2012 PED WORKSHOP AGENDA

 

Noon – Presentation on Pedestrian Issues over Lunch

  • Ped safety parameters
  • Basic ADA requirements
  • Need for connectivity
  • Access to transit

12:30 pm – Pedestrian Plan Workshop

  • Identify walking hotspots
  • Confirm sidewalk gap map
  • Discuss routes/gaps for runners
  • Identify transit access issues

2:00 pm – City-wide Walk Accessibility Plan

  • Introduce Chris Seegar (Iowa State University)
  • Describe proposed GIS inventory
  • Present data collection form/process
  • Short field exercise using form/process
  • Plan to organize volunteer force
  •  Data submittal deadline:  Monday, May 7, 2012

4:00 pm – Adjourn

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Action Alert: Transportation Bill Moving!

Ask Your Representative to Preserve Biking and Walking

Take Action!

Transportation Committee votes on biking and walking funding next week
 
On Thursday, February 2, we expect the House Transportation Committee to vote on the American Energy and Infrastructure Jobs Act, a bill that eliminates crucial funds for biking and walking.  As a Member of the Committee, your representative is in a key position to save dedicated funding for biking and walking.  Please contact them today and ask them to vote to preserve biking and walking.The American Energy and Infrastructure Jobs Act, the long awaited multi year Transportation bill, eliminates the two largest programs that fund biking and walking infrastructure—Transportation Enhancements and Safe Routes to School.  Without these programs, communities all over the country will lose resources to build the sidewalks, crosswalks, and bikeways that make biking and walking safe and accessible in your community.

We can’t let that happen.

That’s why we’re working to introduce an amendment that will preserve funding for biking and walking. During Thursday’s vote, your representative could be the key to making sure that this amendment passes in the Transportation Committee. Will you contact them today to ask that they vote to preserve funding for biking and walking in the transportation bill?

Tell them:

  • Biking and walking make up 12 percent of all trips, but only 1.5 percent of federal funding.
  • Two out of three pedestrian deaths take place on roads built with federal funding.  Ensuring funds for sidewalks, crosswalks, and bikeways help end preventable deaths and make roads safer for everyone.
  • When town centers are biking and walking friendly, business and economic development improves.   

Thank you for all that you do to keep bicycling and walking safe and accessible.

 

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Action Alert! I90 Bridge Bike/Ped Accommodations

It’s finally time to weigh in on the importance of MnDOT following through on providing  access for bicycles and pedestrians on the upcoming I-90 Bridge at Dresbach.  As you may have learned, MnDOT has agreed to design the new bridge so that accommodations can be attached in the future, once WisDOT has upgraded some bridges on their side of the river with bike/ped accommodations.  So, it’s all about commitments for “future” accommodations, and it would be good to show, by lots of people in attendance, how important those future accommodations ARE to us.

On Wednesday January 25th, 2012  5 pm to 8 pm there will be a Public Open House on the Dresbach Bridge. The Open House will be held at La Crescent High School Cafeteria. This open house will cover all aspects of the Bridge including the recently added future accommodation for Bicyclist and Walkers.  

There will be 20 minute presentations at both 6:00 PM and at 7:00 PM by MnDOT. Following the presentations there will be an opportunity to ask questions or offer input for about 20 minutes and then MnDOT will be manning ‘poster stations’ to answer individual questions. There will be 2 court reporters to take oral testimony and forms for written comments.

The Working Group will be submitting testimony on the need for the completion of the bike trail when the I-90 bridge decks over Round Lake and French Slough are replaced. These decks will likely need replacement within the 15 years following the completion of the Mississippi River Bridge and planning for design, approval and funding should begin immediately. 

To achieve the capacity to install a trail over the Mississippi River it was necessary for the community to interrupt last June MnDOT’s plan for approval, without a bike trail, and insist on a successful reassessment.It is now appropriate for the Bike Riding Community to show up and endorse the inclusion of structural elements to support the future trail. This  is your opportunity to endorse the outcome and reinforce the need to complete the trail as soon as is practical.  

We encourage you to show up and complete a form supporting the need. It is our responsibility to show that after 7 months of work; resolutions by the LAPC and 2 Counties; 3000 miles and 3000 hours of community advocacy—that the right decision has been made!! 

Please make time for this meeting; 15 minutes can make a difference. Wednesday January 25th, 2012 open house 5 pm till 8 pm.

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