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 But things are changing so fast that this list will probably be outdated by the time it hits the web, so be ready to sprint to stay informed.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.
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.
The elation of not having to deal with riding in subzero weather is amazing, uplifting and very welcome.
It really isn’t hard to ride in below zero temperatures. Put some layers on and go.
My winter beater (named the ‘Wynott’) has been reliable all winter. More reliable than my summer bikes. No flats, no chain problems, no brake problems (no brakes), no gearing problems (1 gear) and only one day I had to walk the bike (1 block) because the snow on the road was impassable (I did slog my way about 10 blocks before just not being able to find a track). Not bad for my 5 miles per day commute plus 3-10 miles for entertainment rides (music and bar hopping mostly). I did have (normal?) saddle problems on longer rides (cheap saddle) and will skip the graphic description. Solved with bike shorts.
So, as one of the ‘extreme’ riders, I admit to a little hardship. I admit that riding year round takes effort. It just takes putting in your head that this is how you get around. I suppose the same thing could be used if you only had a horse for transportation. Think of the maintenance on that vehicle!
The big drive for me to use a bike as transportation is the money and time I save (yes, I said time). If I had a car, I figure I would have to work a second job to be able to spend money the way I do. Plus time and bloody knuckles fixing and maintaining a late model car (there goes my Saturday or Sunday afternoons). I have been there and done that on cars. We always had two. Now with just one, I keep it better maintained (I can afford to pay ‘the man’) and it lasts longer (this one is 10yrs old and will probably last 10 more).
I do seem to keep bring up the same thing when I write about bicycle commuting. Sorry, guess it emphasizes the truth of it. I admit to have an ‘ideal’ commute, but then, I live and work where I do on purpose. I chose a job near my home. I chose a home near the places I need and want to go to. Sometimes it takes time and planning, it did for me. Now I have it. If you want it, plan for it, execute the plan, then, enjoy the benefits. End bicycle commuting rant…;-)
Springtime is upon us. It will snow again, it’s still a bit chilly, but at least we can remove ‘Polar Vortex’ from everyday use.
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.
Electronic copies are availabe here. Paper copies are available at: