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 But things are changing so fast that this list will probably be outdated by the time it hits the web, so be ready to sprint to stay informed.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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Merry Christmas

December 19, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Commuting, DRBC, Events, Lifestyle, Outreach 

Toni's tree

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Grandma’s pretty tough…

July 3, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Advocacy, Commuting, Gear, How To, Lifestyle 

TrikeTremp

The classic delta tricycle, AKA ‘Grandma’s Trike’.

In an earlier article, I described having broken my left clavicle. Having a deep desire to ride, I’m on a trike with one arm in a sling.

This is the classic Schwinn single-speed delta style trike, borrowed from a friend of mine. It has a rear drum brake on the drive axle and front cantilevers. The gearing is low. 80 RPM spinning gives about 8 MPH. That is all there is to this machine, just a simple three wheeler.

It needed a good test ride, so I gave it a quick going over with lubrication and adjustments, then loaded with bike gear.

The ride. To the state trail, then through several towns on the trail and back.

The first few miles had me thinking the title of this article. I am a seasoned rider and was wondering what I had taken on. Hulk Hogan would have quite a time pedaling one of these this far.

I found the ride to be pretty jostling compared to the standard bicycle. The rear wheels would hit a bump or hole and the whole bike would launch me from side to side. I am tall so with the seat all the way up, it really amplified the effect.

Riding on the bike trails of Wisconsin (limestone), one wheel in the track and two wheels in the grass or middle. Bumpy ride. Riding the streets was better.

During the ride I did some calculations in my head which equaled to many hours of pedaling and the chant in my head of ‘what have I done?!?’.

Once I found a rhythm though, it wasn’t a bad ride and ended up being very familiar to riding any other bike, just slower.

I even found myself out racing a storm.

You may have done this. If not, keep riding and you will. You’re looking behind you at the approaching ‘wall of rain’, looking ahead saying to yourself, ‘where is this place? It must be right up here.’

Looking back and forth, wall of rain, street address, wall of rain, heart pumping, thoughts of getting absolutely drenched, wall of rain, cranking on the pedals…

Now think of doing that on Grandma’s Trike, one handed…

I did make it by about 30 seconds and it really downpoured.

TrikeSwim

I also went swimming with it (PLEASE don’t do that to a bike. I did a complete overhaul the next day, water was in everything, even the sealed bearings). The trail was flooded and being tired with no desire for the two mile detour, I swam it.

We’ve had a lot of rain and the marsh trail was under water. The water went almost to the top of the 26” tires for about 30 feet. Again, Grandma’s Trike got through, seaweed was lodged and hanging all over it. It made for a fun picture, but a lot of work during the overhaul.

The trip totaled 44 miles starting at 10:30AM. Got home at 6:30PM (4 stops for beer and a lunch).

Sitting bolt upright on a stable platform feels being a passenger along for the ride, like cargo in the basket. The handling is best at slow speeds, a bit more squirrelly when going faster. Sit, pedal, go. A tough go to go far on, not something for long trips, unless you just are not in any kind of hurry. The defining word is: slow.

Conclusion, the single-speed delta trike is a worthy machine. Not really cool or fast, but well maintained, it will keep you rolling, haul lots of stuff and get you there with a bit less stress.

No matter what you think of the Grandma Trike, it’s better than walking…

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Loaner Bikes at Ballweg Midwest Toyota

June 13, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Commuting, Lifestyle 

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Wheel Fever

May 19, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Advocacy, Commuting, Events, Lifestyle 

Guest post by James Longhurst

Wheel Fever2

An Elliott Hickory — 1891-1893 — hickory rims and spokes, from the La Crosse County Historical Society collection.

 

There’s a bicycle renaissance in America right now, featuring bike share programs in major cities, more bike lanes, increasing numbers of commuters, and new advocacy groups injecting much-needed energy into long-established discussions of bicycles and their place on the road. This 21st century bike boom has also attracted the attention of all kinds of academics and scholars in urban design, politics, history and the culture of bicycling. Many of the books and articles these scholars produce are only read by a small audience of academics; they are fairly arcane and impenetrable for the general public. But a small number of these projects attempt to take scholarly interests and communicate them in an interesting and approachable way.

 

Volunteers from the La Crosse County Historical Society set up historic bikes for the event.

Volunteers from the La Crosse County Historical Society set up historic bikes for the event.

On March 27, the authors of one of these new books on the history of bicycling came to La Crosse, and presented their research to a large audience from the campus and the community. Nicholas Hoffman and Jesse J. Gant are the authors of Wheel Fever: How Wisconsin Became a Great Bicycling State, out from the Wisconsin Historical Society Press in 2013. Hoffman is Chief Curator at the History Museum at the Castle in Appleton, Wisconsin; Gant is a Ph.D. candidate in history at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, and currently on a research fellowship at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History in Washington D.C.

 

Their book, Wheel Fever argues that the conflict over bicycling in the 1890s — in which the social and cultural symbolism of bicycling was constantly contested between middle-class men, adventurous women, aspiring African Americans, and practically-minded workers — is a means of understanding why riding a bike is strangely politicized even today. As the authors put it, riding a bike has been political from the start: the bicycle “has been defined by a rich and often impassioned debate over who should be allowed to ride, where they could ride, and even what they could wear.” The authors argue that there are two forces – one group who sees the bicycle as a threat to traditional social order; and another group who see “democratic possibilities” through which the bicycle might assist in remaking society for the better.

 

Gant and Hoffman’s research is an example of social history, sometimes referred to as “history from the bottom up.” These are the stories of how everyday people – not just leaders and rulers – experienced the events of history and shaped their own lives. It’s not a new approach; historians have been working on these sorts of projects for more than four decades. But this approach might be new to non-historians, and so the public talk on the UW-L campus was an opportunity to bring two worlds together.

 

This mix of the popular and scholarly is most obvious in Chapter 5, “The Troubled Beginnings of Wheel Fever.” This chapter puts Wisconsin bicycling into context with the racial ideology of the 1890s, connecting bicycle history to prominent scholarly works. This kind of approach has already transformed our understanding of the “White City” at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair. The chapter concludes that “In the end, the exclusionary culture of the early 1890s, which reached a peak during the 1893 World’s Fair, put on full display the cultural limitations that would plague early cycling in the Badger State.” It would be easy to celebrate the positive legacies of bicycling in the Wisconsin; but while Wheel Fever does that, it also addresses the complexities and contradictions of race, class, and gender even when in the pursuit of the history of a “great bicycling state.”

Wheel Fever3 

The event on March 27 was meant to bring together the popular and the scholarly on the subject of the bicycle – with support from a variety of academic departments on campus, as well as the Wisconsin Bike Federation, and historic bicycle displays from the La Crosse Historical Society, the event brought students from economics, history and physical education together with cyclists and bike advocates from the community. With a lively Q & A, book signing and reception, it was an excellent way to spend a rainy night, and shows a building interest in cycling and its scholarship in the La Crosse community.

 

Missed the event? You can hear Gant and Hoffman interviewed on Wisconsin Public Radio’s Newsmaker program, with discussion of La Crosse bike history, at http://www.wpr.org/listen/559351

 

— guest post by James Longhurst, Associate Professor of History at the University of Wisconsin – La Crosse

 

 

 

Sidebar: Scholarly books about bicycling. From different academic disciplines, these are books meant to advance knowledge about the bicycle’s past and present, and are not as widely read as books written for a popular audience by journalists or bicycle advocates.

 

 

Luis A. Vivanco, Reconsidering the Bicycle: An Anthropological Perspective on a New (Old) Thing, Routledge, 2013.

 

Written for the college classroom; includes both historical and current observations on the cultural meaning of bicycles and their riders.

 

 

Glen Norcliffe, Ride to Modernity: The Bicycle in Canada, 1869-1900, University of Toronto Press, 2001.

 

The bicycle as a symbol of “modernity” and mass consumer culture in the late 19th century.

 

 

Christopher Armstrong, H. V. Nelles, The Revenge of the Methodist Bicycle Company: Sunday Streetcars and Municipal Reform in Toronto, 1888 – 1897, Oxford University Press, 2010.

 

An enjoyable but complicated story of urban politics, corruption and transportation policy.

 

 

Dave Horton, Paul Rosen and Peter Cox, eds., Cycling and Society, Farnham, UK: Ashgate, 2007.

 

Several different approaches to understanding cycling from the perspective of European scholars, especially sociologists.

 

 

John Pucher and Ralph Buehler, eds., City Cycling, Boston: MIT Press, 2012.

 

Collection of articles bringing data-driven scholarship to understanding bicycle policy internationally.

 

 

Wiebe Bijker, Of Bicycles, Bakelites, and Bulbs: Toward a Theory of Sociotechnical Change, Cambridge: MIT Press, 1995.

 

Using the technological development of the bicycle as a case study in what was known as the “social construction of technology” or SCOT debate in the history of technology.

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