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Bike plan on track for city council vote

March 26, 2014

Wauwatosa officials are prepared to adopt a Bicycle and Pedestrian Facilities Plan that aims to strike a balance between identifying ways to improve bicycle and pedestrian connectivity and better informing city decisions, without forcing projects upon residents or overlooking their concerns.

The Community Development Committee on Tuesday unanimously recommended adopting the plan, which was developed by Toole Design Group and the Wisconsin Bike Federation in conjunction with a city steering committee. The recommendation will be referred to the full Common Council for a vote April 1.

Development Director Paulette Enders explained that the latest version of the plan was revised to address resident concerns about sidewalk improvements, replacing previously identified pedestrian priorities with overall facility recommendations.

"None of what is listed as a pedestrian facility has any type of priority listed on it," Enders said. Rather, "There are some general recommendations that these are high-traffic, high-volume areas," she added.

Potential pedestrian projects identified in the plan include parkways and areas near schools, as well as Mayfair Road, 124th Street, 116th/115th streets, Center Street, Burleigh Street, Watertown Plank Road and Wisconsin Avenue.

However, Tom Huber, director of Toole Design Group, pointed out that the plan clearly states, "The option of putting sidewalks on streets that currently do not have them will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis as street reconstruction projects arise and neighborhood input and support is obtained."

The document further specifies that criteria used to identify areas of importance for pedestrian facilities include filling gaps in the existing system, proximity to schools, traffic volume, proximity to existing paths and bus stop locations.

Residents speak out

Complete plan recommendations cover the installation of more than 95 miles of bicycle facilities, such as bike lanes or shared-use paths, and about 22 miles of pedestrian facilities.

If fully implemented, the total cost of the plan could range from about $21.5 million to $31.6 million, over a lengthy course of time, Huber said. Although the plan makes suggestions about funding sources to consider, there is no budget attached to plan recommendations.

Although several parents of students at Eisenhower Elementary, located at 116th and Center streets, advocated for sidewalks in that area at the March 18 Common Council public hearing for the plan, most of those who spoke at the committee meeting represented the opposite view.

Karen Dabbert, a resident of the 2600 block of North 116th Street for more than 31 years, suggested that rather than adding sidewalks, traffic issues in the area could be better addressed by installing a traffic signal at Clarke and 116th streets. She also suggested additional reduced speed limit signs in the school zone area, as well as designating a pedestrian area on the west side of 116th Street, where parking is not allowed, providing a clear view of traffic.

"This is a much better solution than imposing thousands of extra dollars on already burdened taxpayers," Dabbert said.

Others expressed concern about the possibility of the city being bound by the vision and recommendations of the plan once it is approved, or residents losing property on which they have invested significant energy and money for landscaping and other improvements, for example.

Overall, most residents seemed satisfied with how the plan was modified to address the issue of sidewalk improvements.

"I live on 116th Street. I do not want sidewalks put in, for a number of reasons; one of them is because I don't want to pay for it right now," resident Jason Kofroth said. "I support this plan because it does give us the say."

To its stronger proponents, the plan stands to expand and improve biking and walking options for residents.

As a bicycle commuter, "I really appreciate the steps the city of Wauwatosa has taken, and also the city of Milwaukee, in making my commute safer," resident William Gonwa said.

Panelists give thumbs up

Committee members all voiced support for the plan as well, primarily on the basis that it offers greater choice to the city's diverse residents and provides a roadmap for city leaders.

"This isn't about getting people out of cars so much as it is to give them an option," Alderman Bobby Pantuso said.

"I don't want to scare off the next person looking to live in Wauwatosa because we don't have those things and we aren't starting to plan those things," Pantuso added. "I want them to know that we're looking at those things, and that we have a plan in place that's going to be our guidebook for the next five, 10, 15, 20 years, as we start to implement these things."

The plan would also help connect neighborhoods and better position the city to be able to receive grant money for bicycle- and pedestrian-related projects, Alderman Jeff Roznowski said. He highlighted the Safe Routes to School grant funding the city has already received, noting that plenty of similar funding is available.

"That's half a million dollars that hasn't cost taxpayers in Wauwatosa a nickel," he said of grant funding received in recent years for projects at McKinley Elementary. "And I know there's a lot more money out there."

Officials also praised Alderwoman Cheryl Berdan for her efforts throughout the project to represent the views of her constituents. From Berdan's perspective, the process has represented the way city government should work.

AT A GLANCE

■ To view the plan as considered by the Community Development Committee, reflecting the most recent changes made to the document, visit Wauwatosa.net. Select "Meeting Portal" from the quick links section on the left. After proceeding to the site, select the agenda packet for the March 25 Community Development Committee meeting under "Past Meetings."

NEXT STEP

WHAT: Common Council to consider adopting recommended Bicycle and Pedestrian Facilities Plan

WHEN: 7 p.m. Tuesday, April 1

WHERE: City Hall, 7725 W. North Ave.

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