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Wauwatosa's bike/pedestrian plan moves closer to full adoption

Panel approves it; another public hearing ahead

Feb. 11, 2014

A revised version of the Wauwatosa Bicycle and Pedestrian Facilities Plan won acceptance at the Plan Commission this week, bouncing back after a harsh reception of an earlier draft at its first unveiling in October.

The revised version was approved unanimously by the Plan Commission without changes, although the panel left the door open to refinement.

The document can be found through a link at the city's home page, wauwatosa.net.

"The present version of the Wauwatosa bicycle and pedestrian plan does one very important thing for the city of Wauwatosa," said Alderwoman Cheryl Berdan. "It requires that present and future councils receive, seek and abide by the will of the affected residents when moving to change the character of a neighborhood."

Milder language

The earlier plan's proposed addition of sidewalks on west-side streets, particularly 116th Street, drew loud objection from residents. Berdan, whose 7th District includes the area, was a strong critic of the plan and worked on the revision.

The revised plan is notably milder in tone than the original formulation. Its "objectives" and "policies" and "priorities" have been renamed "recommendations"; its advocacy of biking, in particular, is more neutral; and in place of the word "sidewalks" it refers most often to "pedestrian facilities."

"The option of putting sidewalks on streets that 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," said Tom Huber, of consulting group Toole Design, reading from the document's "Pedestrian Facility Considerations" clause.

"The operative word in many locations now in the recommendations is 'consider' — 'the Common Council will consider,' 'the city will consider' — instead of stating it as a recommendation," he said.

The new plan defers the issue of accessibility of schools in some cases to the Safe Routes to School program, under a planning grant the program won from the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, and abandons the ambitious goal of forging a route across the Center Street gap, over the Menomonee River and Blue Mound Country Club.

Spending is separate

Alderman Jason Wilke and others noted that the original plan was never intended as a mandate, and that the plan, even when adopted, is not attached to spending.

"It is not a plan, that, by adopting this plan, mandates any money being spent," Wilke said.

Any portion of the project that is pursued will undergo a "public process for each individual project, and Common Council approval, before it will be a budgeted project," he said.

Parental urgency

Some parents who supported the plan expressed a sense of urgency.

Resident Joan Ross said her family enjoyed biking, but that the deterioration of the Menomonee Parkway has rendered that route unbikeable.

"I'm glad to see that plans are in effect and I hope it goes well. It just comes too late for us — the kids are almost grown," she said.

Said Tristan Almazan: "Although I appreciate that this is a long-term plan, I want my children to feel the impact of these plans while they are still in school."

Some not convinced

Assurances that the plan no longer targets sidewalks did not comfort some residents of 116th Street.

Duane Langen said he resented people who don't live on 116th Street discussing plans that he suggested might affect his property values. He said his children had walked to school and never had any problems.

"I'm totally against the plan. As far as I can see, it's not going to be utilized that much. Most of the kids are driven to and from school, as far as we can see," he said.

Where does value lie?

Jordan Crawford also questioned the value of the plan. He said that some who objected to the original plan were asking for a simpler, more achievable plan.

"The bike plan itself in the new proposal is $16.9 million on the low end," Crawford asserted.

Noting that the document says 2 percent more people will bike when the plan is realized, he asked: "It is worth spending $16 million, almost $17 million, for 920 users? I don't know."

Plan Commission member Jody Lowe said a community that is bicycle and pedestrian friendly is attractive to people seeking good neighborhoods, and imparts a "broader value" than is measured by the number of users.

The bicycle and pedestrian was recommmended for adoption by ordinance as an amendment to the city's comprehensive plan by the Plan Commission. It will be the subject of a public hearing March 18.

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