November Silent Alarm: Cyclists and hikers must be in engaged in transportation planning
BY MIKE MCFADZEN
The announcement that Highway 23 would be upgraded from a two to a four-lane highway across Sheboygan and Fond du Lac counties was celebrated by many in local cities and communities, but it was a cause for concern by some local recreationists.
The 10-year battle to upgrade the highway was mired by delays, lawsuits and fiscal issues.
This new four-lane highway would be a huge concrete barrier for cyclists and hikers unless appropriate enhancements were included in the project.
This area has many popular cycling routes, an Ice Age Trail crossing and active bike communities with the Kettle Moraine topography straddling both counties.
The 30-mile east/west highway would cut off the north section of the Kettle Moraine State Forest.
What about the Ice Age Trail through-hikers? Would cyclists risk life and limb scurrying their bikes across this heavy traffic corridor? Would the popular Plank Road Trail, which parallels Highway 23, be continued into Fond du Lac County? There are so many questions to be answered.
The planning process for any road starts years in advance. It’s imperative non-motorized users get involved early to show support for pedestrian enhancements, which make these projects palatable for all users.
That has not happened on this project.
There were numerous discussions and correspondence with Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WisDOT) officials and legislators, as well as county planners urging reasonable bike/pedestrian treatments be contained in the plan.
The project is in full construction mode with the following enhancements included in the $150 million highway rebuild.
The current plan contains bike crossings at numerous intersections, including County A, County S, Sugarbush Road, Seven Hills Road and County W.
These at-grade road crossings are comprised of 4-foot beveled concrete, road-crossing islands and fence cuts – these crossing will not be marked.
I surmise the WisDOT has concerns about unskilled bikers using them. Think about a biking family and kids getting stranded on a traffic island with cars whizzing past at highway speeds – not a good scene. Non-motorized users would prefer bridged road crossings, but that is unlikely in non-urban areas.
The plan also includes continuation of the popular Old Plank Road Trail from its current terminus in Greenbush to the city of Fond du Lac.
Both counties have tentatively agreed to complete their sections of the trail with asphalt for this excellent bike connector.
Sheboygan County Planner Aaron Brault is pleased with the trail progress.
“Thousands of residents and visitors alike already use the Old Plank Road Trail,” he said. “Addressing the gap which currently exists in this east/west corridor will only bolster its popularity. This is a great project for both counties.”
Paving will take place in 2020 for the Sheboygan County section, while Fond du Lac’s section is anticipated to be done in 2021-22.
There will be a north/south tunnel for the Ice Age Trail west of Ridge Road in Sheboygan County.
This tunnel will connect the Ice Age Trail via the Plank Road Trail south of Highway 23.
The north side of this crossing would be an excellent location for a short connector to Ridge Road. This would be extremely helpful for families who are uncomfortable making at-grade crossings on this busy highway. Initial discussions with Brault have been quite positive to add this future enhancement.
Good planning always speaks to future generations.
There is often an opportunity to enhance non-motorized features when these projects occur.
Advocates in Sheboygan County are already asking for paved shoulders on existing roads which bisect the project and connectors to the Ice Age Trail tunnel.
Community leaders and decision-makers are willing to support these efforts when advocates get behind these projects.
It’s important to cite the positive economic and tourism benefits of connecting bike routes, villages, state lands, employers and local businesses.
Got a project in your area? Before engaging the road planners, do your research and learn the lingo.
There are excellent bike/pedestrian planning resources available at the National Complete Streets Coalition website at smartgrowthamerica.org/program/national-complete-streets-coalition/.
According to Complete Streets, “Everyone ought to have safe, comfortable and convenient access to community destinations and public places – whether walking, driving, bicycling or taking public transportation. But too many of our streets are designed only for speeding cars or creeping traffic jams.”
A Complete Streets approach integrates people and place in the planning, design and operation of transportation networks.
This helps ensure roadways are safe for everyone, balancing the different modes including walking and biking.
Over 1,400 communities have adopted the Complete Streets framework for transportation planning.
Milwaukee is ranked No. 4 nationally on translating policy into practice for its transportation network.
There is also opportunity for improvement when roads are being upgraded or logging is planned for cross-country ski areas.
Good planning provides opportunities to gain better access, improved road crossings or to trim overhanging trees which block snow from trails.
In this case, there was good cooperation with the WisDOT, legislators and county planners Brault in Sheboygan and Sam Tobias in Fond du Lac. These planners were on top of their game well in advance of the project.
Everyone wanted reasonable solutions for bike and pedestrian transit.
Without these treatments, Highway 23 would be a huge barrier for recreationists.
These treatments and trails are not perfect but represent a reasonable solution.