In 2015, the Village of Grafton developed a plan for safer bicycling in the village (it’s actually a Bicycle and Pedestrian Plan). The plan document lists several other goals besides safety, but the only goal that really matters is safety. Well intended goals for things like health and enjoyment will happen quite naturally if it’s truly safe to ride a bicycle. If it’s not safe, bicycling will play a minor role. As one person said to me “I shouldn’t have to put my life at great risk just because I decide to bicycle to the store for a loaf of bread”.
So, what is the potential for this plan to make bicycling in the village safer? First of all, I want to express my appreciation and admiration for the folks who championed this undertaking. Ozaukee County is better known for the citizens who show up at town hall meetings to rail against “Bad Bicyclists” and complain about “Wasting Money”. The car culture dominates in this county and its bicycle culture is in its infancy. It took real courage and foresight to put forth a bicycle plan in a county where the car culture is so deeply entrenched.
The plan is available to the public at http://www.village.grafton.wi.us/DocumentCenter/View/10279
The planning process involved village staff, a steering committee, consultants and sought public input. A citizen survey recorded that 59% of the respondents were OK (to varying degrees) with riding a bicycle on roads with automobile traffic. I find this number to be totally irrelevant for planning purposes. Even the most casual observation of the number of bicyclists on roadways, in shopping centers, at churches, at places of work, etc suggests the 59% number doesn’t in any way represent the willingness of village citizens to ride a bicycle in traffic.
I thought the plan did an excellent job of explaining (with great photos) the various types of facilities that can be used to make bicycling safer on public roadways. It’s well worth looking at the plan to understand just what kinds of options are possible.
The plan has a series of recommendations ranging from short-term, inexpensive measures to a master plan called “Map 6: Bicycle Network at Full Buildout”. I’ve ridden my bicycle on many of Grafton’s streets and it’s not clear to me that the implementation of this master plan would result in a substantial increase in the number of people using bicycles for every day purposes. For example, if I live on Bobolink Ave, is it just as safe to bicycle to Costco as it is to drive there in a car? How do I negotiate the intersection of Hwy 60 and Port Rd? How should I get in and out of the Costco parking lot? For another example, is it really safe for children using the Interurban Trail to cross Hyw 60 on 11th Ave? The plan recommendations include a small flashing yellow beacon at this intersection. These blinkers may well be appropriate at many intersections, however this Hwy 60 crossing (as well as a few other places) needs regular stop lights that cyclists and pedestrians can activate. Parents need to know that their kids can cross Hwy 60 with more security than a small yellow blinking light that doesn’t have the full force of a red traffic light. The fact that a traffic light on 11th Ave would be inconvenient for motorist (who may have just stopped for a light on 12th Ave) is not a sufficient reason to have a high risk crossing for cyclists following the Interurban Trail. There are other such concerns that are not clearly addressed in the master plan. Here is an example of our granddaughter crossing an intersection in Fort Collins, CO, where the trail also runs parallel to a main traffic route which is just one block away:
There is a section of the plan called “Education and Awareness Initiative” that is excellent. I sincerely hope that this part of the plan is fully implemented. I’ve ridden my bike in parts of the world where there is no need for anything like a Bicycle Network Buildout because bicycles simply have the right-of-way on public roadways. The penalty for hitting a cyclist is treated in a fashion comparable to what a motorist here would face if the motorist had driven onto a school playground at recess time and run over children. Of course, this is pure fantasy for Ozaukee County but I think we should put our car culture into perspective and consider less expensive ways to share the roadways. One of the lowest cost ideas is to simply get motorists to understand that bicycles have equal rights to roadways under Wisconsin State law. And better yet, to create an environment where cyclists are given extra respect and encouragement simply for trying to protect the environment and maintain their personal health.
The plan is great idea and hopefully there will be the necessary support to move forward with not only the details of this plan but also future opportunities to create a safe bicycling environment in the Village of Grafton.