Gillette Street will get bike lanes despite safety concerns after a La Crosse Common Council decision Thursday to vote down a ban proposed by a North Side council member.
The council tackled other issues besides bicycles at its March meeting, including the approval of a contract to revamp the city website, changes to the sewer connection fee system and the purchase of a property near the airport; however, none drew as much discussion as council member Scott Neumeister’s objection to building bike lanes on Gillette Street.
The city’s plans call for repaving the portion from George Street to Onalaska Avenue this year and George to Rose in a couple years with federal help. As part of the project, the engineering department asked the Board of Public Works last month whether it should incorporate bike lanes down the entire stretch from Rose Street to Onalaska Avenue — which would eliminate parking on one side of the street — or prioritize keeping on-street parking on both sides of the street. The board voted 3-2 in favor.
While Neumeister isn’t against bike lanes as a whole, he doesn’t believe a busy street with a lot of large truck traffic is the place for them.
“(My concern) was purely safety, it was purely sticking up for my constituents who asked me for help,” Neumeister said.
After the board’s decision, Neumeister said, the resolution to ban bike lanes on that particular stretch of road was his only option to overturn the vote.
Neumeister was joined by council members Jessica Olson and Doug Happel, who voted to support the ban; however, the majority of council members supported the board’s decision.
Council member Andrea Richmond said she understood Neumeister’s concerns, but was happy to see the plan calls for the bike lanes to end prior to the intersection of Gillette and George streets.
“That is a real safety issue, so I’m encouraged by that,” Richmond said.
She also understood some business concerns about losing parking on the north side of the street to make way for the bike lanes; however, she said she was confident the city could work with the impacted businesses to offset the loss.
Council member David Marshall argued that bike lanes improve safety of bicyclists who are already out there, rather than encourage people to go where it isn’t safe.
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“Statistics show very clearly that riding your bike is actually much more dangerous than riding on a bike lane. Riding your bicycle on the sidewalk actually exposes you to the danger of people pulling out from their driveways,” Marshall said.
It also exposes you to danger at intersections, because drivers don’t look out for bikes crossing the road coming from the sidewalk.
“I’m definitely a believer in bike lanes and I think this is a very important message we’re sending,” Marshall said.
That message is that cars aren’t the only option and the city is dedicated to supporting alternative transportation and making it safer, he said.
The La Crosse Common Council unanimously approved a $37,000 five-year agreement with a company called Granicus designed to get the city a website that better serves its community.
La Crosse information technology director Jacky Gerschner said the agreement will facilitate redesigning the city’s homepage to get users where they want to go, whether reporting a pothole or paying a parking ticket. The company will rearrange the website a little each year, then do a complete redesign in five years.
“With today’s technology and the way it evolves, you have to stay on top of it,” she said.
Individual city departments will be able to cater their portion of the city’s website to their needs, and the site will work well for all users, whether they are accessing it from a phone, tablet or computer, she said.
Sewer connection fee
The council approved extending the existing $730 hook-up fee for new users of the city’s wastewater treatment plant to the city of La Crosse, ensuring new developments in the city pay the same connection fees as new users in neighboring communities.
La Crosse will purchase 3503 Lakeshore Drive, next door to the city-owned and operated La Crosse Regional Airport to help protect the approach vectors of airplanes coming into the airport runways. The airport plans to demolish the home turn the area into green space later this year.