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Share the road

Despite a growing bike community and pedestrian infrastructure, some say more education and awareness is needed to make getting around safer

By John McCracken

Green Bay bikers can find designated lanes throughout the city, like this lane seen on Broadway near Walnut Street. Interconnected bike lane and trail infrastructure is a part of the city’s ongoing Safe Walk & Bike Plan. John McCracken photo

Green Bay has plenty of ways to get from point A to point B. From major highways connecting commuters’ to the city, a public transportation system, newly acquired electric scooters, to the giant boats and traffic-stopping trains transporting industrious goods across the region.

But for those not on four wheels, the road isn’t as simple.

In 2019, the City of Green Bay and the Green Bay Area Public School District created a joint-effort Safe Walk & Bike Green Bay Working Group.

The initiative was developed to implement safer routes for bikers and pedestrians in dense transportation corridors across Green Bay. The group uses a planning model called the “Five E’s” which stands for education, encouragement, engineering, enforcement and evaluation. These five tenets of the work group have informed planning decisions such as the Safe Walk & Bike Plan, which passed through city council with unanimous support in 2019.

The Safe Walk & Bike Plan outlines benefits of biking to include economic increases to connected municipalities, more money in the pockets of those transitioning out of car-ownership, affordable recreation for all ages and a cleaner impact on the environment. The Safe Walk & Bike Green Bay Working Group’s most recent annual report, which captures data and planning updates from 2020, shows Green Bay is making strides to add more bike lanes in the city.

In 2020, Green Bay added 2.52 miles of bike lanes, bringing the total number of miles of bike lanes to 17.58, a 17% increase.

Riders do have access to bike trails, with roughly 11 miles found across the city. The majority of them are located on the east side of the city and fall into residential areas near Baird Creek and the East River. 2020 also brought about Green Bay’s first buffered bike lane, which can be found on East Walnut Avenue.

A buffered bike lane is a normal bike lane with a painted and striped area to the left of the lane, providing space and comfort for both bicycles and vehicles to share the road. This new stretch of buffered bike lane is roughly half a mile long.

While this increase is substantial, when compared to other similar-sized Midwestern cities, Green Bay is in the slow lane.

In the city of South Bend, Indiana, the city has 79.3 miles of bike lanes as of 2018. South Bend has a population of 103,453 people according to the 2020 census, which is up from 101,168 people in 2010. Green Bay has a 2020 census population of 107,395, up from 104,057 in 2010. South Bend is also smaller than Green Bay, coming in at 42 square miles compared to Green Bay’s 56 square miles.

Green Bay Department of Community and Economic Development City Planner Stephanie Hummel said it is hard to judge the city’s bike eff orts compared to other cities across the country because of our climate, but she would estimate that Green Bay comes under par compared to similar metro areas across the state and country.

“Biking and pedestrian accessibility was not a priority for the city of Green Bay for a really long time,” Hummel said.

“The cars are the big kids at the playground.

They need to watch out for the little kids, because the cars can protect themselves and they’re less likely to get injured (by) the little kids.”

Green Bay City Planner Stephanie Hummel

Hummel said two regional cities Green Bay looks to for a comparison are Appleton and Sheboygan.

Appleton (a city roughly 25 square miles in size and 74,000 in population) has 24 miles of bike lanes, Appleton traffic engineer Mark Lund said. Sheboygan (a city of 16 square miles in size and 48,000 in population) has approximately 26 miles of bike lanes, Sheboygan Planning & Zoning Manager Steve Sokolowski said.

Both Appleton and Sheboygan have implemented bike plans and community surveys around biking accessibility in the past five years, much like Green Bay.

Green Bay does not employ a full-time person dedicated to bike and pedestrian planning, something Hummel said most cities Green Bay’s size do employ. She estimates that half her job as a planner is dedicated to bike and pedestrian tasks, and the time split is likely the same for the city’s engineering staff .

“It’s like anything with an older industrial city in the Midwest,” Hummel said. “Cars are kind of king. We take a lot of priority for automobile transportation and the rest of it is an afterthought.”

Hummel said city-level efforts to promote biking and pedestrian accessibility have become more prevalent in the past five to 10 years.

On a national level, a 2017 Highway Statistics report from the United States Department of Transportation found that roughly one third of the US population does not drive an automobile because of physical disabilities, age, lack of secure finances and the simple fact that they don’t want a car.

Bronze and beyond

The biggest hurdles for Green Bay to get used to more bikers are awareness and education. Hummel said riders, drivers and walkers have to learn when and where they should be on the road, even if the road is perfectly designed.

“South Broadway is a great example,” Hummel said. “They have an awesome bike lane, there’s tons of space in the road for parking, the bike lane and drivers, and people still are riding on the sidewalk even though there’s plenty of fresh pavement for them to be riding on.”

When a commuter of any vocation veers off course, a dangerous domino effect can occur.

Hummel described a common scenario where a biker on the sidewalk causes a pedestrian to jaywalk. A jaywalker could throw an automobile off their path, causing a vehicular or pedestrian accident.

Bikers on the sidewalk aren’t only caused by lack of knowing where riders should be. Hummel said all motorists should be respectful and aware of everyone on and off the road.

“The cars are the big kids at the playground,” Hummel said. “They need to watch out for the little kids, because the cars can protect themselves and they’re less likely to get injured (by) the little kids. The toddlers are on the sidewalk trying to walk, and they need people to watch out for them.”

The City of Green Bay received a Bronze-Level Bike Friendly designation from the League of American Bicyclists in 2020, something Hummel hopes to increase to the silver level designation.

The Safe Walk & Bike Plan does include larger infrastructure goals, such as dedicated inner city bike trails, paved road shoulders and connecting trails and sidewalks, but for now Hummel said a lot of their upcoming projects are fairly simple infrastructure improvements to help educate and increase biking accessibility, such as painting the roads and adding bike lanes.

“We’re starting with just the low hanging fruit to try to get some more people on the road on wheels,” Hummel said.

Don’t run over your neighbor

Peter Flucke has been trying to get bikers on the road safely for decades.

Flucke is the President of WE BIKE, a planning consulting company that was founded by his wife Tracy and him. Although they are based in Green Bay, WE BIKE works with cities across the country to plan city designs and paths that are sustainable for pedestrians, bikers and motorists.

Locally, Peter Flucke said a lot of work needs to be done, but since he’s been living in Green Bay for 30 years, a lot of work has happened.

“Back (30 years ago) then almost nobody rode,” Fluke said. “If I saw somebody riding down the street on a bike it was pretty likely that it was somebody I knew, because there were so few of us.”

Flucke said when he moved to the area, most drivers were afraid of bicyclists and an experienced cyclist could navigate the city pretty seamlessly.

Now, Green Bay is growing and with that growth, there are more cars on the road. Flucke said more cars on the road would be fine if drivers knew how to drive appropriately around bikers and pedestrians.

Peter Flucke (pictured) and his wife Tracey have been vocal advocates for better biking infrastructure and pedestrian safety in Green Bay and beyond. The duo founded WE BIKE, a planning consulting company that assists cities in planning and awareness campaigns across the country.

Photo courtesy of Peter Flucke

Driver awareness has been a big push in recent years, with collaborative “Frogger” events hosted by the Brown County Sheriff ’s Office, Green Bay Police Department, De Pere Police Department and the wellness nonprofit Wello. Frogger events are regional crosswalk education and enforcement initiatives focused on teaching drivers to slow down at crosswalks and yield to pedestrians and bikers. There were three events this past summer.

Wello also hosted a walk to school event on Oct. 6, where members of the public and students were encouraged to walk to school to bring more visibility to pedestrian safety.

Additionally, Green Bay recently signed a proclamation and joined in recognizing Oct. 15 as “White Cane Safety Day ‘’ as a part of an ongoing initiative to bring awareness to pedestrian safety for visually impaired pedestrians and all community members.

Wisconsin law states drivers must stop at least 10 feet ahead of pedestrians with white canes or guide dogs, commonly used by
pedestrians with visual impairments.

“The idea is that if people would just not run over their neighbors, our problems would basically go away,” Flucke said.

Things need to change

At the beginning of this year’s school year, Green Bay’s ongoing speeding problem and lack of pedestrian safety was amplified.

A child was struck by a vehicle speeding on Monroe Avenue directly outside of Aldo Leopold Community School in early September. The child suffered non-life-threatening injuries. Monroe Avenue is the same busy stretch where a pedestrian’s dog was stuck and later died due to its injuries during school drop off hours in 2015.

Pedestrians walk across a sidewalk outside Kennedy Elementary School in September.

Efforts to increase driver awareness and pedestrian safety in Green Bay have increased in recent years.

Multimedia Channels/Heather Graves photo

“People are going from the suburbs hauling ass to get downtown,” Flucke said. “They don’t care that there’s a school zone. So things need to change in the areas of engineering, education and enforcement.”

There is not a magic switch to flip and slow down all Green Bay drivers, but Flucke said awareness is the first step, even if he’s been preaching awareness for years.

“People say ‘oh my god, somebody got hit, we need to put a stop sign, we need a traffic light,’” Fluke said. “‘We need to have more law enforcement presence. We need to educate these kids in school. Dude, I’ve been saying that stuff for 30 years. And we need to do all of it.”

John McCracken is the Editor of Green Bay City Pages. He can be reached via email at [email protected] or on Twitter @jmcjmc451.

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