WI: Bicyclists Want More Space on Brackett Ave. in Eau Claire; Businesses Disagree

June 10--The city's plan to rebuild Brackett Avenue stops short of the safety features some bicycle advocates sought, though it does have some bike-friendly measures that are firsts for Eau Claire.

Plans for Brackett Avenue are scheduled for a City Council vote tonight, but numerous residents speaking at Monday night's public hearing said those designs needed more features to improve safety on a road bicyclists now avoid.

"As someone who grew up in this area, Brackett Avenue was not a safe place to bike," said Kim Acheson, an avid bike rider and member of the Chippewa Valley Transit Alliance. "Even if you are on a sidewalk, you still are in harm's way."

The alliance had sent a letter to the city suggesting that traffic lanes be reduced in number to create dedicated bike lanes, and that the speed limit be lowered.

Currently, the city's plan for Brackett Avenue keeps the same four lanes of traffic, as city engineer Dave Solberg said it appears that vehicle traffic there has been on a rising trend.

Several business owners spoke Monday night against reducing Brackett Avenue's traffic lanes to accommodate bicyclists.

"The traffic flow on this road needs to stay as is for the businesses to survive and for the traffic to get downtown," said Tom Risler, director of operations for Taco John's, 2001 Brackett Ave. "I think it's imperative we keep the traffic as is."

Instead of a bike lane, the city's designs show "sharrows" -- traffic lane markings indicating that bicyclists have equal rights and privileges as vehicles do on the road.

And at the Kirk Street intersection, the plan shows the addition of the city's first "bike box" -- an area of green-colored concrete in the vehicle lane where bicyclists can safely wait for stoplights to change.

"It creates a visual box for bicyclists to occupy," Solberg said.

A preferred bike route would be created on the quieter, adjacent Valmont Avenue, which Solberg suggests designating as the city's first "bicycle boulevard."

If approved tonight by the City Council, the Brackett Avenue project would begin in mid-July and finish in late October or early November, according to city engineers.

Councilman Bob Von Haden cautioned bike advocates that delaying the project to make revisions to the plan could delay road work until next year.

The heavily traveled road's last major resurfacing was in 1999, but it's undergone smaller repairs and patchwork since. The pavement has fallen into poor condition and much of the utility lines underneath are in need of replacement, according to a city report.

"The whole corridor needs a reconstruction from the bottom up," Solberg said.

Rebuilding Brackett Avenue and a couple of blocks of Harding Avenue is expected to cost $3.4 million.

Related road projects on Fairfax and Kirk streets, plus the purchase of land and creation of a drainage pipe and pond to address flooding on Brackett Avenue will cost an additional $1.7 million.

To help businesses and their customers during the road work, Solberg said the city plans to have a regularly updated map on its website of alternate ways to access Brackett Avenue establishments.

Dowd can be reached at 715-833-9204, 800-236-7077 or andrew.dowd@ecpc.com.

Copyright 2014 - The Leader-Telegram, Eau Claire, Wis.