A movement is underway in Stevens Point to make the city and the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point more bicycle-friendly.
Students, faculty and community members gathered at UWSP on Nov. 29 for a lecture on ‘Breaking down bicycle barriers at UWSP’ by Trevor Roark, Adventure Tours program manager and local bike advocate. The lecture was hosted by activist group 350 Stevens Point and drew over 30 people.
Roark presented information and photos outlining the challenges and benefits of using bikes for transportation, following with suggestions for improving the situation. He began by telling the audience the most important thing to do to support a bike-friendly community is to ride a bike.
He said when more people ride their bikes, demand for accommodations is increased as well as safety.
“I want to empower you to ride your bike more often,” Roark said. “Don’t be afraid to speak your mind about this issue. It essentially affects all of us.”
One of the main points Roark made during the lecture was that social inequity exists between drivers and cyclists on local roadways. Drivers and their cars are seen by most as having top priority, he said, despite their external costs like reduced safety and increased pollution and noise.
“As a society in America, we’re addicted to oil,” he said. “This is a huge barrier to transportation equity.”
Americans have a tendency to live a more sedentary lifestyle, reinforced by the aggressive advertising of auto manufacturers, which encourages a driver-dominated transportation culture, he said. Furthermore, most Americans disregard bicycles as a legitimate form of transportation because children are taught to ride by parents instead of professionals, suggesting the bicycle is more a toy than transport.
Another main point made by Roark was on the topic of ‘induced demand,’ which is the idea that more people utilize a resource when access to it is improved. Creating more car parking and wider roadways will only encourage more drivers, he said.
Roark ended the presentation with suggestions on how people can help push for a better bike community. Taking action to lobby local government, attend meetings and educating the public are all important parts of the process, he said.
Phil Piscitello, senior social science major, said he makes an effort to ride his bike all year long. He found a bike at a garage sale and considers himself a casual commuter, typically riding a few blocks to classes but using his car for groceries and other errands. He thinks cycling opportunities in Stevens Point are comparable to other urban areas of the state.
“I mostly ride to campus out of convenience,” Piscitello said. “It lets me sleep in a little longer.”
Piscitello particularly enjoys rides around town during fair weather, but said winter riding is a major inconvenience.
“Once we get some snow and it starts to pack down on the roads, it’s a nightmare,” he said.
Piscitello said he would be more likely to ride during the winter if bike racks and sidewalks could be kept clear of snow. Snow piled around bike racks and on sidewalks has caused some dangerous situations in the past, he said.
Similarly, Everett Dupler, junior political science major, said he regularly commutes to campus by bike. Like Piscitello, Dupler also has reservations about riding during cold weather, but said getting around by bike is generally a pleasant experience.
“It’s always cold. That’s obviously a big barrier,” Dupler said. “I have a pretty easy time getting around.”
Dupler would like to see more bike parking to alleviate issues with locking bikes at crowded racks.
While Roark and others believe there is much work to be done, Roark said some steps have already been taken for improvement.
The city of Stevens Point recently adopted the Portage County Bicycle and Pedestrian Plan. A city advisory committee, which Roark is a member of, regularly meets to discuss bicycle and pedestrian issues.
UWSP also outlines plans to improve infrastructure for bikes in their master plan, and a project has been approved to install a bicycle shelter outside the Dreyfus University Center in 2016 using Green Fund dollars.
UWSP failed to be designated as a ‘bike-friendly university’ by a third-party organization in 2015, which Roark said is both bad and good.
“The good thing is that this is the first step,” Roark said. “The university and the chancellor are now committed to this.”