How many times have you thought to yourself while bicycling, “This road needs a bike lane”? What if you didn’t speak up—would action or change occur? What if you did say something—who would you speak to? Leah Hackmaster, Recreation Director for the Village of Suamico in northeastern Wisconsin, shares her own on-going experience working to create a safer pedestrian and bike route along Highway J for her community.
As cities expand and farm fields become neighborhoods, previously light trafficked rural highways evolve into primary arteries between communities. Ensuring safer roadways for pedestrians and bicyclists is a growing concern among individuals who use these routes. When architecture and engineering firm, ISG, first spoke to Leah, her passion for creating a safer route was evident. Highway J is a popular bike route connecting users to local destinations and area schools. Upcoming road construction to resurface the highway meant NOW was the time to advocate for a safer route.
“If I hadn’t spoken up, no one would have noticed,” shared Leah, reflecting on her journey toward identifying a plan of action, as no additional accommodations for bicycle and pedestrian transportation were included in the roadway design. The project, anticipated to begin in the spring of 2022, only included resurfacing. However, even with this opportunity identified, one question remained, “Where do I start”
For Leah, taking her idea and turning it into action meant leveraging the Greater Green Bay Active Communities Alliance, a dedicated group of community partners convened by Wello that strives to positively change the community and build safer communities. Leah shared her vision for a safer route at the initial meeting and the roadblock she faced—Where do I start?
EDUCATE + FAMILIARIZE YOURSELF WITH EXISTING PLANS
Members of the Greater Green Bay Active Communities Alliance encouraged Leah to get familiar with the existing city and county plans and guided her to local county resources to help her find answers. She read through the regional, county, and local capital improvement plans and park and trails plan to familiarize herself with adjacent trails, municipal priorities, and future planned projects. This information allowed her to identify how the stretch of Highway J interfaced with future projects. She also reached out to local county government and transportation administrators to request wider shoulders be considered in the roadway design.
DON’T GIVE UP
Leah provided an update on her research and outreach to local officials at the next Greater Green Bay Active Communities Alliance meeting. A few critical pieces were still missing, including the added project scope cost, funding, and feasibility.
Committed to helping Leah make this positive change, members provided additional insights and a key connection to Michelle Bachaus at Wisconsin Bike Fed. Michelle later connected Leah to a network of transportation, planning, and community engagement professionals at ISG in Green Bay. ISG listened to Leah’s challenge, provided a preliminary evaluation of the site, and helped explain some of the technical difficulties. The team also brainstormed potential funding solutions through grant programs.
BRINGING IN TECHNICAL RESOURCES
ISG spoke with Brown County to understand what was and wasn’t possible within the Highway J site context and project scope. It was discovered that because of natural wetlands along the highway and plans to extend the road to 12-foot lanes from the current 11-foot lanes, the County could only include four-foot paved shoulders on either side, instead of a typical 5-foot bike lane. With time and money being a concern, 4-foot shoulders was the most feasible solution.
With approval from the Parks Forestry Trails and Recreation Committee and the Suamico Village Board, the additional cost of the extended shoulder would be the responsibility of the Village.
BUILD COALITION AROUND YOU TO ADVOCATE
Armed with the information, Leah is now looking for advocates who can speak to their pedestrian and bicycling experience along Highway J. These stories will be presented to the Parks Forestry Trails and Recreation Committee and Village Board along with the request to utilize trail fund dollars designated for maintaining and updating Suamico’s trail system.
Leah is also looking to other organizations within the community who would benefit from the expanded road shoulders to share in the cost of the expansion.
For those looking to make a change in their community, Leah offers these final words of advice from firsthand experience:
- Be proactive in your community
- Get familiar with existing community plans (i.e. capital improvement plans and comprehensive plans with the city, county, village, and Department of Transportation)
- Make a plan and take the first step
Continue to follow Leah’s journey told through the Wisconsin Bike Fed to find out what happens next.