They say you can’t fight city hall. Maybe not, but the Green Bay Bicycle Collective has just shown that you can work with city hall and make great progress.
Last week the Green Bay City Council voted 11-1 to install five foot marked bicycle lanes on Webster Avenue, a major north-south arterial connecting Green Bay to Allouez and De Pere. The lanes will be installed in the first phase of the project, about a mile and a half long stretch from Radisson Street to University Avenue to be constructed in 2018. So, the victory here is important as it sets the tone for the entire rebuild all the way to De Pere.
Heather Gentry, the founder and president of the Collective, attributed the win to being “respectful” to city officials during the process. The Collective turned out about 45 people to the council meeting and, in her comments to the council, Gentry pointed out that each one of those people who made the effort to get to the late evening meeting probably represented 10 to 20 more who couldn’t attend.
The Collective was asking only for a first step: they wanted the cross section design to be adjusted to include a five foot marked bike lane instead of the four foot unmarked lane that had been proposed. All they wanted at this point was for the council to get more information so they could make a final decision later. They argued that the unmarked lane would only feel like a super wide traffic lane for cars and trucks that would only drive faster because of it. They said that while they understood that cyclists could take the whole 15 foot lane, they didn’t think that that would be respectful to other users and that it would only create conflicts and bad blood.
In the end the council didn’t just accept those good arguments. They went even further. Rather than just go along with a call for an alternative design they voted to go ahead and make the bike lanes part of the official project. They won’t just be considered; they’re in!
I have only two words for this: Holy cow.
Usually we advocates beg for the crumbs off the table. Here an advocacy group came in with a modest request and got the whole loaf of bread.
I asked Heather Gentry what they did right. Her answer in a word was, “respect.” But hearing her story I think she was being too modest. Another word I might use is “work.”
The Collective met with the director of Public Works, who didn’t like their idea at all. But they answered his questions, they argued with him but politely. In other words, they are building a healthy relationship, which might not be constructed on total agreement but is based on mutual respect. They also contacted the mayor and each member of the city council. Same deal. Polite, informed, respectful arguments. They did their homework.
And here’s something that will make you feel even better. One of the alders asked Heather where Green Bay ranked on the list of bicycle friendly cities. Heather had to tell him that the city wasn’t anywhere to be found.
The council found that embarrassing for the state’s third largest city and Heather feels that might have sealed the deal for the bike lanes. Green Bay wants to be on the map and if the council, the mayor and city managers continue to work this well with the Collective and continue to be this responsive, well, Madison better start checking its rear view mirror.