Plan emphasizes biking, walking in Merrill; traffic lanes could be constrained on busy streetsSubmitted: 07/06/2015
MERRILL - Merrill will need to decide just how friendly it wants to be to bicyclists and walkers. A new planning template could mean taking away lanes of traffic on some main roads to benefit bikers.

The city approved a new bike and pedestrian plan last week. It calls for painting bike lanes on roads, marking bike routes around the city, and wider sidewalks.

It also suggests changing the flow of two of its busiest streets. Under the plan, Center Avenue and East Main Street would no longer be four-lane roads. Instead, traffic would flow in just one lane in each direction. The roads would include a center turn lane and bike lanes on each side.

Those plans would need city approval.

"Because the traffic counts are lower than 15,000 vehicles a day, then it's doable to do a 'road diet,'" said Fred Heider. Heider compiled the plan as an employee of North Central Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission.

Merrill originally wanted to focus on the recreational aspects of biking and walking in the city. But a grant allowed it to expand its vision. The broader plan targets both transportation for bikers and walkers in Merrill as well.

"The plan was for connecting the parks, but also for getting around town to do errands, for transportation, to get to work," Heider said.

Besides the Center Avenue and Main Street proposals, highlights of the plan include making future sidewalks five feet wide instead of the current four feet. It also suggests improving education and encouragement for biking and walking.

Heider said Merrill currently is a decent place to bike and walk, but can improve.

"Overall, I would say fair to good," he said. "All of the streets are 25 miles per hour. That's good. But then there are some roads that are hard to cross. There are four lane roads."

Heider's biking plan targets about 60 percent of the population. He says roughly ten percent are committed to biking, while about 30 percent won't bike, no matter what. The remaining 60 percent will bike in the city, but only if it's safe and convenient.

"We're trying to get them onto the roads and use the common street grid by putting in bike lanes and such," he said. "That's what a lot of the recommendations are."

New signs and lane striping for some bike routes should show up this summer.

Story By: Ben Meyer

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