Downtown bike traffic raises concerns

ESCANABA — A great deal of discussion focused on bicycle traffic concerns in downtown Escanaba during the Escanaba City Council’s meeting Thursday. Council members decided to have the Downtown Development Authority (DDA) provide input on the issue.

Among council’s agenda items was a recommendation from the Traffic Safety Board requesting council place signs on Ludington Street prohibiting the use of bicycles and skateboards four feet from business fronts.

Council member Pat Baribeau, Traffic Safety Board liaison, explained, according to city policy, businesses are allowed to display their wares within four feet in front of their buildings. The next six feet of sidewalk is for pedestrians and bicyclists, while the remaining sidewalk to the curb is also space businesses are allowed to use.

City Attorney Ralph “B.K.” Peterson clarified the city ordinance, pointing out bicycles and skateboards are actually prohibited from being on sidewalks in business districts. He advised council would have to adopt an amendment to reduce or remove those restrictions.

According to city policy, “business district” means an area that is contiguous to a highway when 50 percent or more of the frontage for 300 feet or more is occupied by businesses. Peterson noted that “highway” also means “road” and “street” in the ordinance.

As various options were discussed — such as painting bike lanes or having businesses display signs alerting customers to watch out for bicycles outside — Peterson said council can do those things but reminded them the ordinance has to be amended to allow bicycles on the sidewalks downtown.

Mayor Pro Tem Ron Beauchamp questioned where the signs would be placed downtown and how much money would be spent on the signage.

According to Escanaba Public Safety Director Rob LaMarche, concerns about bicycle traffic were heightened late last year when a woman exiting a downtown business was struck by a bike and sustained injuries requiring medical attention.

On the other hand, LaMarche stated he does not want people riding bikes or skateboards on the roadway. Officers who observe this traffic ask people to not ride on the roads, he added.

Council member Michael Sattem said bicyclists have been a concern in front of Hereford and Hops, where he is employed. He cited several occasions where customers exiting the business have had accidents with bicyclists, but no one has been injured.

Council members concluded the discussion by unanimously approving a motion to have the DDA discuss the issue and offer input to council.

During public comment, prior to council addressing any business items, DDA Director Ed Legault asked council to consider the DDA has purchased bike racks and bicycles for the public’s use to encourage more people to be downtown.

Admitting Ludington Street brings challenges for bicyclists, Legault said, “Please consider that the bike traffic, in my opinion, is a very good thing for downtown.”

Escanaba has been addressing making the city more friendly for non-motorized traffic — including bicyclists and pedestrians — by creating plans to connect the city’s fragmented non-motorized trail sections to one another.

The Recreation Advisory Board has made a list of trail priorities within the city and has been preparing a plan for the city’s northside in the event outside funds become available.

In other business Thursday, council unanimously agreed to amend Escanaba’s code of ordinances to apply the city’s park rules — which also prohibit smoking — to the new marketplace.

Following a closed session, council unanimously approved a three-year contract with the Teamsters union representing public works employees and clerical workers.

The labor contract, which was ratified by the union, includes a 41-cent-per-hour raise for each member. The pay raise represents an equal share of the total of what all these employees would have received with a 2-percent wage increase, explained City Manager Patrick Jordan.

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Jenny Lancour, (906) 786-2021, ext. 143,