Why they stand out
The City of Wausau is making great strides in expanding infrastructure that invites walking and biking. Several reconstruction projects of major streets have greatly improved connections, and continual planning takes place to prioritize safer streets in the areas where walking and biking are most difficult. Recreational assets like the River Edge Parkway, which connects to multiple downtown destinations and the riverfront, and a new mountain biking park at Sylvan Hill, invite even more residents and visitors to be active outdoors. Trail use skyrocketed, in fact, after completion of a key segment link in 2017.
“Sometimes the trail is so crowded that it’s hard to ride a bike there,” says city planner Brad Sippel, illustrating the community’s interest and need for such facilities. Instrumental leadership in advancing infrastructure changes comes from the Bicycle and Pedestrian Committee, city engineers, City Council’s Capital Improvement and Street Maintenance Committee, the parks and recreation department and Central WI Offroad Cycling Coalition (CWOCC). Health advocates, regional transportation partners and downtown development partners have been critical allies as well.
So if you build it, will they come? It’s a question Wausau hasn’t left to chance, evident in the many ways that partners invite people to get outside and be active - from events and programs to visual cues like signage and public art. In 2017, for example, rainbow umbrellas appeared over main street temporarily and customizable “Walk Your City” signs pointed people to downtown destinations within walking distance. A new Open Streets festival brought community members together for fun and physical activity, and spurred new ways to city streets as public space. Interest in creating vibrant, active places is leading to more initiatives, including plans to launch a new bike share and a Safe Routes to School initiative. Partners in Wausau also have their sights set on a local complete streets policy. In 2018 they were just recognized by People for Bikes new rating system as the top small city, and second city overall in the nation for bicycling. Expect the passion and dedication of Wausau’s many active living champions to fuel transformative change into the future.
Approach to Equity
Collaborators in Wausau recognize a mismatch between the location of affordable housing and lower wage jobs, making active transportation difficult for those who could most benefit. While much of the affordable housing exists near downtown, many lower wage jobs are located on the suburban outskirts. In many cases the roads that connect between these locations are not safe for people walking and biking, and public transportation options are limited. For this reason, Wausau has been working to make sure that improvements on major arterial roads are designed for the safety of all users, including people who walk and bike. They also send representatives to regional trainings to share, learn and coordinate on equity approaches.