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home : opinions : op ed columnist February 5, 2016

8/14/2014 2:20:00 PM
Forward thinking from the rear view mirror

By Ken Schoville

As a youngster of 64 I’ve seen some changes in transportation in my short span on earth. Just a few years ago I paid 19 cents per gallon of gas in West Virginia. It was all of a quarter at home, so it was a bargain to say the least. Now I’ve paid north of $4 in places in the Midwest, and that would be cheap for Europe.

“Cruising” for an evening entertainment went for a buck, a little like “Buck Night” at the local drive-in. Cheap times and we didn’t know how to calculate MPG because it wasn’t relevant. The Car was King and gas was a small part of expenses. We were encouraged to consume with full service gas stations (loved those uniforms!) and “collector” glassware with every fill up.

While I do like the idea of being pampered behind the wheel (check the oil and tires, sir?) we know that time is probably past. In chatting cars with the buddies, we’re as likely now to boast gas mileage and hybrid options as much as we talked four-on-the-floor, laying rubber, and fish tailing off the line. Again, days gone by.

I just wish the DOT, county and local officials would get in line with a little more forward thinking and provide for transportation plans for the future looking more like 2020 instead of the sixties and seventies, as in the past century.

Even though I’m not a “native” Lakelander, only having been here 37 years, I do remember the hullabaloo when we went from a few lanes south of the bridge to the current five. Some predicted disaster with head on collisions the order of the day as new traffic patterns emerged and we learned to weave in and out of that “turn lane,” which sometimes became an acceleration lane, and depending on traffic flow, a sitting lane as you wait for traffic to clear before merging. We survived.

Now we are entering into the final phases of Highway 51 north completion with things looking new, sparkling, and just a few twists to an old theme. And some of those twists make no sense to me whatsoever.

As you travel north between BJ’s Sport Shop and Save More Foods, we now have a nice industrial fence blocking the natural view of the lake. I guess we’re saving broken hearts from flinging themselves into the drink, because it never was a safety issue before.

As an added bonus we were blessed with massive concrete benches, again obstructing the view. I’m sure there are some folks that need those resting spots, checking out the sunsets over Lake Minocqua, perhaps, but I’ve not seen them utilized yet. They also must be a great deal of fun to take out in the late fall, and replace in spring. I can only hope the town crew is keeping up their strength training regimen.

The “Hawk” crosswalk is another fine bit of thinking and engineering. Just north of Save More grocery, closer to Minocqua Furniture, we have a long overhanging arm for pedestrian passage. A safety measure for those wanting to cross 51 without risking life and limb. Press the button, traffic stops, and you can cross without Olympic sprinter Usain Bolt’s speed and a rubber necking head movement, neither guaranteeing safety. I suppose a crosswalk with those little signs like downtown would be out of place, but the “Hawk” seems like a bit of overkill. 

Yep, just great, except I’ve never seen anyone use it. When it was first going up I thought it was like one of those Chicago Dan Ryan Expressway signs that drifted North. You know: “15 minutes until clearing the Minocqua Narrows.” “10 minutes to the Island.” 

It would have come in handy last Sunday at noon when I enjoyed human transportation camaraderie traveling south for an exceptional time until released from bondage around the Boathouse. I think Chicagoans call them cluster hugs. Or something like that.

Let’s be fair. I did have a close and observant friend with a sighting of the Hawk in use. It can happen, and as time passes, maybe will more and more. Maybe. Right now I’d like a Wisconsin DOT engineer do a quick calculation of the cost of the “Hawk” infrastructure against the number of uses. I’m sure there’s a counter somewhere on that new technology that could give us the numbers. I don’t think a slide ruler (whoops, old technology; digitized spreadsheet I meant) would be needed to question that large looming overhead piece. 

However local businesses may differ, along with pedestrians of questionable leg speed. Some local renegade suggested standing on opposite sides and pressing the buttons repeatedly to see what happens. Not a good idea and merely a conversational reporting. 

Of course it would make a dandy hanger for the bannering of local events.  It’s always nice to see the DOT join hands in the multitasking of structural usage for community betterment and all-around fun.

My biggest head scratcher is what is that red fake concrete extension off the sidewalk? Added value of high esthetic beauty? Really? Safety? Breathing room for the walkers so they don’t inhale auto fumes?

Instead, let’s talk about what we need in the area and what that expensive piece of real estate lining the sides of the road could have been used for. Gee whiz, gang, how about a bike lane? 

I’d like to see the master plan that details how bikes coming off the Highway J interchange are going to make their way south to the Island City and the Bearskin for points south. Of course with proper incentive, they could make a right turn and head north to the Nirvana of bike trail options between St. Germain and Manitowish Waters. I’ve been there and seen the results; hoards of bikers, movement, smiles, ice cream in mind. It happens.

Well, it’s just a thought. After sitting in traffic staring at the “red slanted dog walking path” and past the fenced in lake view, I envisioned a family of bikers merrily passing traffic on their way into town on that same strip of land, paved, marked off as a bike lane, big ‘ol bike outlines screaming symbol-wise, “This way, Bikers! Follow Me!” Oh well, maybe in the next 50 years it will all make sense. Right now biking in Minocqua seems an afterthought. Indeed, if it’s far enough along to be in that stage.

And just for the record, I am getting quite used to sitting and staring off into space while waiting for the turn signal from 51 onto 70 west. Modern highway engineering and traffic control has taken away my option of reading traffic patterns, reacting, and making that left hand turn on my own. Better safe than sorry!  Somebody honk if I fall asleep there.

Ken Schoville is a resident of Hazelhurst.

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