03 July 2011

Will we keep the party going?

Columbia is winding down spending up the $22 million largesse bestowed upon us a few years ago by the Federal Highway Administration. Columbia was one of four jurisdictions that got a non-motorized pilot program grant aimed at creating a shift in transportation modes from car to bike and foot. The thinking was/is that Columbians will make some trips of shorter distances by bike and foot if the infrastructure is improved to encourage such travel. Using the federal funds the City built new sidewalks, bicycle paths (some are green) and fixed a series of intersections to improve bike-ped access.

Now that the money is winding down the big question is: will the city continue the progress towards making our city more bike- and ped-friendly? Will the Council choose to spend our own money on new sidewalk fixes and replacing sharrows? I sure hope so.

Unfortunately, many sharrows (shared lane markings) are faded and gone in some areas. Sidewalk decline in older neighborhoods continues. It's almost like it was a dream that we ever had such a project as GetAbout Columbia considering how the buzz has faded with time.

I don't get the feeling that our current City Council is all that gung ho to retrofit older streets with needed sidewalks and bicycle paths. Yeah, the new sidewalk going in along West Broadway is great. That's the federal dollars at work, but as a member of our City's Community Development Commission I see the city aiming to fund needed central city sidewalks not with local tax dollars but with federal CDBG funds. The forthcoming report from the City Infrastructure Committee should be interesting as it is expected to address some structural issues related to how the City builds streets. Sidewalks and bicycle paths should be part of that discussion. We'll find out at this Tuesday's Columbia City Council meeting.

Why does this matter? Beyond the usual health and access benefits of more livable streets, there is also a gender imbalance to who uses streets for active transportation. The NYTimes reported today that women feel safer riding when streets are calmed for traffic.

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