Discussion begins on potential Garth Avenue trail site

Tuesday, April 22, 2008 | 4:26 p.m. CDT; updated 2:56 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

COLUMBIA — A path that would connect South Garth Avenue to the MKT Trail is raising concerns early in the planning process among nearby residents, who are worried about aesthetics, privacy and parking.

Barbie Reid, who lives on Lathrop Road next to the proposed trail site, doesn’t like the idea of a 10-foot wide concrete trail being built. However, she does support some type of trail.

“A 10-foot wide trail within a 20-foot easement seems more like a driveway than a path,” Reid said.

Privacy is also an issue for Reid, who fears the trail would bring more traffic close to her backyard.

Edward Smarr, who has lived in his home on Lathrop Avenue next to where the trail would go since 1930, is concerned about the number of trees that would be cut down.

Both fear easy trail access from Garth Avenue will increase the number of students who park on their street during the day and walk to campus.

“I’m up for discussion, but the neighbors need to know what is going on,” Reid said.

The project is led by GetAbout Columbia, a federally funded program designed to build infrastructure and develop educational programs that encourage walking and biking instead of driving.

According to Ted Curtis, program director of GetAbout Columbia, the project is still in the initial planning. Surveying began in mid-March and ended in early April. The information gathered has been given to engineers, but an actual design has yet to be submitted.

Although Curtis would not confirm the design of the plan yet, federal guidelines require bike trails to be at least 10 feet wide and paved with cement for wheelchair accessibility.

Because it is a federally funded program, Curtis said it will be difficult to justify not following the regulations.

“It’s hard to back down with federal money,” Curtis said.

The city tries to minimize environmental impact when planning paths, Curtis said.

Cement trails offer environmental benefits over gravel, which eventually runs off into the streams, Curtis said. Engineers also plan to align the trail along a route that would preserve strong, middle-aged trees.

Ian Thomas, executive director of the PedNet Coalition, an independent nonprofit organization that encourages non-motorized transportation, isn’t too worried about the specifics of the trail. He just wants to make sure it is built.

“I am hoping neighbors will embrace it,” Thomas said.

Columbia resident Kathy Adair, who lives next to the Hillshire Road MKT access trail, said she has never had a problem with the trail. On the contrary, she chose the home because of the easy trail access.

“It makes you feel secure because of all the activity,” Adair said. “There is no unwanted traffic. It’s people just going to the trail and back.”

Access to the MKT Trail from South Garth Avenue will link the Park Hill neighborhood on the north to the Grasslands on the south side of the trail. According to Thomas, this would benefit the walking school bus program the PedNet Coalition organizes.

Presently Grasslands students headed to Grant Elemenatary School have to detour along the MKT Trail out to Providence Road and back onto residential streets. With the new trail, their route would almost be a straight shot, Thomas said.

Fourth Ward Councilman Jerry Wade will hold an informational session about the project at 7 p.m. April 30 at the Daniel Boone Regional Library. Also on hand to talk about the plan and answer questions will be Curtis; Steve Saitta, park development superintendent; and David Nichols, manager of engineering and inspections for Columbia Public Works.

Once GetAbout Columbia receives the plans from the engineers, it will review the drawings and make any necessary changes. At this point, an interested party meeting is planned to explain the plans to the neighbors.

“The neighbors are very vocal and awesomely creative. The access to ideas is wonderful in our neighborhood,” Reid said. “The city would benefit from having our input in the initial planning.”

The next step would be for the City Council to discuss the project and set a date for a public hearing.

The project was approved by the council as part of a working plan in 2006. The city already has a right-of-way for the potential trail, a specific type of easement which grants others the right to travel across the owner’s property, used normally for the construction of roads or trails.

If approved by the council, the soonest construction would begin is early next year, Curtis said. GetAbout Columbia has been meeting with directly affected neighbors and Curtis encourages residents to contact GetAbout Columbia at 442-7189 if they have questions or concerns.

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