Since 2007, GetAbout Columbia has paid $2.06 million to local advertising firm Vangel Marketing Communications to promote the program and encourage people to drive less. The firm has developed the brand name and advertising campaign and hired subcontractors to run biking education courses.
Of the $22 million federal grant earmarked for Columbia to promote non-motorized transportation, 14 percent, or another $1.1 million, will be spent on education and advertising through Vangel. That’s more than the three other cities receiving federal money for the program are spending on similar activities, even a bigger city such as Minneapolis.
Some city officials aren’t quite convinced this is the best use of the federal money. Karl Skala, Third Ward councilman, said he thinks the program should have focused more on building actual trails rather than just promoting them. He’s worried the Feds might feel the same way when they evaluate the program next year.
“We may have shortchanged the amount of stuff we can put on the ground,” Skala said. “My inclination is we may have gone a bit too far on advertising and not enough on development.”
Mayor Darwin Hindman said education is an important component of the project that shouldn’t be shortchanged. The money used for advertising would only have built a modest amount of infrastructure, he said.
Ted Curtis, GetAbout manager, also thinks the spending ratio between infrastructure and advertising is adequate.
“The on-street systems and promo/ed are what’s going to get a mode shift,” he said. “You can’t count on capital projects for that.”
But even one of the subconsultants hired by Vangel to conduct surveys of citizen awareness of the program found “there hasn’t been a lot of movement.”
GetAbout funded education programs for children have seen good turnout, but 70 biking classes for adults have reached only 594 residents.
Skala thinks the program may have gotten ahead of itself.
“I think we need to get stuff on the ground and encourage people to use what is there before trying to promise them what may be coming in the future,” he said. “It’s a little too abstract.”
Did GetAbout Columbia put too much money toward advertising and education?