Today's Question: Did GetAbout Columbia put too much money toward advertising and education?

Friday, May 29, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT

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?

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Mike Martin May 29, 2009 | 6:46 p.m.

YES, GetAbout Columbia did put too much money toward advertising and education and YES, $2.1 million to one firm, Vangel and Associates -- i.e. the consummate insiders -- is outrageous, especially for a small town like Columbia, which already has a pretty bike-savvy population and shouldn't have to spend near that amount of money on so-called "soft work" like marketing and PR ("hard" work being actual bricks and mortar infrastructure, like the new intersection at Providence and Stewart).

$2.1 million is more than most small businesses gross IN A DECADE! I know -- I ran a firm for years that grossed between 250 and 300K per year, with 5-6 employees. To me, this is just another sweetheart deal for a company with plenty of inside connections -- something I think any business outside the area would find a huge turnoff, and a reason to locate elsewhere.

When it comes to getting multi-million dollar sweethearters like this one, it's not what you have to sell in Columbia, or how good your product, but who you know.

(Report Comment)
Allan Sharrock May 29, 2009 | 7:26 p.m.

So Mike is this why one of the TIF's is likely to get passed while the other isn't?

(Report Comment)
Mike Martin May 29, 2009 | 9:21 p.m.

You'd have to ask a council person that question. I haven't heard anything about the status of any of that.

(Report Comment)
Ray Shapiro May 29, 2009 | 10:25 p.m.

Did GetAbout Columbia put too much money toward advertising and education?
What difference does it make if no one is going to be held accountable for how this 22 million dollars of federal taxpayers money is spent, anyway?
@Columbia Heartbeat: (Of course it's too much, it's wasted money and only benefits those on the inside, and a few youngsters.)
Bike, Walk & Wheel Week continues with commuting biker seminar
Bike, Walk & Wheel Week 2009 events continued Wednesday with a brown bag lunch seminar at the YouZeum for bike commuters. ...

(Report Comment)
John M. Nowell, III May 30, 2009 | 8:50 a.m.

Well, the education hasn't been too effective. I did see two cyclists using a hand signal yesterday to make a turn. So that's 1.5M per rider for education? The money would have been better spent if they hired voluntary off duty police department personel to work overtime and hand out tickets to those cyclists putting themselves and others at risk by breaking the law. The judge could stay the fines on condition that they complete the rider safety program put on by the GAColumbia office, one on one.

I am always amazed about how the local government is quick to hire consultants, and out source their work. It seems that nobody wants to held accountable, or do the heavy lifting anymore. What does the Get About Columbia group do anyway, sit around and dream up ideas on how to spend other people's money? In this world, it's results that count, not good intentions.

When I was in elementary school, I attended a summer education program at Lee school put on by the police department about bicycle safety. I think it was manditory in order to get my bike license, and they also engraved my name on the frame of the bike. I for one will be glad when Get About Columbia runs out of money.

(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr May 30, 2009 | 10:37 a.m.

I see bike riders daily not use any signals at all when making turns.

Looks like a total failure in public relations.

(Report Comment)
Michael Hrach May 30, 2009 | 11:27 a.m.

I got two free side-packs, two sets of head and tail lights, and two T-shirts...will trade for one helmet

(Report Comment)
Mark Foecking May 30, 2009 | 12:17 p.m.

John M. Nowell wrote:

"I did see two cyclists using a hand signal yesterday to make a turn. So that's 1.5M per rider for education?"

A lot of motorists don't use their signals either, and don't get ticketed.

It's a shame, but some people get confused when I signal a right turn on my bicycle - they think I'm waving at them. I think that's why a lot of cyclists just use their right arm held out straight to signal a right turn.


(Report Comment)

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