Not much to show from GetAbout funds that benefits bicyclists, walkers

Thursday, June 4, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT

Just a week ago, the “Today’s Question” on this page was, “Did GetAbout Columbia put too much money toward advertising and education?”

I’m going to go with Third Ward Councilman Karl Skala on that one. He was quoted in a front page article that day as saying, “I think we need to get the stuff on the ground and encourage people to use what is there before trying to promise them what may be coming in the future. It’s a little bit too abstract.”

The opposite of “abstract,” in construction as well as in semantics, is “concrete.” Some of that has been poured, most noticeably at several prominent intersections. I’ll go beyond Karl’s critique and confess to being at least a little puzzled about how much benefit we nonmotorized travelers will derive from what I’ve seen.

Take, for instance, the work that’s now completed at the corner of Stewart and Providence roads. When I cross that intersection, which I do on foot twice most days, I enjoy pushing the button on the spiffy new pedestrian signal. I like to hear the little “beep, beep” and count down the seconds until the red hand appears. Aside from a bit of childish pleasure, though, I’m skeptical about whether I and my fellow walkers, runners and bikers are actually any safer.

There’s a nice new sign, too, at that entrance to the MKT Trail. It looks pretty costly. Maybe that and the newly paved stretch have increased traffic on the trail. I hope so. I use the new underpasses occasionally when they’re not flooded. They’re never crowded.

The intersection work that has caused a good bit of public grousing has tangled traffic of the automotive variety for months at Stadium and Providence and Stadium and Forum. I’ve tried to figure out just what the benefit to pedestrians and bikers will be. It’s not apparent yet, at least not to me. And I can’t help wondering who’ll have to brave the traffic to maintain the cute little patch of grass that now graces the new raised median just east of Forum. I wouldn’t want that assignment.

Don’t get me wrong. I bow to no one, except maybe our bicyclist mayor, in my support for getting about Columbia without consuming hydrocarbons. But two other aspects of the project so far do concern me. One is that, as Councilman Karl points out, we don’t have much actual infrastructure to show for being halfway through the three-year grant. The other is that allocating $3.14 million of the $22 million grant to promotion and education seems a little — maybe more than a little — excessive.

I understand that planning and acquiring right-of-way for trails and bikeways takes time. But couldn’t we have had by now, just to take one example, a wider and safer sidewalk along West Boulevard? Sharrows aren’t much of a substitute.

When I look at the list of promotional projects and the roster of subcontractors, I do realize that there’s an economic stimulus effect of this spending. In addition to Vangel Marketing, I count four local firms that are working with words rather than concrete. PR people, Web designers, lawyers and CPAs need jobs, too. Besides, the wordsmiths are probably more likely to be pedestrians. The construction guys I know are generally happier in pickups than on bikes.

Despite my quibbles, I’m glad Columbia got this grant. It’s being spent, I’m sure, with the best of intentions. The more we walk and bike, the better off we’ll be, individually and as a community.

And now I’m going to walk away from my computer for a bit. With any luck, I’ll be back to harangue you in a couple of weeks.

George Kennedy is a former managing editor at the Missourian and professor emeritus at the Missouri School of Journalism.


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Charles Dudley Jr June 4, 2009 | 9:12 p.m.

Let's be real here the GetAboutColumbia project is nothing more than the ole pork in the barrel at the over all tax payer expense.

You can realign paint on a skinny road way to make it look pretty for some odd ball bicyclist but in the end it is still a skinny roadway ie: West Paris Road from College to the BL 70 overpass.

When all is said and done no sidewalks that need repair or improvement have really been done to help the normal walkers and not much else to show except for alot of fading paint and removed paint due to new road construction and now will have to be repainted all over again.

This City would have done one hell of alot better going after a grant to beef up our police and EMS services instead.

When people look back in the far future at this entire project all that will be said is "what a total waste of good tax payer dollars that could have been used wiser in other needed areas and projects".

(Report Comment)
Ray Shapiro June 4, 2009 | 9:55 p.m.

("The other is that allocating $3.14 million of the $22 million grant to promotion and education seems a little — maybe more than a little — excessive.")
Like I always say, "Give a tree-hugger enough rope and he's bound to harangue himself."

(Report Comment)
Derrick Fogle June 4, 2009 | 11:28 p.m.

I was so excited when the grant first came through. I'm a business-class bicyclist. We got underpasses all the way into Flat Branch park - a huge safety improvement. But the old PedNet group was too conservative and nobody wanted a trail in their own back yard, so GetAbout was born, Vangel was brought in, and they figured out how to spend that money real quick like. I'm not going to second-guess the improvements in safety that the intersection rebuilds will make, but they sure don't do cyclists any good. They just eat up that grant money really fast.

I do think education is extremely important though. When PedNet was first formed, I chided them for focusing too heavily on segregation, and not doing enough for 'share the road' education. Teaching bikes and cars how to get along with one another on the roadways is the single most important key to success for bicycle commuters. Cyclists, after all, use the same roads to get to the same places for the same reasons that cars do. Despite trails and lanes, cars and bikes have to mix on the roads. All the hot air the "sharrows" have created did an amazing job in bringing about a common understanding of how to share the road.

(Report Comment)
Ray Shapiro June 5, 2009 | 12:43 a.m.

I respect your self-classification as a "business-class" bicyclist. (Not counting students, you and the Mayor, how many "business-class" bicyclists are in Columbia?)
Also, for years I have appreciated and respected those "bicycle path" metallic signs on posts alongside of roads and streets throughout Columbia.
I didn't need to see bicycle logos tattooed all over the streets to remind me that there may be a bicycle popping up as I travel around town in my Hummer.
What a waste of Federal Taxpayer money...

(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr June 5, 2009 | 4:50 a.m.

I agree on the respect for the "business-class" bicyclist but what I cannot accept is the wasting away of 25 some odd million dollars on just a hand full of bicyclists over all.

Let's be real here.

(Report Comment)

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