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GetAbout update: What's finished, what's been dropped and what's pending?

Wednesday, November 18, 2009 | 11:01 p.m. CST; updated 1:32 p.m. CST, Thursday, November 19, 2009
Nora Peckham, 12, and Carol Brown cross the intersection of Stadium and Forum boulevard. "We live so close it's silly to get in a car," Brown said. "Now I don't have cars breathing down my neck going 100 miles per hour."

An earlier edition of this story misnamed Vangel's location.

COLUMBIA — Three years ago the federal government granted Columbia $22 million as a pilot city for nonmotorized transportation, and the city made plans.

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Plans to build trails. Plans to build sidewalks. Plans to improve the overall connectivity of the city. All with the goal of getting people to take their foot off the gas and onto the pedal. Or into some comfortable shoes. All of it aimed at behavior change.

Since then GetAbout Columbia has redesigned intersections, striped bike lanes and painted “sharrows” to mark where cyclists should ride.

Cycling classes have been held, and, at the very least, the goal of getting people out of their cars has seeped into the public discourse.

But the city has yet to build any trails or sidewalks.

And only one year remains until Columbia must submit a report to Congress on its progress and be judged on its success or lack thereof. Columbia is one of four pilot communities, and when the federal Highway Transportation Bill comes up for renewal at the end of 2010, each will find out what, if any, additional money they receive.

Progress comes at a slow pace

GetAbout estimated that more projects would be finished by now. Plans for some have been delayed; others have been dropped.

“One complaint we heard was it’s taken a long time for these projects, but I don’t see any way around that,” said Sarah Ashman, manager of Walt’s Bicycle Shop. “It takes time, and I think people understand that now.”

Ted Curtis, manager of GetAbout Columbia, attributes the delays to the engineering process and a lengthier-than-anticipated federal approval process.

GetAbout scheduled eight intersection redesigns for completion by the end of 2008. Only three are in place, however, and plans for three of the five remaining intersections have been dropped.

“We wanted to do a good job on five rather then a mediocre job on eight,” Curtis said.

The redesign of the intersections includes changing the angle of the right-turn lane to make it easier for bicyclists to see oncoming cars as well as widening the islands and pedestrian crossings.

Ashman said she’s heard customers say they feel much safer going through the redesigned intersections.

“Before, you either had to ride behind the bumper between cars or almost out into oncoming traffic,” said Chris Hayday, cyclist and GetAbout advisory committee member.

The redesign itself apparently wasn’t clear to everyone, though. Travel from Forum through the intersection at Stadium, and you will notice a portion of the bike lane is painted green. The coloring came as a result of uncertainty among cyclists about where to ride in the new intersection.

Josh Stockwell of Klunk Bicycles and Repair said he has heard confusion from some cyclists about other new street markings as well.

Fellow cyclist and advisory committee member Brad Eiffert rides through the redesigned intersection at Forum and Stadium Boulevard and doesn’t notice much of a difference.

“I felt safe before, I feel safe now,” he said.

Eiffert would’ve rather seen the money spent on intersections go toward increased connectivity among trails that take pedestrians off major thoroughfares.

For example, Eiffert said he would have liked to see the city build a proposed Interstate 70 overpass that connects to north Columbia and Cosmopolitan Park. That won’t happen with current funding.

Despite this, Eiffert is supportive of the progress GetAbout has made and the direction it’s heading.

Left on the cutting room floor

GetAbout has spent $350,000 on conceptual engineering of projects now scrapped, Curtis said. Although there are no immediate plans to pursue those projects, they could still be built. "It’s good to invest in the plans so we can apply for future funding,” Curtis said.

The dropped projects aren't necessarily a result of GetAbout overreaching. In the drafting of original plans, more projects were proposed than funding allowed, with the stated expectation that not all would hit the ground.

Dropped projects include:

Third Ward Councilman Karl Skala said he thinks the COLT trail would’ve been key to connecting Columbia. “It was just my feeling that when we were allocating money for these various projects, a good chunk of it was already gone," Skala said.

GetAbout has put an emphasis on marketing and education; the group has spent $2.16 million to date. That has all gone to Vangel Marketing Communication*, a local firm charged with promoting the GetAbout initiative. Vangel subcontracts alternative transportation workshops and educational classes to PedNet, a local nonprofit organization.

Columbia has outspent the other pilot cities on promotion and education, with some cycling classes sparsely attended and subsequently dropped.

On the table, under construction

Plenty of projects still remain in the works, and GetAbout estimates the majority will be finished in 2010. Columbia has only spent $5.6 million to date, but decisions on how to allocate the remainder of the $22 million money have been made.

The most costly projects that remain are: 

  • Phase 1 of the Old 63 elevated walkway that will link Moon Valley Road to Grindstone Nature Area at a cost of $1.96 million,
  • The $1.33 million County House trail that will link Twin Lakes Recreation Area to Stadium Boulevard, and
  • Phase 2 of the Hominy Branch trail, which will connect The Links at Columbia apartment complex to Stephens Lake Park at a cost of $1.35 million.

Money to replace the dropped Providence Road overpass project will instead be spent on installing raised medians in the middle of the street. These “safe havens,” as Curtis describes them, provide a place for pedestrians to stand as they cross.

All of these planned projects must go through several stages of approval from the City Council, including preliminary design and engineering, land acquisition, and, in some instances, project revisions. Federal approval also creates a speed bump for project planning.

Curtis noted one case in which the city needed a temporary easement for trail construction. The owner asked for thousands more than the amount at which the land had been appraised, forcing the city to redesign the route.

GetAbout works with the Missouri Department of Transportation throughout planning in order to get the green light. It can make for a long process, Curtis said.

Marianne Fowler, senior vice president of federal relations for the Rails to Trails Conservancy, said she thinks the approval process that pilot communities must go through is geared more toward major highway projects than trails and other such infrastructure.

“There’s a disconnect between big projects and small-scale projects,” she said.

The Conservancy lobbied for the four pilot cities to receive the initial funding and will now try to change the process such projects must go through with upcoming legislation, Fowler said.

As with many projects, construction has caused some grumbling as well. GetAbout received complaints from motorists about the increased traffic flow during the redesign of the intersections, Curtis said, but feedback has generally been positive since completion.

The federal government also gave Columbia a separate grant for transportation enhancement. The city will spend $500,000 of this grant on the first phase of the Hominy Branch trail, which runs from Green Valley Road to the Woodridge neighborhood; and $468,000 will be spent on the first phase of the Hinkson Creek trail connector, linking Grindstone Nature Area to Stephens Lake Park.

The city matched this with $1.32 million for the Hominy Branch trail and $312,000 for the Hinkson Creek trail. The matching funding came from revenue from a local sales tax.

Final design decisions such as whether to use asphalt or gravel on the Hominy Branch trail remain to be made. The council will hold hearings on these issues in the coming months, but Jill Stedem of the Public Works Department said no hearings have been scheduled yet.


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Comments

J VanMater November 18, 2009 | 11:50 a.m.

Vangel is based out of St. Louis now? When did that happen? Who fact checks this stuff?

(Report Comment)
alvin sweezer November 19, 2009 | 7:25 a.m.

It take time change people ways get out cars.When gas goes up people think about using other ways save. Roads made for bikes use would help people get out cars and have bike class how rided in road for rules of road help most. One bad bike rider makes bad name for other good bikes who ride road rules when riding down road. Columbia has came along ways for bike and people walking and poeple staying heather past yrs.
Keep up good work making roads safe for very body use them in columbia.
Rida bike today or get out walk to place

(Report Comment)
Paul Love November 19, 2009 | 8:22 a.m.

Just as a question we spent almost 2.2 million dollars advertising for a city that has around 100,000 people? Thats $22 a person. From the idea of promoting cycling and healthy transportation does anyone realize that would have purchased everyone who lives in Columbia a bicycle helmet? (before you say you can't get a good helmet for $22 let me assure you if you buy them in lots of 100,000 you most assuredly can) Alternatively the money could have been consolidated to purchase 20,000 bikes at $110 each. Direct from a manufacturer assuming a 40-100% retail markup would get you a very reasonable bike. Run it by lottery or signup (I'm assuming that if you already had a nicer bike you wouldn't sign up for a basic bike but who knows) I'd have to think that giving every 1 in 5 people who live in Columbia a new bike would have had to have a larger impact on the number of people who cycle in Columbia than advertising.

That by the way is not anywhere near the total amount that is being spent on the project, thats just the advertising budget. The total bill on the project according to the article appears to be 27.6 million. For scope thats the equivalent of a new $250 bike with helmet for every man, woman, child and infant in Columbia.

Sometimes when dealing with public money it is easy to lose sight of exactly how much money is being spent. When deciding if the money is being well spent ask yourself if you have recieved the benifit of everyone in your family, all your neighbors, most of your co-workers and many of your friends recieving a new bike and helmet. I hope when looking at this your answer is yes because those are tax dollars at work and its money that you paid.

(Report Comment)
Todd Guess November 19, 2009 | 2:49 p.m.

Paul,

With all due respect, there are some large holes in your argument. First of all, the money "spent on advertisement" was actually spent on marketing and promotions. The article didn't make this very clear, but, despite the fact that a marketing company was allocated the $2.16 million, it was not all spent on advertising. It was spent on some advertisements, but also on promotions such as the Bike, Walk, & Wheel Week for the past few years, Way to go to Work Month, the Low Car Diet, Neighbors on the Go Program, as well as others. It was used for holding extensive education classes that reached every segment of the population from kindergarten students in Columbia Public Schools to adults through Parks and Rec classes, and it was used for payroll for the staff involved in all of those classes and promotions.

Also, the notion that rationing the money out to buy everyone in Columbia a cheap bike and helmet, though it sounds like a good idea, doesn't really work out either. There is no shortage of bikes. Nearly every home in Columbia has a bike or two in the garage. I doubt that handing more out would have a larger impact on ridership than improving infrastructure, encouragement through programs, and bicycling safety classes would.

And to your final point. Let's not hold this program to a different standard than other tax-funded programs. Will every member of your family benefit from the Scott Blvd project? How about the new parking garage downtown? The improvements to Rangeline? Those projects use tax dollars as well, but may only benefit certain segments of the population. That doesn't mean they are not valuable. The measuring stick for these things needs to be consistent.

(Report Comment)
Ray Shapiro November 19, 2009 | 2:58 p.m.

("Money to replace the dropped Providence Road overpass project will instead be spent on installing raised medians in the middle of the street. These “safe havens,” as Curtis describes them, provide a place for pedestrians to stand as they cross.")
If people along this area of Providence crossed at the traffic light instead of sauntering across at the middle of the street, there'd be no reason to spend taxpayer money on "safe havens" to protect them from those "vile" cars trying to commute to their places of business.
Perhaps, instead of building "safe havens" with taxpayers' money, CPD should be handing out some jaywalking summonses and generate some cash flow. The same can be done around the campus side of College Avenue to orient students who can't seem to learn to "cross at the green and not in-between."
(Or are "safe havens," from villainous automobiles, the new "politically correct" and expensive way to deal with the "I don't give a krap" street crossing crowd?)

(Report Comment)
Mike Martin November 19, 2009 | 3:03 p.m.

The $2.16 million spent with one firm on "marketing and promotions" and the $350,000 spent engineering now defunct projects is an astonishing travesty!

This Federal gravy train came in under the guise of getting people out of their cars, while the hogs slopped at the trough, building new offices; hiring staffers; and basically piddling around with core infrastructure projects that should have been completed by now.

When I see $22 million coming in for a project like this, in a community that desperately needs new pedestrian infrastructure, only to see so much of it wasted on "soft" projects like marketing, sharrows, and the like, it makes me sick.

What could have been has now been lost -- to the usual insider dealing that sucks up tax money around here like a Hoover vacuum.

(Report Comment)
John Schultz November 19, 2009 | 7:00 p.m.

Amen Ray, I had much the same thought when I read that portion of the article. If you want to cross the road safely, cross at an intersection instead of lollygagging across the road just in front of my bumper. And that goes for the students on College as well.

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith November 20, 2009 | 2:33 a.m.

Speaking of federal gravy trains, when are they going to finish building Lyndon Johnson's "Great Society"?

Oh, that's right, Lyndon is now six feet under, and so is his "Great Society."

(Report Comment)
Paul Love November 20, 2009 | 11:33 a.m.

Todd,

Sorry Todd I didn't mean to sound like I was particularly trying to Hold Get About Columbia to a different standard. Frankly there are some things that are happening that I think are really neat I think the walking bus program is particularly cool idea. Kids dont' stand around just waiting schools could save on transport etc.

My point is I actually do hold all projects to that standard. Frequently people lose scope and scale when it comes to government projects. It is easy to see 27.6m and think its a small number evern $27,600,000.00 often fails to convey what is being spent as it is simply beyond the scope of many voters to easily mentally get their hands around. However, most if not all people can easily comprehend what a bike and a helmet would cost them. The comparison is completely fair as it simply reduces the cost of the project for fitness and transportation to a dollar value the average person can understand, not as a comparison of the effectiveness of the project. An unfair comparison would be to offer a Wii Fit to everyone in Columbia as it would provide no transportation benifits.

Collectively our society is placing a staggeringly huge crippling deficit on future generations. Hello baby have a millstone for your neck :( How's your first day in our world? We simply don't look at public spending because we don't seem to believe the money is ours. There is no doubt we derived benifit from the programs improved health if nothing else but did Columbia benifit 27 million dollars worth. Could we have acheived 50% of the benifit for 2 million dollars? We and our parents have spent the value of our lives. We are now spending the future of our children. It is up to us to make sure we are spending it wisely.

(Report Comment)
Ray Shapiro November 20, 2009 | 11:58 a.m.

("Or into some comfortable shoes. All of it aimed at behavior change.")
I got an idea.
If GetAbout wants to encourage walking and help Columbia, instead of just being a pawn for the political cycling lobby group, here's a project which could help Columbia, at large.
Offer a free pedometer to Columbia residents 21 years+.
Every time the pedometer reaches 500 miles the "walker" gets a GetAbout voucher redeemable for specific goods or services from a select group of locally owned businesses and government/nonprofit agencies.
For instance, walking a total of 500 miles could get you a one-day pass to the ARC. Or $20 at a locally owned shoe store. Folks could save up vouchers and redeem them to cover adoption fees at the Humane Society. Then, they'd also have a dog to walk.
GetAbout would then reimburse these agencies/stores and cash would flow within this town's coffers while the participating walker benefits from documented walking.

(Report Comment)
Michael Warner November 23, 2009 | 3:36 p.m.

I want to thank the author for this article and the details provided regarding GetAbout's spending. After reading this article, my reaction is one of complete dissapointment concerning GetAbout's plundering of this grant money. Let me start by saying that I am an avid and daily cyclist - rain or shine. In these three years since the grant was awarded, I have noticed no significant improvements that would make cycling in Columbia for practical --rather than recreational--purposes any easier. Certainly no improvements that would account for the 5.6 million tab currently run up by GetAbout. The absolute waste of these funds is an unmitigated disaster and embarassment to our community. I can only imagine the reaction of Congress when Columbia is called to report its "progress" in less than a year.

"Columbia has only spent $5.6 million to date . . . "

And HOW has this 5.6 million that has been spent to date been allocated?

"GetAbout has put an emphasis on marketing and education; the group has spent $2.16 million to date. That has all gone to Vangel Marketing Communication*, a local firm charged with promoting the GetAbout initiative."

Hmmm - that doesn't sound right. OK. How about the meager portion of the money that was actually spent on infrastructure; was that money wisely spent?

"GetAbout has spent $350,000 on conceptual engineering of projects now scrapped, Curtis said."

How about these FIVE intersections (scaled down from the oh-so-ambitious EIGHT) that are going to be remodeled (and for which GetAbout wanted to do a "good" not "mediocre" job), do they make sense? Do they make cyclists safer?

"Travel from Forum through the intersection at Stadium, and you will notice a portion of the bike lane is painted green. The coloring came as a result of uncertainty among cyclists about where to ride in the new intersection."

OK. Evidently not. To be continued . . .

(Report Comment)
Michael Warner November 23, 2009 | 3:39 p.m.

Years ago I was excited to see Columbia honored as one of the few municipalities to get these grants that could have really made a difference to this city. 26 million could have really transformed the bicycling INFRASTRUCTURE in this city. Instead, nearly a majority has been squandered on "marketing" -- the only discernable impact of which has been widespread animosity toward the project and the bicycling community. In otherwords, that treasure trove has been squandered on perhaps one of the most counterproductive marketing campaigns that has possibly been conducted in the history of marketing. With a market saturation of 2.6 million dollars in a community of 100,000, the result at the end of the day: more ill will toward cycling in Columbia than prior to the award of funds.

Needless to say, my initial excitement has turned to sheer amazement at how this project has been run into the ground. It appears that GetAbout was unfortunately handed a stack of blank checks which they opted to direct immediatly to the coffers of Vangel Marketing. I would like to see GetAbout before the council and before the public that they have ill served. This has been a sad civics lesson in government spending run absolutely amok. Where is the oversight?

(Report Comment)

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