COLUMN: All residents benefit in West Broadway plans

Thursday, April 15, 2010 | 11:57 a.m. CDT; updated 10:25 a.m. CDT, Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Here at last is a tidbit of good news, a tale with a happy ending. No, I’m not talking about the recent unpleasantness that was the Columbia election. And I don’t mean the enactment, finally, of national health care legislation. That one’s really more of a beginning.

I mean that the Battle of Broadway appears to be over. The winners are all of us.

Not so fast, you may be saying. We’ve thought that conflict over how to fix the two-lane stretch of West Broadway between Garth Avenue and West Boulevard was behind us in earlier times, only to discover that the combatants had merely withdrawn temporarily to reload. This time, to all appearances, is different.

That tentative conclusion emerged last week in a low-key session in the Activity and Recreation Center, attended by a handful of engineers from the city and the consulting firm, a score or so of good citizens, our new mayor, and your correspondent. (As an aside, I’ll note how rare it is in Columbia to find oneself the only journalist in the room, any room.)

My optimism arises both from the clear reasonableness of the plan itself and the vastly more important fact that all those in attendance, members of the citizen advisory committee and neighborhood residents, seemed either enthusiastic or at least reconciled to that plan.

Now it’s true that not all committee members and not all neighbors were present. It’s also true that our newly elected Fourth Ward councilman says he favors making Broadway into a four-lane expressway. But I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that the sketch we saw last Thursday is what, some day, we’re going to get.

If it plays out that way, the historic piece of Broadway will be both more efficient and more attractive and only a few feet wider. Residents won’t have lost any more of their deep front yards than they can spare.

The conceptual plan, as revealed by CH2M Hill engineer/facilitator Buddy Desai, shows a 71-foot right of way with, on each side, a 5-foot sidewalk, a 5-foot “tree lawn,” a 6-foot bike lane and a 12-foot driving lane. A 12-foot landscaped median separates the driving lanes.

Both the “tree lawn” — that grassy strip between sidewalk and vehicles — and the median will be “bio-swales.” That means, Buddy explained, that beneath the grass and shrubbery will be layers of earth, sand and rock designed to catch, absorb and filter runoff before it enters the storm water drainage system. The utility lines will also be buried.

Making the street more efficient for through traffic will be left-turn lanes in both directions at those intersections where the cross streets go off to north and south. Where the cross street just leads to the north or south, drivers will be able to make right turns only.

To me, at least, even more impressive than the plan is the process that produced it. That process, overseen by the unflappable Buddy Desai, included formation of a broadly based citizen advisory committee, conscientious efforts to solicit and respond to the needs and concerns of the various stakeholders, plenty of opportunity for discussion and argument, and, finally, an outcome closely resembling consensus.
As I sat in on a couple of those public discussions and then saw the result, I couldn’t help thinking that this could be, probably should be, a template for tackling other contentious community issues. Growth planning comes to mind.

It was a good thing for Mayor McDavid to see. He and our other council members, old and new, will get their say in a few weeks when the plan is presented for approval. Only then will we know that the battle is really won.

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

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