*An earlier version of this article misstated who subcontracted with GetAbout Columbia and which community conversation Daryl Dudley led.
COLUMBIA — After stepping down as longtime executive director of the PedNet Coalition, Ian Thomas has announced that he will challenge incumbent Daryl Dudley for the Fourth Ward City Council seat in April.
Thomas has run the nonprofit since its inception in 2000. In 2005, the city was given a $25 million grant to build a pedestrian and bicycle network. Thomas collaborated with GetAbout Columbia to find the areas in the city and the various projects that needed the money the most. *As the subcontractor with GetAbout Columbia, Pednet received a little more than $800,000 over a three-year period to promote bicycle and pedestrian transportation, make classes on safe legal forms of transportation and promote Walking School Bus.
As a father of two, Jack and Emily Thomas, Thomas and the coalition helped to ensure the city had a safe system for helping children get to school. The program's Walking School Bus and Bike Train pair adults with children as they walk or bike to school.
Thomas' advocacy for mass transit comes from his experience growing up in London. In Europe, he said, cities are better designed for all modes of transportation, including bus systems and bikes. He'd like to bring that kind of European model to Columbia.
"Just imagine what rush-hour traffic on West Broadway would look like if 30 out of every 60 cars were replaced by one bus," Thomas said in a 2011 op-ed for the Missourian.
From 2000 to 2004, Thomas worked to pass Complete Streets, an ordinance that ensures sidewalks and bicycle lanes will be a priority when streets are planned. The initiative was PedNet's first priority when it began 12 years ago, and Thomas started "community conversations" around town to engage with the public.
Thomas said he respects Dudley.
"He's been a very good listener. He's held constituent sessions, ... and he's always been open to new ideas."
Although Thomas has seen transportation improve in his "adopted city," the American citizen of four years said Columbia's transportation system has a long way to go. Thomas moved to Columbia in 1998.
"Another issue I feel that Columbia transportation is lacking is the strength, frequency and geographical extent of our public transit system," Thomas said. "That's another philosophy from European transit. I would like to see a transit system that enables all citizens to easily be able to get around town."
An avid bicyclist, Thomas has driven a car fewer than 20 times in the past year. Although he sees transportation as the issue he's most knowledgeable about, his platform is still growing to address other issues affecting Columbia residents.
"I haven't developed a firm platform yet," Thomas said. "I'm a very firm believer in allowing large groups of people to bring forth their ideas."
Thomas said he will completely address issues such as tax incentives for developers in the future, but he does have some ideas already.
"In general, if economic incentives are available we should focus them on successful local entrepreneurs and businesses," Thomas said.
Although he has his own opinions on tax incentives for development, Thomas said he's willing to tailor them to fit his constituent needs.
"I think that they are a very reasonable form of financing for certain projects," Thomas said.
One issue that has caused some conflict for Thomas is the controversial Grindstone Trail. Some neighborhood residents have opposed the trail because of an initial proposal to use eminent domain to build it across private property. The city is examining now whether it can avoid using eminent domain by choosing another route.
"Certainly with my PedNet hat on, I want to promote trails within the community," Thomas said. "If the neighborhood is strongly opposed, ... then I would suggest there's strategic value to moving some of the funds to another trail that's better accepted and better used."
With former Columbia Mayor Darwin Hindman as his father-in-law, Thomas said he has learned how the political system works.
"I think meeting him and knowing him has brought me closer to the political process," Thomas said.
Thomas said he will start taking his campaign door to door at the beginning of the new year. The new executive director of PedNet will take over at that time. For the first three days of this week, Thomas will listen to pitches from three finalists for the position. Two are from out of state, and one is local, Thomas said.
"I would say that he has tremendous vision for what an active and healthy community should look like," Stacia Reilly, a PedNet board member said. "He was really good at the big picture type things.
"He was very inclusive of people and would really try and get opinions from a variety of people. I think having a vision for the community is important when taking one of those seats. As far as being inclusive and getting opinions, … I think that’s a role as city councilman," Riley added.
The Third Ward seat on the council and the mayor's seat also are up for election in April. Each seat carries a three-year term.
Those who want to file for ward seats must collect signatures of at least 50 and no more than 75 registered voters who live in their ward and submit them to the city clerk on a nominating petition. Those who want to run for mayor need signatures from at least 100 and no more than 150 registered voters in the city.
The deadline for submitting nominating petitions for the April election is Jan. 8.
Supervising editor is Scott Swafford.