LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Clark Lane needs sidewalks first

Monday, January 20, 2014 | 6:00 a.m. CST

An open letter to the Missouri Department of Transportation:

We, representing over 1,000 Columbia families on or near Clark Lane, are asking you to challenge and seek redesigning of the current proposal that would narrow the Clark Lane highway and connect asphalt shoulders for non-motorized pedestrians and bikes.

To its credit, MoDOT has a history of pressing to maximize roadway and pedestrian safety and of assisting communities in raising standards. The current city proposition is unacceptable to us, and we do not believe it conforms to MoDOT’s rules and quality values.

The safest solution for 2014 would be to make sidewalks the priority and:

  1. For now, keep the road lanes the same 12-foot width;
  2. Consider making a left turn lane off of Clark onto Hanover where traffic going east often backs up and many residents have reported seeing accidents at this corner;
  3. Add a wide grass buffer area; and
  4. Beyond the buffer, build disabled accessible, attractive, smooth, concrete sidewalks on both sides of the road from Woodland Springs to McAfee.

The wide grass buffer would create a much safer pathway. If the city gets money in the coming years, the road should be widened and extended across most of the buffer area.

Then, these sidewalks, now with a curb and a narrower grass buffer, would not need to be torn up and rebuilt. Just north of Clark Lane, the recently well-lit, widened, two-lane road, bike lane and sidewalks with grass buffer on Mexico Gravel is an excellent example of what our Clark Lane highway should eventually look like.

We believe the current proposal presents these dangers:

1. Our neighborhood has a high economically vulnerable population and many families lack affordable transportation. So, some people use the well-known-to-be dangerous "cow path" or "no path" along the road, but only if they must.

If the council and MoDOT approve the current plan, the shoulder addition would convey the city and state’s "seal-of-approval," making MoDOT a partner in signaling to motorized and non-motorized traffic that this is a safe route. Chiefly, this shoulder access would give pedestrians a false sense of security. The unsafe tar pathway would result in increased use of the shoulder for recreation and to walk to get to eating and shopping areas, jobs, or to visit.

Safe sidewalks are the solution and should be built FIRST and as soon as possible. We should not be relegated to receiving a second-class answer to a first-class concern.

2. It might not be readily apparent, but, by narrowing the road a foot on each side, the moving vehicles — especially larger ones — will "feel the pinch" and easily encroach onto the "non-motorized" shoulder.

Using asphalt shoulders is not the usual or correct norm for pedestrian traffic. Having increasingly heavy car, truck, motorcycle and bus vehicle traffic inches away from heavy pedestrian travelers is a recipe for disaster. So, not only pedestrians, but hundreds of Clark Lane drivers, because they fear hitting someone, have joined in petitioning the council for Sidewalks First.

3. Asphalt is not a good choice for sidewalk construction. Asphalt is adversely affected by weather and develops dips and bubbles and buckles that put pedestrians, especially the elderly, disabled and children, at greater risk of losing their balance, tripping, even careening into the paths of motorists. Suggested rumble strips could cause more falls than protection.

4. In August 2014, Columbia Area Transportation bus route changes will eliminate three Clark Lane stops (Robert Ray, Stonegate Mobile Home Park and Olympic) leaving Ballenger and Hanover as the only bus stops. We don’t oppose the proposed new routes, but the result is that more people, even if they have concerns about the asphalt shoulder safety, will have to walk farther along Clark Lane to catch a bus. This makes Sidewalks First even more imperative.

5. We’ve heard that the city plans to widen the road and build concrete sidewalks later on. However, that planned funding for “Phase 2” depends on the voter’s approval of a sales tax in 2015 and other non-guaranteed funding. Without a 100 percent future funding guarantee, the city’s “interim” fix could be permanent.

Will you help us encourage the Columbia City Council to change it proposal and use the $600,000 they have allocated for their controversial plan to instead, construct the sidewalks that the people unanimously agree is what is most needed?

The city’s proposal will be open for public comment and a vote by the council members on Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2014. The City Council meeting starts at 7 p.m.

If the current proposal is approved, we ask MoDOT to listen to the people who use this corridor and to deny approval. We ask that you join with us to get sidewalks authorized and assist the City to speedily overcoming bureaucratic hurdles so we can have those constructed on both sides of this 0.8 mile Clark Lane stretch this year.

Thank you for your consideration.

Your customers,

Signed by 67 adult residents from the Clark Lane neighborhood

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