COLUMBIA — Despite significant public pushback, Columbia City Council voted 6-1 at Tuesday's meeting to approve asphalt shoulders designed for pedestrian travel on Clark Lane.
"It's really a no-brainer. Shoulders are better than no shoulders when you're walking along the road," Second Ward Councilman Michael Trapp said. "This is going to be the best we can do this year."
The new paved asphalt shoulders will be 6 feet wide on both sides of the road, while the existing lanes will be narrowed from 12 feet to 11 feet. The end result is an expansion of the entire road by 5 feet on both sides.
Fourth Ward Councilman Ian Thomas voted to table the motion for a month until another interested-parties meeting could be held to convince the public the plan was the best available. Only Sixth Ward Councilwoman Barbara Hoppe voted with Thomas, and that vote failed.
Both Thomas and Third Ward Councilman Karl Skala said they hope safety measures such as double-striping the pedestrian lane, placing rumble strips on the road and additional signs will help keep pedestrians safe. They also said they'd like to see street lights placed along Clark Lane and the speed limit reduced to 35 from 45 mph.
The expansion is estimated to cost $600,000, but the city is not spending much additional money. The paved shoulder will become a part of the road when the road is eventually widened, so the work would have been done either way.
City staff members said they have already begun planning the shoulder and will start construction when the weather is warm enough. The shoulder is expected to be completed before school starts in August.
Skala and other supporters of the proposal said the shoulder is necessary because pedestrians are currently walking in ravines or directly next to traffic on loose gravel.
"Walking in a ditch next to a traffic way like that is incredibly dangerous," Skala said. "It is incumbent on me — even if some of you folks don't like it despite the fact I've gotten some support for this — to vote for public safety."
Proponents also said the plan is a stop-gap measure and will not delay the installation of buffered sidewalks, which is scheduled to begin in 2017 at the earliest. However, many residents disagreed with the city's position.
Ten people spoke against the proposal, and one spoke in favor of it. Seven people stood in the audience holding up signs and posters stating their disapproval of the project.
Opponents of the plan advocated for a sidewalk with a grass buffer right away and said they don't trust the city's promise to build one in the future.
"They've been saying that for the last couple of years," said Kate Shannon, who spoke against the asphalt shoulder proposal. "But they have yet to put a foot forward on that besides these asphalt extensions. So it sounds to me like a lot of talk and not a lot of action."
City staff members said that a sidewalk can't be installed until road construction begins to widen the street to include a center turning lane. That construction can't start until easements and rights of way are obtained and funds are gathered from the city's quarter-cent sales tax for capital improvement projects, which needs to be extended before it expires in 2015.
Supporters of the asphalt shoulder said that while it isn't ideal, it's better than nothing.
"Clark Lane is a road that desperately needs sidewalks, and we need to get them in as soon as possible," Hoppe said. "But right now, there needs to be some safety improvement, and this is a way to do it."
Roger Dye, a Clark Lane resident, said he believes the asphalt shoulder is not an acceptable solution to the pedestrian safety problem.
"If you folks narrow Clark Lane by one foot on each side, it makes it less safe for drivers and pedestrians," Dye said during the meeting. "What you're proposing is a second-class answer to a first-class problem."
Skala and others said the narrowing of the road will slow down traffic, increasing safety for those who walk along the shoulder.
Nauser, who was the only person to vote against the plan, said she thought it was a great idea. But due to the public backlash, she felt the money could be better spent on projects in her ward.
Supervising editor is Elise Schmelzer.