After more than a year of discussion and tweaking, a thick revision of Columbia’s street standards — designed to make streets narrower and friendlier for bicyclists and pedestrians — is finally before the City Council.
The council will hold a public hearing on the new standards at its meeting tonight but plans to continue to get public input until May 3, when it is scheduled to take a final vote on the matter.
The new standards, the first overhaul of city street designs since the 1960s, have been under development since the council approved the 2025 Transportation Plan in July 2002. The proposed standards include options for six types of streets: residential, nonresidential, neighborhood collector, major collector, minor arterial and major arterial.
Each classification includes options for construction under various circumstances. For example, on residential streets, developers could request or be required to use one of three alternative standards: A residential feeder standard would be used for streets that carry more than 750 cars daily, while an access-street standard would apply for streets that are shorter than 750 feet and carry fewer than 250 cars per day.
The primary concept behind the new standards is to narrow roads to reduce the amount of impervious surface, to slow traffic and to make room for wider sidewalks and pedways, which are wider paved paths intended to be shared by bicyclists and pedestrians.
The plan includes narrowing the width of pavement on most streets by as much as 12 feet and making sidewalks and pedways anywhere from 6 feet to 10 feet wide on collector and arterial streets, where until now they have been only 5 feet wide.
Local developers, however, worry the new standards would boost the cost of building streets. Don Stamper of the Central Missouri Development Council said that although developers aren’t vehemently opposed to the standards, they do have some concerns.
“We just want to be careful and know that when we propose something, we know what it’s going to cost,” Stamper said.
Street Standards Planning Group members, who were appointed by the Columbia Planning and Zoning Commission, originally thought the new standards would reduce construction costs. It seemed like a logical assumption because narrower roads require less pavement. Prompted by the development council, however, the planning group took a closer look and conceded costs would increase with 16 of the 18 proposed new standards.
Some of the higher cost would be the result of additional storm-drainage requirements included in the standards, Planning Director Roy Dudark said.
The extra storm-drainage costs could reach as high as $20 per linear foot, depending on changes to widths of the existing standards. But those extra costs might not always be present. Topography is the primary factor in determining whether extra drains are necessary along curbs and gutters, Dudark said. A flat road, for example, needs more drains because storm water gathers in the center of the road. A street with any kind of a slope, on the other hand, would need fewer drains because water runs off the street without extra help.
Continuing maintenance costs are another concern for the Public Works Department. The new standards call for more medians and landscaping along streets, and those would have to be maintained by the city.
Made for walking
Additional drainage is not the only extra cost associated with the proposed new standards. Pedways would also add expenses, Dudark said.
The standards’ new criteria for sidewalks and pedways is perhaps their most interesting feature to Mayor Darwin Hindman, who has long been a champion of projects that make Columbia safer and friendlier for those who walk or ride bikes.
As proposed, the standards call for 4-foot sidewalks on both sides of most new residential streets. Along busier residential streets, known as feeders in the proposal, the standards call for 5-foot sidewalks on each side.
“We believe that you could reallocate resources, that you could slightly narrow some of these streets and at the same time you could dramatically improve these facilities,” said Chip Cooper, a member of the Street Standards Planning Group and president of the PedNet Coalition.
Hindman said he’s interested in seeing 5-foot sidewalks on both sides of all residential streets. It’s a matter of practicality, he said.
“We need to make them more inviting and useful to all people,” Hindman said. “Four feet is simply not enough.”
“It takes 5 feet for wheelchairs to use them and turn around,” he said. “It also takes 5 feet for people to walk comfortably side by side.”
Cooper said he and PedNet agree with Hindman. There is a social component to walking that 5-foot sidewalks would accommodate, he said, explaining that people like to enjoy one another’s company while they walk and that doing so is difficult if they have to walk in single file.
Stamper, however, noted that wider sidewalks would significantly increase the costs, as well. Every additional foot of concrete width would cost an extra $3 per linear foot.
The Planning and Zoning Commission is recommending that the city and developers share the cost of constructing pedways and that the city accept responsibility for maintaining them.
The PedNet Coalition, along with the Disabilities Commission and the Bicycle and Pedestrian Commission wanted to “create a far more functional transportation system, not just streets for cars,” Cooper said, and with this package they think they have accomplished that. He would like to see Columbia get away from the assumption that cars are needed to get anywhere as city planners build a better community.
Complaints to police about traffic were a primary factor in the planning group’s decision to recommend narrower streets.
Cooper said the complaints reflect a public opinion “that traffic speeds are way too high in neighborhoods, and they put everybody at risk, particularly kids outside playing.”
Traffic Officer Lyn Woolford, however, said street design doesn’t always correlate with speed. He compared Chapel Hill Road, which is generally wide, flat and straight, to Rock Quarry Road, which is narrow, hilly and curvy. He said the police department receives frequent complaints about people speeding on both those streets.
“It may be because of the particular users,” Woolford said. “… (They) may be more of an issue than the way the road is designed.”
City civil engineer Diane Reinhardt, however, said travel speed is about a comfort level and said a change in design might help.
“People drive as fast as they are comfortable,” Reinhardt said. Narrowing roads should help because people don’t feel as comfortable on narrow roads, she said. And she added that encouraging people to park along residential streets might have the same sort of calming effect.
Cooper cited Fairview Road, a neighborhood-collector street, as an example. Built 38 feet wide under the existing standards, the street’s extra width was intended to accommodate parking. Most houses along the street were built with garages and driveways, though. Because the street is seldom used for parking, it essentially has travel lanes that are 19 feet wide and make the road seem to drivers like an expressway. The travel lanes on Interstate 70, by comparison, are only 12 feet wide, Cooper said.
The new standards suggest neighborhood collectors be at least 4 feet narrower.
“Streets like that are way too wide, way too wide,” Cooper said. “You can narrow those streets slightly and still have room for travel lanes and bike lanes.”