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Pedestrian safety takes new steps with grant

Plans await approval from MoDOT.
Friday, May 26, 2006 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 3:54 p.m. CDT, Saturday, July 12, 2008

Only four people showed up Thursday afternoon for a public hearing on projects intended to improve bicycle lanes and to make major intersections more friendly to bicyclists and pedestrians.

In the end, it took very little discussion and fewer than 15 minutes for a group of city, county and state road planners to recommend the projects be added to the larger transportation improvement program for this year.

Dale Brigham, an MU nutrition and fitness specialist, attended the hearing but chose not to speak.

“What am I going to say, ‘Way to go?’” Brigham asked. The projects represent the first batch of spending from a $22 million federal grant the city received.

When asked what he thought of the projects, Brigham said, “It’s hard to say. It’s great to live in Columbia. We get to be part of a great experiment, and we hope it’s very successful. I want to see more healthy Missourians, and walking and bicycling could be a big part of that.” Now that the projects have gained the favor of the Columbia Area Transportation Study Organization, they will go to the Missouri Department of Transportation for final approval, said Timothy Teddy, city Planning and Development Director.

The bulk of the recommendations call for spending $2.4 million on 12 major intersections. Nine of the intersections were identified as unsafe by the Bicycle and Pedestrian Commission in an April 2005 report. The intersections of Scott Boulevard and Gillespie Bridge Road, and Stadium and Forum boulevards, were identified as the two intersections that received the most complaints.

At the time of the report , however, the city was unable to fund improvements to the intersections. Frederick Schmidt, policy coordinator for the PedNet Coalition and a member of the city’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Commission, said the desire to fix those crossings was complicated by the fact that the intersections involve state highways.

“You’ve got to get MoDOT and the city and sometimes the county to ... agree on what’s going to get done,” Schmidt said after the hearing. “MoDOT actually feels that they have a responsibility to the motorist, and it’s taken some time for them to appreciate that everyone who uses the road — that’s our view — that everyone who uses the road has a right to a good level of facilities and service.”

Schmidt also said there is pressure to use the federal grant to pay for projects that he feels should be financed with regular tax revenue.

“If we just take this $25 million and (throw) it away building stuff that had to get built anyway, that’s just going to be a waste. This is to build extra stuff. (But) I think that this is legitimate because these were projects that weren’t otherwise funded,” he said.

Other projects added to the transportation improvement program include signs and striping for bicycle lanes.

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