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City plans to improve intersections for walkers, bikers

Planners envision a network that encourages people to leave cars at home.
Sunday, February 4, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 12:18 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Some of the busiest intersections in Columbia are in line for makeovers as part of an emerging trail network designed to get more people out of their cars and onto their feet.

The city plans to hire HDR Inc., an architectural, engineering and consulting firm, to redesign intersections in Columbia for $205,000. The intersection work would cost $2.6 million and falls under the $22 million PedNet Project, funded by the federal government as part of the Nonmotorized Transportation Pilot Program that’s trying to reduce motorized transportation by getting more people to walk and bicycle.

Chip Cooper, president of PedNet Coalition Inc., a nonprofit organization formed in 2000, said its mission is to create a network in Columbia for nonmotorists to use.

“We don’t have a network in place that’s obvious to people who get around by means other than cars,” Cooper said. “Intersections are barriers and breaks in the network, which degrades the concept of a network. If an intersection is inappropriately designed, or hostile to pedestrians and cyclists, it discourages them from getting around in other ways.”

Dan Burden, an urban planner who is working on the design, said he agrees that intersections are critical parts of a trail system.

“They provide for a continuous journey,” Burden said. “No trail would be ridden or useful without any useful intersections.”

Burden knows this after working with the University of North Carolina Highway Safety Research Center in the mid-1990s on an analysis of 40 intersections in three different counties in Florida, as well as looking at advanced techniques in Europe. Their results led to guidelines for better, safer intersections.

“We no longer see intersections as a way to move a greater number of cars and pedestrians as an afterthought,” Burden said. “The more we improve intersections for pedestrians, the more motorists benefit with safer and more efficient conditions.”

The intersections at Forum and Stadium boulevards, Providence Road and Stadium Boulevard, and Providence and Stewart roads can be redesigned without much study. Some of the changes include redesigning traffic islands to reduce vehicle speeds and make intersections safer for pedestrians, installing countdown signals, re-striping bike lanes and crosswalks and, in some cases, creating median islands. Construction on these three intersections is slated for later this summer.

The remaining five intersections at Providence and Green Meadows roads, Providence and Business Loop 70, Garth Avenue and Business Loop 70, College Avenue and Rogers Street, and Providence and Rollins roads need more extensive work beyond the above changes. Construction on those intersections isn’t expected to begin until next year.

For instance, the intersections at Providence and Rollins roads and College Avenue and Rogers Street need some major design and concept work. Ted Curtis, senior planner for the PedNet Project, describes the intersections as complicated to get around, especially for pedestrians, and as having a street alignment problem.

These changes are a small part of the overall plan to better connect Columbia and improve accessibility for nonmotorized travel.

“We want to try and build confidence and awareness for people that they can get on a network and get from A to Z and to build confidence that it (the network) was built with the people in mind and that there’s a safe and pleasant environment to get around in.” Cooper said.

Behavioral change is at the core of the PedNet Project, Curtis said. Part of the money for the PedNet Project is dedicated to promoting the new changes as well as to educate people about them. The proposed infrastructure changes and additions complement the awareness programming and provide safer facilities and access for travelers.

Changes in people’s behavior will be slow in the beginning, but as more people get used to the idea, Columbia will see a rise in users, Curtis said.

“It will take four to five years to build most of it, and we’ll see incremental changes over the next ten years,” Curtis said.

Curtis is expecting to receive approval to hire the design team as soon as this week.

“Dealing with federal money is a paperwork process,” he said. “This will get us out of the paper world and into the real world.”

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