City begins planning for seven miles of new sidewalks

Saturday, August 25, 2007 | 4:38 p.m. CDT; updated 3:08 a.m. CDT, Sunday, July 20, 2008

COLUMBIA — Pedestrians in the city will get seven more miles of sidewalks in 20 different areas around Columbia over the next three years, but first it will cost more than $600,000 just to design them.

The City Council earlier this month voted to pay URS Corporation of St. Louis $616,000 to do advance engineering work on the sidewalk projects. Money for the engineering, and the eventual construction, will come from the $21.5 million federal grant the city received for alternative transportation projects. That money must be spent by 2010.

The City Council on Aug. 6 authorized a contract with URS.

“I believe we should have sidewalks on as many streets as possible because people need a choice on how to get around,” Mayor Darwin Hindman said.

The engineering cost is high, Public Works Department spokeswoman Jill Stedem said, because URS must determine the most viable location for the sidewalks. Ted Curtis, manager for the Bike/Ped Program, said the expense is no surprise.

“Sidewalks are very complicated to design because you are dealing with peoples’ front yards,” Curtis said, noting that sidewalk designs can be more expensive than those for trails. Designing sidewalks around utility poles and rights of way also add to the costs.

URS will strive for designs that minimize utility relocations, accommodate expansions of rights of way into adjoining streets, create connectivity and meet ADA requirements. Surveyors will have to record the locations of trees, major signs, intersections, signals, driveways and property lines, Curtis said.

For example, Stedem said, “We are looking at the network as a whole to get from the north end of town to the south end.”

The new sidewalk segments will “link areas that don’t have sidewalks with areas that do have sidewalks,” Hindman said.

Curtis said URS will do feasibility studies to determine the cost and benefits of some of the more ambitious projects, including an overpass for pedestrians at Ashland Road over Stadium Boulevard, a pedestrian trail along Oakland Gravel Road extending north from Vandiver Drive to Albert Oakland Park, and a sidewalk along Conley Avenue and Broadway extending east over U.S. 63 to Keene Street. The studies should be complete by the end of the year, Curtis said.

Columbia residents who live or work in the area east of Keene Street had mixed reactions to the prospect of a sidewalk connecting them to Conley Avenue.

“This seems like such a car town, I wonder if people would even use them,” said Carolin Psara, an employee at Columbia Regional Hospital.

Deborah Finley, however, supports the idea. She works at Primaris, a healthcare consulting firm on Keene Street and decided to buy her home in the Berrywood area so that she can walk to work.

“I think as society is growing older, I think people are looking for communities more self contained,” Finley said.

The Keene area is home to many graduate and medical students, and a sidewalk would give them an easier avenue into the more central part of the city, said Mike Drake, a area resident.

“I would love it because I go jogging. I go down by the Stephens Lake, and I need to cross over Broadway. I always worry someone is going to hit me,” Drake said.

Hindman said the city’s annual budget for sidewalks is steadily increasing. Still, he said, using the federal grant money “is a huge step forward that advances many years over what we would be able to do with the annual budget.”

Hindman said that during the World War II time period there was an increase in the use of cars, and the city failed to make sidewalks a priority. Now the city is “catching up on mistakes made in the past.” All new subdivisions require sidewalks. Hindman also said that people need exercise, and “One of the best ways to get exercise is to walk in our daily neighborhoods.”

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