Columbus is embracing a new approach to creating safe, effective modes of transportation.
The concept known as complete streets is intended to make it easy to cross a roadway, walk to shops or bicycle to work, according to the National Complete Streets Coalition.
“This way of thinking acknowledges our streets must serve everyone, including bicyclists, pedestrians, the
physically challenged and transit riders,” said Laurence Brown, director of the Columbus Area Metropolitan Planning Organization. “Columbus has a complete-streets policy. Administratively, we’re taking it to heart.”
To that end, CAMPO is expected to form the Columbus Transportation Safety Committee early this spring. The team will meet every other month to concern themselves with the vulnerable users of streets such as bicyclists, pedestrians and transit users.
Besides Brown, key players on the committee will include city-county planner Rae-Leigh Stark, Reach Healthy Communities member Laura Garrett and Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp.’s health services director, Kelli Thompson. Brown said they’re involved because they have been integral people in transportation-related initiatives. Columbus Police Chief Jason Maddix will serve as the team chairman because he leads the city’s enforcement efforts.
City engineers historically have offered only structural solutions to the problems that will be examined by the city’s safety team, Brown said.
“But it really takes a full community that encourages slower speeds,” Brown said. “The best solution is a broad effort.”
Eye on safety
CAMPO is recruiting a broad spectrum of community members to work to find ways to safely move Columbus residents who use multiple modes of transportation, Brown said.
“We want family and children to move around town,” Brown said. “We want more teens using more public transit and bicycles. That, in itself, reduces a lot of car trips and that increases safety.”
While Brown considers the city’s People Trails a great asset, he points out that Columbus also has a number of high-traffic highways that are difficult for walkers and bicyclists to cross.
“The drivers go faster than 30 miles per hour on those highways, and we’re going to figure out how to get those speeds down,” Brown said. “We don’t want to discourage volume, but we want to make sure pedestrians and bicyclists can cross them safely.”
Speed reduction is also on the radar of the Columbus Police Department.
Maddix said a speed limit is established at a certain level so that it gives the normal driver adequate time to react.
“If you are going 15 to 20 miles per hour over the speed limit, your reaction time is cut down tremendously,” Maddix said. “If you are going too fast and the traffic light is turning yellow, you probably won’t be able to get stopped in time.”
That can be especially dangerous on wet or slick streets, Maddix added.
City bypass in the future?
One possibility the safety team may examine is the feasibility of establishing a new bypass. Brown said that while National Road was established for that purpose, the city’s growth over the past several decades has transformed National Road into a central thoroughfare.
While no location for a new bypass is being discussed at this early stage, Brown said it should be located far enough from the city limits so it isn’t swallowed up by urban growth.
“Many other cities like Bloomington have bypasses to keep high traffic highways from going through town,” Brown said. “Even North Vernon is creating one.”
Bloomington and North Vernon won’t be the only cities the safety team is expected to examine. Brown said the group will look at communities worldwide that have successfully reduced crash-related injuries.
One is Portland, Ore., which Brown said has enjoyed a 16 percent reduction in crashes of all types over a 20-year period while experiencing a fivefold increase in bicycle riders during the same period.
Based on the number of accidents last year, Maddix said a 16 percent reduction in crashes would amount to almost 400 fewer accidents annually in Columbus.
Brown said that while there is no definitive cause-and-effect study, he points to a poll that shows as many as 51 percent of residents in key Portland neighborhoods ride their bicycles at least once a week. He believes that has created a high level of attentiveness to both bicyclists and pedestrians.
“They empathize and tend to drive slower, and that lowers the risk,” Brown said.
He added that a local survey of 330 residents indicates an “extreme interest in improving the bike and pedestrian complex around Columbus.”
Nearly 90 percent of respondents to the online survey said they would like to see more bike lanes and sidewalks in Columbus. The non-scientific surveys also were taken during a public workshop at the Commons, Brown said.
Residents in communities that don’t share that type of interest tend to view injured bikers and walkers as “collateral damage” from vehicular accidents, Brown said. He said he’s hopeful that by citing positive examples set in other cities, it may help to create safer travel habits in Columbus.
Brown anticipates the first meeting of the Columbus Transportation Safety Committee will take place in April.
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