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City moves forward with transportation options

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For years, a lot of cities have focused on accommodating motor vehicles. But with driver numbers flattening nationally, Columbus wants to ensure it provides transportation options for all city residents — not just motorists, said Laurence Brown, director of the Columbus Area Metropolitan Planning Organization.

Results of a local survey indicate a high level of support for transportation initiatives that benefit bicyclists and pedestrians.

Nearly 90 percent of respondents to an online survey said they would like to see more bike lanes and sidewalks in Columbus.

More than 90 percent of the roughly 300 respondents said that good roads and bike lanes would add value to the community.

The survey, which has been completed, will help city officials as they gauge the public’s interest in changing local traffic to include more bus routes and bicycle and pedestrian lanes. The changes being considered are to increase the local transportation infrastructure’s efficiency and to improve public health and safety.

City Engineer Dave Hayward said that as the city plans its roads of the future, it should keep in mind that commuting preferences are changing. The city has responded to some of those changes by adding bike lanes in some areas, such as near Columbus Regional Hospital and along Gladstone Avenue.

Some of those changes improve safety not only for pedestrians and cyclists but also for motorists.

When the city installed bike lanes on Gladstone Avenue between 10th and 17th streets and narrowed the car lanes from 20 feet to about 14 feet, motorists slowed by an average of 5 mph, Hayward said. The posted speed limit on that stretch is 30 mph, but surveys showed people were driving at 32 to 47 mph. Since installation of the bike lanes, drivers have slowed to about 30 to 32 mph., Hayward said.

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, the chance of a pedestrian dying from being struck by a vehicle increases the faster a vehicle is traveling.

Pedestrians struck by vehicles traveling at 20 mph have a 95 percent chance of surviving.

Those struck at 40 mph have a 20 percent survival chance.

Pedestrians struck at speeds of more than 50 mph have virtually no chance.

Columbus residents Sam Geckler and Jason Tracy said they appreciate the city’s efforts but believe more steps are needed to make the city’s bike and walking paths safer.

Tracy, who bikes to work near the Woodside Industrial Park, said cyclists have few dedicated options to travel from the city’s west side to its east side or from the city to Woodside.

City officials said they want to improve the transportation experience for all participants. Some ideas being considered:

Bus riders could see additional routes, including at Westhill Shopping Center and even Woodside Industrial Park. Traffic islands could make it easier for pedestrians to cross busy roads.

In late January the city awarded a $45,000 contract to Parsons Brinckerhoff Inc., a New York company with Indianapolis offices, to study the local transit system. The city awarded $72,212 to Rundell Ernstberger Associates LLC, which has offices in Muncie and Louisville, Ky., to provide input on the local bike and pedestrian infrastructure. The studies are expected to be available this summer.

Brown, who rides a bike for exercise, and Hayward said that careful planning could benefit all traffic participants, in safety, health and travel times.

Once people start taking short trips by bike, such as one or two miles, Hayward said they typically realize that they can handle an extra mile or two without any problem.

However, he said, some barriers to even short trips remain. Getting from Tipton Lakes to Westhill Shopping Center, for example, requires crossing State Road 46, a busy highway with fast-moving vehicles.

Cities such as Indianapolis and Bloomington already have taken some of those steps, as have Portland, Ore., and Seattle, which are trendy places for young professionals and retirees, Hayward said.

AARP has pushed cities, including Indianapolis, to adopt laws that require planners to take a holistic approach to transportation infrastructure.

Hayward and Brown also said that while they want to implement changes to encourage more people to ride their bikes and walk, they do not want to impede motorists by reducing the number of lanes on major traffic arteries.

But, they said, more people riding bikes and walking, especially in congested areas, also would reduce the number of cars and trucks on the roads.

That’s a goal with which most survey respondents agree: More than 80 percent said they would like to increase the number of trips they make by bike, while about three in four said they would like to reduce the number of trips they make by car.

NEXT SUNDAY: The series concludes with a look at Columbus’ plans to start construction of a new section of the People Trail that skirts downtown Columbus.

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