Rae Leigh-Stark, senior planner with the city/county planning department, had it right recently when she said: “I think our city has shifted from not just wanting to bike for recreation but wanting to get from place to place.”
That change in attitude is not entirely unanticipated. Whereas city planners had once focused on biking and walking as recreational outlets that had the additional benefit of promoting healthy lifestyles, in recent years they have considered ways of integrating them into day-to-day community life.
In that respect, Columbus is far ahead of most other communities with infrastructures that have limited access to safe routes for pedestrians and bikers.
Columbus still has a long way to go in becoming a totally bike-friendly city, but some elements necessary to that already are in place and others are being considered for development.
The People Trails throughout the city have evolved beyond biking and walking paths into avenues that can take bikers to work or school. Residents can easily and safely bike to favorite restaurants or stores.
Even busy city thoroughfares have been adapted to accommodate bike paths, probably the most notable being 17th Street, where a road reconfiguration gave many downtown bikers easier access to shopping centers and restaurants through bike lanes incorporated into the roadway.
While these steps have made the city a model for a bike-friendly community, many obstacles remain to any kind of total makeover. Some city streets are definitely not bike-friendly and defy easy changes.
Nevertheless, progress is being made. A bicycle/pedestrian plan was adopted by city officials in 2010, but already portions of that plan are outdated because of the rapid growth in interest in the activities and potential developments that could increase access to public routes.
The public has been integrated into the planning process through such activities as the workshop this week at which residents got a chance to review progress on the implementation of that 2010 plan and to voice their opinions about that and future opportunities. City officials also commissioned a bike and pedestrian study by Rundell Ernstberger Associates, which has offices in Muncie and Louisville, Ky.
City engineers have floated the idea of putting some city streets on “road diets” by reducing the number of vehicle travel lanes, installing a center turn lane and including room for bike lanes.
Some of these steps — such as putting sections of 25th and Washington streets on the aforementioned “road diets” — are controversial and have drawn criticism from motorists and some of the residents in the affected areas.
However, the steps that are in place and those that are being investigated demonstrate that community leaders are thinking ahead to a time when bicycles and feet will also be considered means to get from place to place in Columbus.