Park the car. Take a bike.
That’s one of the messages coming out of a well-funded planning project known as Walk Bike Columbia.
The plan calls for walk-bike-bus access to destinations throughout the Columbia area, and ultimately, a new transportation mindset for the Midlands.
The Central Midlands Council of Governments has partnered with the city to develop a Pedestrian and Bicycle Master Plan and Bike Share Plan.
Biking just makes sense, according to Brian Culler of Columbia’s Outspokin’ Bicycles, a proponent of the plan.
“Why should people back up in long car lines at Chick-fil-A when there’s only one person standing in line at the counter?” Culler says.
The project is hosting four different public input sessions this week in which anyone can point out a problem affecting walkers or bikers along streets and intersections.
The hearings were set for Tuesday at the Eau Claire Print Shop; Wednesday 11:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. at Capstone; and Wednesday 5:30-7:30 p.m. at the Martin Luther King Community Center. The last of the four meetings is scheduled for 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Thursday at the Woodland Park Community Center, 6500 Olde Knight Parkway.
A Walk Bike Columbia website, walkbikecolumbia.org, also invites people to take a survey that will help planners decide what is needed.
The project is well funded, with $200,000 in federal funds and $50,000 from the City of Columbia.
Lucinda Statler, project director for the city, says there are a number of different approaches in the works and describes the effort as “multilayered.”
The grand plan calls for a project list of improvements to the infrastructure to better serve walkers and bikers.
A lot of data will be collected, and focus groups will be formed to consider new transportation connections, Statler says. An overriding concern will be safety. One of the problems with biking is “a lack of awareness” some have when they encounter bikers.
While it would be costly to start adding bike lanes, Statler says such additions could be implemented as part of any new road renovation, paving or extension project as a policy arrangement with transportation agencies.
One of the new concepts now popular in other states is a bike sharing plan that allows bikers to use communal bikes at various stations throughout a city. A rider can hop on a bike at one station and ride to another station in another part of the city, where it is re-docked. Most programs allow riders to purchase annual or one-day passes to ride an unlimited number of times.
The completion of the plan will set the stage for the City of Columbia achieving a higher national designation as a Bicycle Friendly Community and becoming the first nationally designated Walk Friendly Community.
John Fellows, planning administrator for the city, acknowledges that Columbia is not known as a biker’s paradise. In fact, it ranks 4th in the nation in bicycle deaths. But Fellows says a community biking mindset is not far away. In Charleston bicyclists are everywhere, and around the Rock Hill-Charlotte area they zip around towns on a regular basis.
If Columbia is successful in making it easier for bikers and walkers to get around, people will walk and bike more, Fellows predicts.
“As soon as you put in the infrastructure, they will come,” he says. “If sidewalks keep going farther, there will be more walkers.”
Some progress has already been made.
Improvements have been made at the Three Rivers Greenway and the Vista Greenway. Visitors can now find corrals to park their bikes.
New programs include a Bike and Walk to School Day, and a “Handlebar Happy Hour” monthly social gathering sponsored by the city’s Bicycle Pedestrian Advisory Committee (BPAC).
The University of South Carolina is already known for its bike-friendly environment. In 2012 it became the first Bicycle Friendly University in the state and one of only a few dozen around the country.
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