Planner wants you out for a stroll

Friday, August 25, 2017

Urban bike trail improvement goal: no headaches

By MARK NEWMAN
Courier staff writer

OTTUMWA — To go from one place in Ottumwa to the next shouldn’t always need the use of a motor vehicle. A city committee believes some outdoor improvements could allow residents to walk or bike nearly anywhere in town.

"We’ve been meeting to find areas where pedestrian bike paths could be created," said Jody Gates, who runs multiple city programs.

Along with other officials, she’s on the Ottumwa Bike and Pedestrian Commission, which is addressing a citywide lake of "connectivity," according to the project’s leader.

"We’re trying to connect the trails to the parks, the schools and the neighborh! oods," said Chris Kukla, the Area 15 transportation specialist. The idea would help resolve another concern: Walkers who can’t safely leave their neighborhood.

"There are gaps in the current sidewalk system," he said.

A street may have sidewalks for a hundred feet or more — which suddenly end. Some streets don’t have any sidewalks. To get to a bus stop, someone in need of transportation is walking either across sloping lawns or out in the street.

"We’d like to improve that," Kukla said.

The urban trails committee visited communities in central Iowa where one could leave home and walk directly to a park. Or leave one park and bike to another park.

The backbone of the long-term project here would be an 8-foot-wide trail all along North Court Street and into downtown.

That’s wide enough to legall! y allow bicycle traffic and walkers. The widened, paved "sidepaths" would only run along one side of a street.

The sidepath "backbone" would continue down Milner Street — chosen on the south side in part because Kukla believes Milner will face reconstruction in the next few years.

In fact, waiting until a road is already under construction for some other reason is a key part of the plan to avoid disrupting the city. Kukla envisions projects that tear up the street being announced ahead of time; as the road and sidewalks are put back together, it’s done with the new, wider-spec sidewalks.

"The committee would like to see this plan incorporated," explained Gates, "into the city’s long-term, comprehensive plan."

Kukla said he’d like project representatives to be! involved in a plan update annually.

He estimates many of Ottumwa’s sidewalks as being 4-feet wide. Some are less than that. To suddenly go to eight feet sounds like it could either narrow the roadway a bit, or encroach on residents’ property. It shouldn’t do either, said Kukla. In working with the path committee, the head of public works has estimated there is enough room to expand into the right of way.

"The additional space would be in the direction of the street, [over] where that strip of grass is between the sidewalk and the street now," said Kukla.

Funding would come, at least in part, from grants.

Kukla’s agency, Area 15 Regional Planning is experienced in finding funds for projects: On behalf of its member cities and counties, they write grant applications, then send the applications to the places with money. Those! requests can be tricky — and competitive. During the course of a year, Area 15 demonstrates millions of dollars of success locally.

"There are grants available," said Kukla, who has already identified potential sources like the government’s Transportation Department and, from the corporate sector, Wellmark. Councilman Matt Dalbey said this week he likes the urban trail idea: His research indicates that property values rise when there are paths and trailheads in the neighborhood.

Reporter Mark Newman can be contacted at mnewman@ ottumwacourier.com and followed on Twitter @couriermark.

Category: Parks and Recreation

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