Monday, February 26, 2007

Columbus State of the City Address

Mayor Michael Coleman gave his annual State of the City address on Friday night, and it was a bold, ambitious statement on where Columbus is and needs to go. He seemed to pull no punches and gave credit and criticism where it was due. (You can read the entire address here in a PDF File, so you need Adobe Acrobat).

I've pulled out a few statements from the address (and tried to include context for the statements as possible) to talk a bit about Columbus and the attitude toward bicycles as transportation.

First, it was fairly disappointing to read the mayor's statements about bicycles and the city's efforts to build bike trails. I quote:
We are also continuing to connect the entire county with fitness trails where people can walk, run and bike. We have made great progress here as our City has improved from fifth fattest city in the nation to 19th fittest city.

We must continue that momentum, and we will with 58 miles of biking and walking trails today -- we must expand up to 110 miles by 2012. I look forward to working with our new City Council member Priscilla Tyson on all our parks.
Sounds great, eh? The problem is this: the mayor is still equating bicycles with recreation. That's great news for people who only bicycle for fitness and fun, but what about people who use them as transportation, like us?

The attitude is all wrong. Yes, bike trails and fitness are very important. And yes, ANY bike trail is an improvement over no bike trails. But bicycles need to be considered in every dialogue and plan for road building in this city. Our main streets in this city are wide and can accomodate a lot of vehicles. There's no reason for us to have to fight over space - especially considering the following:
As we build neighborhoods and the economy for the future, we've got to keep Getting Green. Sustainability isn't just something to talk about, it is critical to our long-term success as a nation. There's a Get Green update available tonight, to show some of what we've been up to.

Two years ago, I launched the Get Green Columbus challenge. Since then we've had real successes -- attracting green businesses, reducing city vehicle emissions, and creating a preference for green vendors of the City. From building a new green neighborhood called Greenview Estates, to planting thousands of trees, and leading the Big Darby Accord process, Columbus is doing all it can to clean the air, clean our water, attract green jobs and build green homes and businesses, and to expanding recycling. And we have the biggest Green Rehab Project in the Midwest right here in Columbus -- our historic Lazarus Building.
What better way to improve our efforts to "Get Green" than to start getting rid of the high numbers of the most pollution-creating aspects of our society: automobiles! Creating a street environment that is bicycle friendly will encourage more people to bike on a regular basis, and not just on trails that really don't go anywhere! Putting bike lanes on roads like Broad Street, Main Street, High Street, Olentangy River Road, Morse Road, Dublin-Granville Road, Bethel Road, Henderson Road, etc. will go a very long way to giving Columbus a new outlook on bicycling.

To continue:
But still to this day, too many children must dodge cars in the street because no sidewalks exist, too many seniors must take their lives into their hands because curbs cannot separate cars from people, and too many areas have bad drainage. Although we have done much in this area, I strongly believe we should do more.

To this end, we will combine resources in our existing capital budget with new authority in the Bicentennial Bond Package totaling $50 million dollars in a new initiative of public investment called "Operation Safe-Walks."

We will build sidewalks and where necessary add curbs, gutters and in some cases even new roadways. Not every street is getting sidewalks through this program, but certain main roads where there's a clear need, especially on the way to school.
I'll take this one a step further as well - while working on these new sidewalks and such, why not use that time to create the bike lanes that would ALSO help relieve many of the problems the mayor brought up: children and the elderly dodging cars while trying to walk, etc. Cities like Davis, California; Chicago, Illinois; and even New York City have shown that bikes can be a part of the infrastructure and increase the safety of our streets.

The final comment I want to make is on the mayor's 2012 Commission: the organization he's creating to gather information and plan for the massive bond he's going to request as of the 2008 election to get all this stuff done. This commission is going to hold meetings all over town in the next 20 months to gather this information and listen to what we have to say:
Commission members and Columbus residents alike will be asked to think big -- not to ask what would be easy, not to ask what would be cheap, but to ask what would matter to them, to their neighbors, and to our future.
This could be the PERFECT time to get our desires laid out for bike lanes, increased facilities for cyclists at public buildings, etc. It's just a matter of getting organized.

I call upon all Columbus cyclists to get ideas together. And be proactive, not reactive: we're never going to get all cars off the road, or anything like that. But bike lanes, better public parking for bikes, etc. are all within the realm of possibilities for this 2012 Bicentennial effort.

Think about it this way: if you could have the perfect commute to work, how would it look to you? And post your ideas here, if that helps! Let's get some discussion going!

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