Brent Thompson 2013

    A common mistake municipalities make in transportation planning is to focus only on the movement of and parking of cars. This is a mistake because the most vital and economically successful communities also focus on bicycles and pedestrians.  It is people out of their cars who shop, stroll, linger, sit on benches, and enter restaurants.  People in cars don’t buy much except gas and “fast food”.

    Plus, people passing through towns don’t tend to stop if a town looks uninteresting and uninviting to walk around in.  Thus, community leaders who ignore or downplay pedestrian and bicycle amenities do so at an economic cost to their communities. 

    But for a community to develop pedestrian and bicycle amenities it first must develop a pedestrian and bicycle transportation plan. This plan needs to include pathways, sidewalks, short cuts, ramps, stairways, and small parks leading to and from places people want to go.  A valuable source of ideas are children.  Kids travel around on foot, and by bicycle, scooter, and skateboard.  They know where routes and improvements need to be that will be convenient for both kids and adults.  Their thoughts and ideas should be heeded.

    A transportation system plan must include safe routes to schools so parents won’t worry about their kids’ safety and will thereby feel less need to drive them.  Routes to schools are best when they are off busy streets.  This means that when cities have what is called poor “connectivity” on back streets, planning commissions and city councils must hold public hearings to decide where new routes are to go to connect streets and where sidewalks should be. 

    Often in the formulation of a transportation plan it is necessary to consider easements for pathways for better “connectivity.”  The public hearing process to determine the location of easements is guaranteed to bring out strong emotions, but it is an essential process if a city is to develop a varied transportation system. 

    These new routes or improvements may not be built for decades, but at some point any city that wants to reduce vehicle trips and make transportation easier for people out of their cars has to commit to the preferred routes and improvements.  As part of a comprehensive plan revision, the routes will be shown on the city transportation map where they will remain until development or redevelopment occurs or until money becomes available to purchase easements so the routes can be built.

    The Safe Routes to Schools program initiated under the Clinton Administration was an opportunity for communities to move ahead with alternative forms of transportation, but local leaders needed to push to get the work done.  If elected officials or staff members failed to formulate a transportation plan and failed to apply for the funds, that opportunity which was available for almost a decade was lost.

   Public transportation for small communities is often not feasible because neither population density nor the revenue needed to support such a system are adequate. 

       Thus, city leaders should focus on what is possible.  That first step is to map existing non automobile routes.  Then leaders need to formulate and “map” where future bicycle and pedestrian routes and improvements ought to be.  Once the mapping is completed, the city will be ready to apply for grant money when it might again be available.  And the city will be able to include these routes and sidewalk improvements as a condition of approval in future planning actions.  Defaulting on formulating a pedestrian and bicycle plan should not be an option.