February 11, 2013

Bicycle lane plan rolls toward council

Vote to approve pilot program expected tonight

February 11, 2013 By D.E. Smoot Phoenix Staff Writer

— City councilors are expected to approve today a pilot program that would add designated bicycle lanes along two Muskogee streets.

Proponents said the lanes are needed to promote a shift toward healthier lifestyles. They also argue that designated bicycle paths could encourage alternate forms of transportation and provide better access to the city’s trails system.

The proposal, which was brought to the city by health and wellness advocates and approved by the citizens’ street advisory committee, was a tough sell last week. Concerns about safety and costs dominated much of the discussion during the council’s Public Works Committee meeting, where the plan eventually got past its first hurdle.

“There’s more to it than just putting some stripes down the street,” said Morris Baxter, the city’s traffic coordinator. “The manual shows there are a lot more criteria to be considered.”

Some of those considerations included the additional street signs that will have to be placed along the proposed bicycle lanes, rights of way issues between motorists and cyclists, turn lanes and parking. The cost of the pilot program is projected to range from $3,000 to $4,000.

Ward III Councilor Randy Howard, who ultimately voted with other councilors to support the pilot program, initially expressed some doubts about the idea.

“I’m not sure whether this is something we really need to do,” said Howard, who first raised questions about the cost. “How many bicycles do we have still going down the street?”

Doug Walton, the coordinator of the Muskogee County Turning Point Coalition’s food and fitness initiative, said he was confident that bicycle traffic will increase once the bicycle lanes are marked.

Walton said there may be opportunities to have bicycle paths even on streets too narrow for designated lanes.

The idea for the designated bicycle paths was brought up as the city’s comprehensive plan was being discussed and debated. Muskogee County Health Department officials hired a transportation planning consultant to study the idea.

Once the study was completed, Walton took the proposal to the citizens’ street advisory committee. Public Works Director Mike Stewart, who initially opposed the idea because of maintenance and safety concerns, said the committee overwhelmingly supported the pilot program.

If city councilors approve the measure, designated bicycle lanes would be established on Seventh Street between West Southside Boulevard and Terrace Place and on 12th Street between Okmulgee Avenue and Martin Luther King Street.

Andrew Herringshaw, who moved several years ago from Muskogee to go to school, said the city’s trail-building efforts were key to his recent decision to move back. His enthusiasm and the support from other residents locked in city councilors’ support for the program.

Councilors said the program could provide the impetus to get behind bicycle safety programs for children.

They also agreed that designated bicycle lanes on some city streets would provide another avenue to promote the city’s health and wellness initiatives.

“I think it will make me more cognizant (of bicyclists n the street) just by seeing those signs,” said Ward IV Councilor Kenny Payne, acknowledging his support for the pilot program.

“We’ve been working two years (supporting healthy lifestyles); it would be an absolute U-turn from the direction we’ve been heading if we turn this down.”

City councilors will consider the issue for final approval at their regular meeting, which is to start at 7 p.m.

Reach D.E. Smoot at (918) 684-2901 or dsmoot@muskogeephoenix.com.

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