Saturday, June 18, 2011

Livable Streets: Mid-Missouri Swing

I went into the Livable Streets presentation to the economic developers somewhat concerned. I was prepared mind you. I had my presentation down. I was  ready to lay on them the research I found stating that when communities build streets that consider the needs of all users property values increase, retail sales rise and tourism follows. My concern was that I would get pounced on during the Q&A. Would these folks at their annual meeting at the Lake of the Ozarks complain that forcing developers to build sidewalks would drive new jobs away? If that came my way I was ready to take a deep breath and explain that besides jobs quality development includes a sustained quality of life. Walkable, bikable and accessible communities are part of that mix.

But those questions didn't come.

One woman - reacting to a picture I showed of a golf cart on a small town street - asked if the Missouri Department of Transportation shouldn't reconsider their position of not allowing carts on their roads. Not exactly the rigorous debate I expected.

After my presentation most of the 150 or so economic developers ran out to lunch or to send a few texts. Several remained however eager to talk to me about the opportunities they saw in their communities for rail-to-trail conversions and how to build a local constituency around active transportation. When I had earlier asked for a show of hands a minority said they saw livable streets as a local asset that needs to be included in how they market their places when attracting businesses and retaining investors and residents. My goal was to convert their thinking on that and leave with a roomful of converts. When you next see your local economic developer ask him or her whether they are supportive of livable streets.

I spent the second half of Thursday meeting with allies in Jefferson City and Sedalia. Missouri Livable Streets in partnership with Columbia's PedNet Coalition will offer Livable Streets Advocacy Trainings in these two communities later this summer. In both cases there are already local groups meeting and addressing the issue of how to make neighborhoods and commercial corridors more supportive of bicycling, walking and accessible for those who rely on sidewalks, curb cuts and transit access to get around town.

Communities are ready for livable streets. Missourians hate traffic. By and large we don't think of ourselves as an urban place where we grind around in traffic. (Urban Missourians have different challenges. More on that next week.) I am pleased to report there are bike-ped advocates, public health leaders, downtown directors, elected officials and citizens who are working in smaller towns like Sedalia, Chillicothe, Vinita Park, Albany and a bunch of other places. They are creating healthier built environments for those who can't drive or who choose not to drive.

Here's some images from my visit to Sedalia taken after I met Thursday evening with the Citizens Committee on Smart Growth. That committee is the likely host for a July Livable Streets training in their city.

Pedestrians must find Downtown Sedalia very walkable...

...but faded crosswalks with no curb cuts greet students on their walk to a Sedalia primary school.

Do you see the sidewalk in front of your house as an amenity?

Walking to the bar is always a better choice than driving.

Great new crosswalks and curb cuts along Sedalia's Ohio Street are welcoming.
Looking south down Sedalia's Ohio Street remains one of my favorite scenes in Missouri.

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