Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Can a sidewalk grow from a garden? Ashland shows us how

By Sarah Canavese

Take a look outside. What do you see? Roadways? How about sidewalks? Chances are, you might not see very many sidewalks, and if you do, you are probably in the lucky minority.

Where I grew up there weren’t many sidewalks, and the ones that were there, weren’t always kept up to code. Ashland, Mo., can’t boast many sidewalks right now, but its citizens are looking to change this trend. Missouri Livable Streets is working with community leaders in Ashland as they consider new ways to incorporate sidewalks and bicycle lanes into existing streets and roads.  

Southern Boone Learning Garden
Jennifer Grabner, director of the Southern Boone Learning Garden in Ashland, works with the Ashland school district and provides programs for students during the school day and afterschool. All programs are garden-based and cover topics in health, nutrition, agriculture and the environment. You might not expect a garden to grow into a sidewalk, but that is exactly what’s happening.

In the winter of 2012, Grabner’s Learning Garden was awarded a five-year grant from the Missouri Foundation for Health. The grant focuses on gardening programs and on forming healthy community partnerships.

“We modeled our partnership on Columbia’s Healthy Community Partnership,” said Grabner. As part of that model, Grabner focused on including “things such as a walking school bus and looking into working with the city and county livable streets.”

While the connection between gardens and sidewalks may not be readily apparent, Grabner has known for a while there is a problem with Ashland’s streets and sidewalks. “There are numerous places all over town where they will have a sidewalk part of the way, and it just ends abruptly. I have noticed that for a very long time,” she shared. “Ashland city park is right in the middle of town, but there are absolutely no sidewalks or trails that will lead you to the park. When you see folks who bike or jog, or folks who are mobility impaired, it is really tough to get around, even though it is such a small town. [Ashland is] growing rapidly and its population has more than doubled over the last ten years.”

Grabner cites one area of concern near the schools. “For example, on Main Street which is a main road that goes north/south through Ashland, [it] connects the primary and elementary school buildings on the south end of town to the middle and high school buildings on the north end, [and] there are no sidewalks at all. [There’s a] shoulder and ditches on both sides; lots of people both walk and bike daily on Main Street, but it is getting more and more dangerous to do that because of the amount of traffic.”

One solution to the problem lies with a livable streets strategy: the Walking School Bus program. A walking school bus is just as it sounds. Youth and adults walk to school together in the morning and afternoon. In Ashland, the walking school bus helped educate children on safe walking practices, as well as adults on a safe way to walk their kids to school.

Grabner reports that this program generated a lot of awareness in Ashland and this summer a Walking School Bus of Girl Scouts walked from the primary school down to the park, and these same issues came up. Grabner said, “Once you get off of Broadway, there are no sidewalks for them. So that was about sixty girls and their families aware first hand of those kind[s] of issues.”

While raising awareness of the challenges, Grabner’s also been able to provide solutions that people want to bring back. “It’s been interesting,” she continues. “The more people I talk with about this, folks in their sixties, seventies and eighties, every single one remembers that when they were kids, there were sidewalks. People were walking around all the time, kids were riding bikes, and it did contribute greatly to knowing your neighbors, knowing your community, knowing that you were safe and comfortable in your community. Every single one of them saw that as a good thing. And they see that as something worth trying to bring back.”

To learn more, or to see how your town can get started with active design, visit Missouri Livable Streets.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Tourism up ahead!

A discussion with Chillicothe’s city administrator about Livable Streets

By Sarah Canavese
City of Chillicothe logo
Courtesy: City of Chillicothe
Imagine walking down the sidewalks of a charming downtown area in Missouri. Around you are the brightly colored awnings of a locally owned businesses, and just up ahead, there’s a group of teenagers going into the ice cream shop. It’s summer, and hot, and now that you think of it, all this walking is making you hungry, too. You should go into the ice cream shop as well, but on your way there, you see a shoe store. It’s August, time for back to school, and your kids could use a new pair.

Can you imagine this scene unfolding? Ike Holland, Chillicothe city administrator can and he is working on creating the perfect place for tourism to bloom. One key to achieving his goal of vibrant tourism is through the Missouri Livable Streets project.

Holland spent eight years working in Colorado, giving him first-hand experience with how a town that thrives on tourism should look. “When I came to Missouri and I saw this Livable Streets program, I was glad because people don’t see the quality of life benefits or the economic benefits, unless they have experienced it. So it was a very easy sell, [it] wasn’t much of a sell for me,” Holland explains.

For Chillicothe, though, before Holland can share the benefits of creating livable streets, he has to generate the interest among residents and stakeholders.

“I know it works,” Holland said of building tourism through livable streets. “You have to take it in stride and understand that we are doing this in stages. I am confident and when it’s complete, each stage gains momentum because people start to understand what is going on. In Colorado, you are so dependent on tourism and we used to say, ‘We will get others to pay for our projects.’ So the tourists, they pay for the highways, the hot springs, the ski resorts. [Communities] don’t realize the people who live there don’t pay for it, it’s the tourism [that does].”

Part of the hesitance communities may experience when considering policies encouraging livable streets often is due to these concerns about cost. “For the street planning that was done 20 or 30 years ago,” said Holland, “the norm was to do away with the sidewalks and reduce cost as much as possible. Crosswalks were minimized to save money. Now we are having to go back and basically redo a lot of these main roads. It’s a shame that sidewalks went out of style.”

Continues Holland, “The funding for streets is provided by the sales tax here in the community and it hasn’t increased over the years, but the cost of materials and labor has. So every year, I get less for my dollar but still have to maintain the streets. It’s a tough choice for communities to make, but the community is behind the projects. We built a new hospital and we are going to include sidewalks as part of the project. We are also implementing some really nice streetlights to go along the sidewalks.”

It should come as no surprise then that any hesitance around passing a policy doesn’t stop Holland from feeling the excitement this project has brought on. “In the bigger scheme of things, yes it [may] cost money. But the bang for the buck is big.”

Holland emphasizes that making the changes now will benefit the community in the long-term. “In about ten to 15 years, 25 percent of the population is going to be over 65 [years old]. One of the things people over 65 like to do is walk. If you have a small or large town that encourages walking, and you can do it in a safe way, you will do it. That’s step one. The second step is tourism. All those things combined are reasons why we are looking at making Chillicothe a very livable community.”

To learn more visit Missouri Livable Streets.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Training for the Future

Courtesy: MoBroadBandNow.com

By Sarah Canavese

“Regional Training." To some, regional training might sound like a way to get out of the office and learn a new technique for their job. To others the terms conjure up meetings, where attendance is required and attendees watch hours of PowerPoint slides.

To David Cheek, transportation planner at Mark Twain RegionalCouncil of Governments, regional training means the eight counties he works with get to experience for the first time training offered by PedNet through Missouri Livable Streets. “I was just excited and pleased to be able to reach out to the area that we serve and being able to offer the training such as it was, to come of our more rural police departments,” he said. “That was gratifying.”

Based in Perry, Mo., Mark Twain Regional Council of Government (MTRCOG) is one of seven communities and/or organizations Missouri Livable Streets is assisting in active design training and education. The Council is governed by an executive board, which has two representatives from each county that it represents.  Their primary purpose is to set policies for the operation of the Council and the development of the region.

All eight counties the MTRCOG serves, Audrain, Marion, Monroe, Macon, Ralls, Randolph, Pike and Shelby were invited to participate in the first training session and will be involved going forward.

One of the novel and critical training programs offered by Missouri Livable Streets in collaboration with PedNet is law enforcement training. While educating the public and motorists about Livable Streets or active design elements and laws is critical, another key element is training police and law enforcement professional on these elements and laws, too.

“When you live in a rural community with only one police officer, I mean, they still have a lot of stuff to do, and probably getting training on how to deal with bicyclists is not at the top of their list,” Cheek said. However, Cheek agreed that as enforcers of local laws and policies, officers are natural stakeholders in the process.

MTRCOG’s training for law enforcement professionals was held in June for a small team of officers from the area. Officers learned the rules and regulations bicyclists need to follow, and other laws that pertain to bicycling. Cheek explained that most of the officers were from rural towns, and the training was an opportunity to share information about laws and regulations with which they might be less familiar.

Cheek shared, “I think that is where the best value came from for the officers; they probably hadn’t had this type of training, and it was definitely beneficial that it was POST certified.”
(POST stands for Peace Officer Standards and Training and all sworn officers must maintain these peace officer licenses. According to the Missouri Department of Public Safety, all licensed peace officers and reserve officers must complete at least 48 hours continuing education to maintain their peace officer license.)

Interested in bringing a Missouri Livable Streets training to your community or group of law enforcement professionals? Learn how at: http://livablestreets.missouri.edu/attend/.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Bowling Green Plans for the Future

By Sarah Canavese

City of Bowling Green
Source: Bowling Green Chamber of Commerce

Recently I had a chance to sit down and talk with seven different communities that are partnering with Missouri Livable Streets. In talking with them, I learned why they needed livable streets, what benefits their community hoped to gain, and what other communities could learn from their journeys. In my first post, I share what I learned from Bowling Green, a small community in Pike County in northeastern Missouri. Please be sure to check the Missouri Livable Streets blog for future posts from the other communities, too.

Bowling Green

After I sat down with Dan Lang, the one thing that I took away from the interview was how his past experience as an urban planner has helped him realize how much Livable Streets would complement his community.

Prior to his present position as city administrator of Bowling Green, Lang worked as an urban planner, and back then, Bowling Green was one of his client communities. As part of his job, he did a comprehensive plan for Bowling Green and quickly saw the need for Livable Streets.

“There were a number of aspects related to livable communities or livable streets philosophy that came out of that planning exercise,” Lang said. “Bowling Green is a small, somewhat rural community. I have noticed since I have been here that there is a continuing and renewed interest in walking.”

Fast-forward a few years and when Lang became city administrator, he started to put those ideas, observations and plans into action. After joining the Missouri Livable Streets mailing list and hearing about the opportunity to partner with the project team in 2014, Lang quickly put forward the application for Bowling Green. The town was selected as one of seven communities to receive technical assistance and other information for considering or implementing Livable Streets policies.

Lang sees the assistance well timed to what is happening in his community. “I see a lot of people participating in walking: we have a very well used walking path in our city park… there’s a lot of interest here of people getting out and walking the community and bicycling to some extent.”

Among the challenges that Lang faces, he shared, “It’s difficult to get enough people in the community to know about it, to support an effort, and to move forward with the project. I think education is the key. And I think, too, in most communities, the impact of the cost associated with doing things within your community, whether that’s with streets, or construction of bicycle paths, there is always a funding side to that and can be an issue.”

Acknowledging the challenges, Lang’s commitment is still steady. “I want them to know that it is an achievable policy. If there is a way for us to incorporate [Livable Streets] into our design criteria, or for other communities to do the same thing, then it warrants taking a closer look.”

To learn more about Missouri Livable Streets and how to become involved with your own community, visit http://livablestreets.missouri.edu.