By Bethany J. Royer
PIQUA — Bill Bryson wrote in his book, A Walk in the Woods, on the terror of traveling on foot down a brand new six lane road towards a shopping outlet to pick up a bottle of insect repellent.
Bryson’s aggravation, after coming off the Appalachian Trail to visit civilization for a day, centered on the lack of pedestrian facilities on the road. The traffic so bad that when all was said and done, he had been forced to cross for safety’s sake a creek bed, farm field, barbed wire, concrete barriers, lawns, and parking lots. Only for the store to have no repellent and having to repeat the process all over again so as to return to his motel empty-handed, disheveled and outraged.
Though this exchange between pedestrian and roadway was minor in the densely packed story of walking the A.T., it did provide a rather striking issue many face when it comes to a road or street. That more times than not limited space is available for a pedestrian whether on foot, bike, or other means of travel. The problem, as the United States’ infrastructure of highways, streets and roads grew in the 1950s and 60s, the predominant design was to accommodate drivers. Those who dared to travel otherwise were often faced with taking their well-being into their own hands. Or being creative such as the case for Mr. Bryson.
Though the 1970s found bicycle riders, walkers and those with disabilities taken into account under the term of routine accommodation with the development of new roadways. Meaning construction of streets and roads were to include pedestrians in other varied transportation modes beyond a vehicle. And the 1990s with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) furthering development to accommodate those who may not be traveling in a vehicle, too. It wasn’t until 2003 when things began to change for pedestrians. First with the term routine accommodation re-named to Complete Streets and a coalition formed by groups including the League of American Bicyclists, the American Planning Association (APA) and American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) with a plan. One that would see to the inclusion of all users so that no one was left at the curb - or worse - and many cities, including the city of Piqua, has taken up the cause.
As provided by Chris Schmeising, city planner, earlier this week for the Daily Call, Piqua was recently ranked no. 9 out of the top 15 communities for their 2013 Complete Streets policy by the National Complete Streets Coalition.
As to date there are 610 jurisdictions in the United States with Complete Streets policies, the concept to provide safe access for all users of a roadway regardless of ability, age or income. And for any projects related to transportation in a Complete Streets policy-adopted community to adhere to nearly a dozen ideal elements.
The city of Piqua adopted their Complete Streets policy Jan. 15, 2013, with a vision to provide a safe and accessible, well connected and visually attractive surface transportation network. The concept of balancing the needs of all users, including emergency responders and public transit providers along with cars, walkers and bicyclists, while also promoting a healthy, livable community. The policy also ties in with the city’s 2007 Comprehensive Plan that included Complete Streets, not so much by name but in goal seven years ago by seeking to develop and maintain a convenient, safe and efficient transportation system for all roadway users.
Also a year ago, the city of Piqua made further strides as a multi-pedestrian friendly community when commission members adopted a resolution or, “An indication of support” as referenced by Schmiesing, to authorize an application to the League of American Bicyclists Bike Friendly Community program. And in May 2013, during National Bike Month, the city held the first ever Bike to Work week. A friendly bit of competition between local businesses to help promote a healthy lifestyle, showcase the importance of physical activity, and environmental benefits.
Phase II of the multi-phase U.S. 36 Beautification Project will likewise see improvements to the infrastructure in relation to multiple methods of travel. As city leaders have discussed a separate pedestrian/bike facility (multi-use path) on the south side of the East Ash Street bridge moving east. Further incorporation for pedestrian access along the corridor, whether to reach the mall, restaurants or the schools on Looney Road.
A potential roundabout at the current four-way stop intersection of Looney and Garbry Road that sees some 5,800 vehicles every day is another multi-user friendly, roadway endeavor. The proposal showcases not only a notable aesthetic improvement to the area but allows for a host of traffic controls and safety measures thanks to its innovative design for all manners of travel whether on bicycle or in a car.
The city’s continued work on the Safe Routes to School (SRTS) program begun two years ago rounds out the list as the grassroots effort to encourage more children to walk or bicycle to school continues. All in thanks to grants and initiatives put in place that will include infrastructure improvements to crosswalks, reinforcement of primary routes, installation of curbs, drainage and sidewalk improvements that will be ADA compliant, street lighting, new school zones, drive conversions and tree trimming.
When Gary Huff, city manager, made his first State of the City address in March 2012, he said, “We’re starting to change the face of Piqua.”
The face of Piqua is changing and as the Complete Streets cause has been embraced on a local level it has also been accepted on a much larger, national level. Its concept recently taken to the senate as a bill — Safe Streets Act of 2014 — that will ensure safety for all users who travel any federally funded street and/or highway. The bill was introduced on Feb. 6 and will see that communities nation-wide provide accessible roadways no matter the method of transportation. So should one be traversing a six lane road on foot towards a convenience store for a can of bug spray they may do so under safe, pleasant circumstances.
Bryson would approve.