Bike plan faces uphill challenge

02/10/2014 1:06 PM

02/10/2014 1:07 PM

A proposed master plan for bike lanes on Mansfield streets will be a little leaner and cheaper by the time it reaches the City Council for a vote, officials said after a public presentation Thursday.

City staff officials and consultants who designed the $11.1 preliminary master plan said austerity was their take-away from a joint meeting of the City Council and park board last month, where some members cited budget constraints and traffic-choked streets as higher priorities.

The plan carried the same price tag at Thursday’s presentation, but afterward, while about a dozen biking enthusiasts gathered around marked-up street maps and asked questions, officials said they are working on it.

“There is a need to reduce the overall cost of the plan to make it more palatable,” said city engineer Bart VanAmburgh, who also noted that the park board’s half-cent sales tax would be the main funding source for any “Share the Lane” signs, road striping, road expansions and other projects in the proposal. “Right now there is no support for using money from road bonds for any of this.”

It was the second and final meeting hosted by the consultant, Kimley-Horn and Associates Inc., to take public comments. Now the firm, which the city hired for $65,000 last summer, will draft a final proposal for a park board work session Thursday. The board could make final recommendation to the City Council in March, said park planner James Fish. He predicted final approval in late March..

To concerns about the total cost of the plan, officials emphasized it would be long range -- 20 years or more for many of the projects. Some are earmarked for future roads in the city’s master thoroughfare plan.

The consultants identified about $1.2 million worth of projects, mostly signage and shared-lane striping on 68 miles of streets, that could be done in the next five years or so.

Some of the biking advocates at the meeting supported the notion of scaling back the plan. Sylvia Duncan, a veterinarian and avid cyclist, said she is afraid for much more than a bare-bones proposal to wind up in front of the council on a first attempt.

“We need four votes, and right now I’m doubtful,” she said.

Duncan and other advocates at the meeting said dense networks of bike lanes, shared lanes and connections to park trails not only allow people to ride bikes to work and for recreation, they promote good health in a community and even take some cars off the road. But Duncan said the master plan’s strongest headwind is public perception among people who don’t ride bikes.

“I think too many people see this as a special interest group of cyclists,” Duncan said. “A good comparison would be, even if you don’t have children it’s beneficial to live in a community with an excellent school system.”

She added a tree analogy. “What economic good is it to plant trees all over the place when we don’t harvest them for lumber?”

She still bikes, even as Mansfield and its traffic congestion grow.

“I ride mostly on the sidewalks in Mansfield,” she said. “And then I brave it on the road. But some places are just off-limits.”

Cindy Caruthers, who bought land in Mansfield 30 years and built her house on it 10 years ago, relishes the memories of leisurely bike rides in Mansfield’s bucolic past.

“It was great back then because it was so rural, there was no traffic,” she said. “But it got to the point a couple of years ago that I just didn’t feel confident being on the road anymore. I just didn’t feel like the drivers were very cautious or aware.”

Edwin Holmquist, who lives in southeast Mansfield near Joe Pool Lake, used to ride his bike to his job 12 miles away in Arlington. He said he braved the commute even though he had what seemed to be daily “near-misses” with absent-minded drivers.

“Finally, I got hit,” he said.

It happened in October as he was riding on sidewalks along Collins Street. A driver turned left onto a street just as Holmquist was crossing it between blocks. He suffered only a scratch, but he decided not to push his luck.

“That’s when I stopped commuting,” he said. “We used to ride on the FM roads, down to Venus, Waxahachie, to northwest Mansfield with all the trees. Nowadays, there’s so much traffic, we don’t ride as much.”

He looked back to one of the maps. “Hopefully, this will help.”

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