Columbia will develop by June a vision for a network of interconnected pathways that will allow residents to ditch their vehicles and use nearly 100 miles of trails to walk, bike or run to their destinations.
Some 130 community members turned out this week to a couple of public meetings to provide feedback to the Toole Design Group as the Hyattsville-based engineering firm drafts the "Active Transportation Action Agenda" to coincide with Howard County's forthcoming bicycle master plan. The improvements have no price tag assigned so far, but estimates are expected to be included in the consultant's report, said Jennifer Toole, president of the design group.
When Columbia was developed 45 years ago, James Rouse had about 94 miles of pathways built. By comparison, Washington has about 50 miles of pathways. Baltimore has about 39 miles of trails. But Columbia's trails do not meet modern safety or accessibility standards. In places, the paths are short and disconnected, steep and narrow.
The goal is to provide the community's 100,000 residents an alternative to the average $20,904 drivers spend annually to own and operate a vehicle, Toole said. The plan is intended to also enable residents to reduce their carbon footprint and encourage exercise. Twenty-nine percent of Maryland's children are overweight or obese, and 58 percent of the state's adults are overweight or obese, she said.
Toole said communities across the country are taking similar actions.
"What we're seeing in the past 20 years is increasing numbers of people out bicycling and walking," Toole said. "Part of that is because more money has been invested in the past 20 years than in the 20 years before that. Communities are building more sidewalks and bikeways."
Toole said half of all trips in Columbia are less than three miles, calculating by the radius from its center. Three miles translates into a 15-minute bike ride, she said.
Phil Nelson, president of the Columbia Association, said community leaders want residents to send emails, make phone calls and write letters with comments and suggestions.
Dorsey's Search runners Paula Dwyer and Mike Pascale typically train 30 miles a week on the existing paths.
"We're really lucky to have that system," Dwyer said. "I'm thrilled that they're doing this."
Among the improvements already suggested by residents:
•Better markings for street crossings.
•Comprehensive and clear signage; a pilot program to develop a sign system is planned.
•Curb cuts at crosswalks.
•Paths wide enough to accommodate wheelchairs, Segways and dog walkers.
•An updated map of the pathways.
•A bike-sharing program; efforts to create one are under way now.