Following numerous public comments in opposition to the report, City Council voted Monday to continue to bring forward plans for the construction of a six-foot asphalt walking shoulder in 2014 along Clark Lane to improve pedestrian safety along the road.
The shoulder would provide non-motorized access from Woodland Springs Court and McKee Street through a narrowing of the two motor lanes from 12 to 11 feet, in addition to widening the entire road by 5 feet to accommodate the construction of the pedestrian shoulder, according documents submitted to the council by City Manager Mike Matthes and his staff.
Though permanent, the asphalt shoulder would be a temporary fix to the issues along the street, and would make way for the future construction of permanent sidewalks and designated bicycle lanes, once funding can be secured and approval obtained from the Missouri Department of Transportation, according to the report.
The current conditions along Clark Lane, which is located in the third ward, force pedestrians to walk alongside traffic and have been longstanding point of concern, Third Ward Councilman Karl Skala said.
“We need public safety on this road,” Skala said during the meeting. “Six feet is a heck of a lot better than nothing, and that’s what we have right now.”
However, the report does not offer an acceptable solution in the eyes of some citizens who feel that the plan to introduce the asphalt shoulders is a step in the wrong direction, Columbia resident Joan Wilcox said.
“The only fair solution is sidewalks. Many of the people who live near there are the working poor who have to walk to work along the road,” Wilcox said. “It’s a dangerous area with a lot of accidents anyway, but the asphalt shoulder just isn’t acceptable.”
Although council members heard opposition to the recommendations laid out in the report, the option of the asphalt shoulders presents an all or nothing situation, as it would take a minimum of three years to procure sufficient federal funding and approval to build the permanent sidewalks while the temporary shoulders could be instituted in the next construction season, Matthes said.
Grass Roots Organizing member Jeff Frey said that while he recognizes the challenges facing the construction of a sidewalk, he does not accept the ultimatum of the asphalt shoulder as the only option.
“Sure, (the shoulder) is a compromise, and I’m always willing to take something over nothing,” Frey said. “But this is just their political will and the council could get the federal money to come in if they wanted it to.”
Additionally, Frey and other residents expressed discontent regarding City Council procedure that does not allow for public comment prior to the council’s vote on the report.
“We submitted the petitions,” Frey said. “Before the council votes, those petitions, the will of the people, should be headed first.”
In response to debate between council members and the public over whether or not there ought to be a time for public comment for such reports, Sixth Ward Councilwoman Barbara Hoppe said it might be useful for officials to hear feedback from the public when receiving information from city reports.
“I’d like to see people be allowed to have public comment on these reports,” Hoppe said. “But they need to respect the directions given by the council to come back and proceed with the plans for this asphalt shoulder.”