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Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Council approves Clark Lane proposal for pedestrian walkways

The road improvements along Clark Lane are set to be completed in 2014.

After months of public hearings and debate between council members and vocal citizens, the Columbia City Council voted Tuesday evening 6 to 1 to approve creation of an asphalt pedestrian shoulder along Clark Lane, from Woodland Springs Court to McKee Street.

The $600,000 plan, which will be funded by the annual 0.25 percent capital improvement sales tax, will provide a six-foot walkway along Clark Lane for pedestrian travel by narrowing the existing two traffic lanes from 12 to 11 feet. While construction for the shoulder will begin this year, a complete improvement of the street estimated at $6.2 million could occur as soon as 2016, according to documents submitted to council by city staff.

Prior to council’s decision in favor of the plan, residents of the Clark Lane neighborhood stood before council in a final protest against the proposal. Citizens carried artwork bearing slogans like “Clark Lane, danger in the dark,” and “Life needs peace and safety.”

Numerous citizens like Mary Hussmann, who spoke to council in opposition of the plan to create the asphalt shoulders, demanded that the city construct handicapped-accessible sidewalks rather than immediately build the pedestrian walkway outlined by the proposal.

Widening the shoulder along Clark Lane will give pedestrians a false sense of security and further endanger pedestrians passing near the narrowed 11 foot lanes, Hussman said.

“This design will make if very dangerous for the disabled that travel there,” Hussmann said. “These aren’t all able-bodied people walking here; this plan is just unacceptable.”

Many other opponents to the proposal asked that council instead provide cement sidewalks along Clark Lane and forgo the temporary solution of an asphalt walking shoulder completely. However, the project would require at minimum $3 million to complete only one sidewalk, an improvement that could not be funded for at least another two or three years, according to the final proposal submitted to council.

While the ideal fix would be to create cement sidewalks as soon as possible, the city is moving forward with the best option by providing an immediate solution to a dangerous issue, Karl Skala, Third Ward councilman and representative for Clark Lane residents, said during the meeting.

“I want to do something to make this road safer now, this summer, and there is no alternative here,” Skala said. “We do not have $3 million to build a sidewalk.”

Fifth Ward Councilwoman Laura Nauser voted against the plan, but other council members like Second Ward Councilman Michael Trapp echoed Skala’s desire for an immediate, if temporary solution to the dangerous pedestrian conditions along Clark Lane despite the opposition of vocal residents.

“This is going to be the best we can do this year,” Trapp said. “It’s a no brainer; shoulders are better than no shoulders when you’re walking along the road.”

Following the vote of council, city staff is set to proceed with further specifications and plans for construction along Clark Lane. The final project should be completed in 2014, according to the proposal approved by council.

Though many of the Clark Lane residents who came to the Tuesday night meeting expressed disappointment in the final decision to create the asphalt walking path, some, like Bryan Mayhan, said the plan is one step closer to the safe roads that pedestrians need.

“They’re really just throwing us a bone here, but it’s going to be safer in the end,” Mayhan said. “In the end that’s what really matters.”

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