The city of Ashland is looking into expanding non-motor transportation. This includes producing more sidewalks, pedestrian crossings and bike trails throughout the city. They city held an open meeting to talk about this expansion Wednesday. About 25 members of the community participated and voiced their concerns about where sidewalks and walkways should be placed.
Jennifer Grabner is the director of the Southern Boone Learning Garden. She believes there is a want and need for this expansion in Ashland. "Over the last three or four years I have noticed a lot more people who are out in the streets of Ashland, they are walking, biking, jogging, pushing kids in strollers, they are walking dogs, and we are just seeing more and more of that. The timing is right," Grabner said.
The Learning Garden is currently working under a grant from the Missouri Foundation for Health. As a part of the grant, the Learning Garden must form a partnership to support healthy living. Grabner worked with the city of Ashland to apply for training from a coalition called PedNet. The city was accepted to the education program last winter.
Robert Johnson is the director of consulting of PedNet. The coalition educates about active transportation. He presented at the meeting in Ashland to express to the mayor, city council members, and citizens the importance of the Missouri Liveable Streets program. Missouri Livable Streets is an organization which helps cities to make policies to expand sidewalks, pedestrian crosswalks, bike trails, wheelchair ramps, bus stops, and safe roads for vehicles.
"Transportation equality is really important, not everybody can drive and not everybody wants to drive everywhere. But also, with health. A generation or two ago, about half of American kids walked to school and that number has dropped considerably and a good part of the reason why is because of a lack of sidewalk and we have seen that really play out in terms of children's health," Johnson said.
Ashland Police Chief Lyn Woolford says health is not the only issue that this alternate transportation expansion can help.
"It's a public safety issue. I think there is a desire for people to use alternate forms of transportation. We don't have that connectivity right now. A person can probably walk around their neighborhood and then they that's about the end of it, you run into dead ends. Then is becomes a safety issue if you continue on," Woolford said.
Many members of the community also asked the question of where the funding for the project would come from. The answer: grant money. Along with those grants, however, the city must have money of their own, which officials will need to budget for in the future.
Grabner also wanted to express any area can work on becoming pedestrian friendly. "Any community can do this. Ashland is not unique. Everyone around the country and state are becoming more aware of the need and desire to be more active and it is important for communities to figure it out," she said.
Ashland residents are going to start talking to city council members about proposing resolutions and ordinances to build more sidewalks, crosswalks and bike trails. The process will take a few years to put a permanent policy in place, but Grabner, Johnson and Woolford are confident the meeting was a good place for the city to start.