Complete Streets gets green light

By Tim Hrenchir
Republished from
CJOnline

In designing future street projects, the city staff should integrate and implement “Complete Streets” concepts targeted at making roadways safe and accessible for everyone, including bicyclists and pedestrians, the Topeka City Council decided Tuesday night.

The council voted 8-1 to approve a resolution sponsored by Councilman Larry Wolgast that changed city policy by directing the staff to make that move to the extent financially feasible. The measure also made it the city’s goal to adequately finance the policy’s implementation.

The outcome of Tuesday’s vote “shows we are progressive and moving forward,” Wolgast told the council.

“The important point is that our transportation plan will be designed not for moving vehicles as quickly as possible, but by taking into consideration all who use streets,” he said.

Councilman Jack Woelfel, the sole dissenter, said he wasn’t opposed to Complete Streets concepts but didn’t fully understand them. Woelfel also said he thought the proposal left too many unanswered questions and wasn’t specific enough, particularly about finances.

Wolgast told council members how a consultant brought to Topeka as part of the Heartland Visioning process earlier this year explained how cities nationwide were working to implement Complete Streets concepts.

“The Complete Streets policy will direct city planners and engineers to consistently design with all users in mind, including drivers, public transportation riders, pedestrians and bicyclists, as well as older people, children and people with disabilities,” he said.

The council heard support for Wolgast’s proposal expressed Tuesday by six speakers, including representatives of the Community Resources Council and the Greater Topeka Chamber of Commerce.

Another advocate, Karl Fundenberger, told the council thousands die crossing roadways nationally each year due to poor design features.

He said: “Streets are not for moving cars. They’re for moving people.”

Joseph Ledbetter, who also addressed the council on the matter, asked members to make sure that money from a half-cent sales tax that took effect Oct. 1 doesn’t help pay for Complete Streets improvements.

City manager Norton Bonaparte said that won’t happen. He noted that the council earlier this month approved capital improvement plans calling for the city to borrow $100,000 through general obligation bonds in each of the next five years to pay to incorporate Complete Streets design elements into projects the city carries out using revenue from the half-cent tax.

The council also approved a 2010 legislative agenda consisting of eight provisions that include asking for the continued operation of the Kansas Neurological Institute, which a state commission has recommended closing, and supporting “continued development of the Capitol complex and state operations in downtown Topeka.”

Three other provisions of the approved agenda were targeted at helping the Topeka Metropolitan Transit Authority.

Council members voted 8-1 to approve that agenda. Councilman John Alcala dissented, saying he thought it had been “overloaded” with too many issues.

Also, Mayor Bill Bunten cast a vote as the city’s governing body:

  • Voted 10-0 to approve Alcala’s motion to defer action on a proposed zoning change regarding property at 1236 S.W. Garfield Ave. Alcala said the deferral would give the city attorney’s office time to provide the council an opinion on the extent of participation in voting and discussion on the matter that should be permitted for Councilwoman Deborah Swank, who previously spoke about it before the Topeka Planning Commission.
  • Voted 10-0 to amend the city’s zoning code to clarify that only fences within parks may exceed the city’s 4-foot height requirement in a front yard.

Tim Hrenchir can be reached at (785) 295-1184 or tim.hrenchir@cjonline.com.

Overturn the Bicycle Study Veto

On Tuesday, July 7th, the Topeka City Council voted 5-3 to approve $15,000 to provide the city’s part of a $75,000 expenditure to hire a consultant to create a citywide biking master plan. The mayor then vetoed the expenditure calling the expenditure “unnecessary.” To override the veto requires 6 votes and seems unlikely as the only council member absent, John Alcala, indicated he was against the measure, saying the expenditure was not budgeted and that it would be irresponsible to approve the expense.

Let’s look at some of the facts: Topeka’s Heartland Visioning plan calls for the development of bike paths and trails in Topeka — so, support of Topekans is well-established. The major says he supports the Visioning process, but argues that the city personnel can do the study. Ok, Mr. Mayor, please tell us who on the staff is going to do it! Who has the extra time to take on one more task? Name the person who has the expertise, and can do a comprehensive study in 3 to 4 months (that’s how much staff time you can buy for $15,000)? We will stand by to hear the name and when they plan to complete the study. I believe this is a political cop-out. You’re saying, “I support the idea, but not enough to really make sure it gets done.”

2) Topeka need a comprehensive plan. Too often this community takes a piecemeal approach. A little here and a little there. Suddenly we look around and we wonder how we got where we are.

3) The actual creation of bike lanes and comprehensive commuter biking network can be funded in many instances quite inexpensively, sometimes by restriping streets. The 1/2 cent sales tax cannot be used to build bike trails. Ordinance 19257 states the sales tax is ” for the purpose of paying the costs of certain improvements within the city exclusively for costs of maintenance and improvements of existing city streets, gutters, curbs, sidewalks, alleys and street lighting…” So do not worry about spending the sales tax money on this cause. We still need to find the funds, but not from this source.

4) The matching funds will not be there next time. The mayor is giving up $60,000 of federal funds. And don’t think that we are doing the taxpayers a favor! This money is going to be spent. Maybe Wichita, Manhattan, Lawrence, or some city in Colorado will benefit from our short-sightedness. Next time we will have to come up with the whole $75,000. We can probably float some bonds.

What to do? There are 30 days to override this veto. We need to let our council members know that we disagree with the veto and that we want the study to be funded. Those that are currently not in favor, Jack Woelfel, Bob Archer, Richard Harmon, and Art Alcala need to hear from you. If you know them, or are in there district please talk to them and let them know how you feel.

 

Ralph Krumins