Statewide plan for cyclists and pedestrians in early stages

Photo by Michael Kelly The bridge structure to complete Phase 5 of the River Trail was placed across Duck Creek this week. The extension will allow pedestrians and bicyclists to access the commercial areas east of I-77 without having to walk or bike along the hazardous, high traffic stretch of Pike Street where it cross the interstate.

A group of people from around Ohio Department of Transportation District 10 met for two hours Wednesday in Marietta to talk about the future of walking and bicycling.

The state has good reason to address the issue: From 2009 through 2018, fatalities from pedestrians killed by motor vehicles rose 60 percent and bicyclist fatalities went up 22 percent. A snapshot of the first six months of 2015, for example, showed the number of pedestrians killed in the state going from 25 the previous half-year to 56, the greatest increase of any state, although it remained in the lower half of states for such events per 100,000 people.

The state’s strategy with the new Walk, Bike Ohio initiative is to address not only safety but also the community’s needs and desires for development of walking and bicycling infrastructure. The two-year program is scheduled to complete its planning inquiries by the end of next year.

Marietta’s premier development for bicyclists, walkers and runners is the River Trail, which follows the waterfront from Indian Acres on the Muskingum River near the Washington County Fairgrounds to the intersection of Pierce Avenue and Jefferson Street, a 10-foot wide paved trail. The city also has a network of dirt trails for mountain bikers, runners and hikers that winds around the hilly terrain through the central areas of town.

Outside those dedicated routes, pedestrians and bicyclists mingle with vehicular traffic, which can be a hazard for everyone involved.

Photo by Michael Kelly The sidewalk ends for anyone walking or biking to the commercial area east of I-77 at this point, the intersection of Acme and Pike streets. The busiest intersection in the city, Acme and Pike is also closed to westbound pedestrians, who would need to cross two interstate access ramps and walk more than a mile along a high-traffic street with no sidewalks to get to the Walmart and other businesses in the complex.

Marietta Police Chief Rodney Hupp said that in the past the department has taken some awareness actions.

“We’ve ramped up enforcement actions, and in times past done some focused enforcement, but we still see a lot of jaywalking,” he said. “I think it’s kind of a cultural thing, in some places you see people who seem strict about staying in crosswalks, but I would say in Marietta people are not especially wedded to that idea.”

Hupp said he’s particularly concerned about blind-exit alleyways – those where visibility is blocked on both sides by buildings.

“Bicyclists can appear so quickly, crossing the exit, and you have to actually pull out of the alley to even see the cross-traffic,” he said.

A bigger concern, he said, is technology that’s emerged over the past few years, in a pattern, coincidentally or not, that matches the increasing curve in pedestrian fatalities across the country.

Photo by Michael Kelly A group of pedestrians waits to cross an intersection on Putnam Street Wednesday afternoon. A state project to improve pedestrian and bicyclist safety was put into action this month.

“I don’t have the empirical information to back this up, but this technology, I see people wearing headphones while walking, we’re preoccupied with that technology, watching cell phones, and in cars of course it’s distracting,” he said. “And it’s gotten so much easier to drive a car than it used to be, you don’t need that same level of concentration, it can lull you into a sense of apathy. We’ve made a pretty good effort to get the message out in Marietta, no texting and driving, but I still see them at traffic lights, with people behind them honking, and weaving from side to side while driving.”

Bicycle advocate Roger Kalter, a former member of Marietta City Council, attended the Wednesday meeting and offered a similar observation.

“Driving and texting is a huge risk factor for hitting pedestrians and bicyclists,” he said. “And in Ohio, driving and texting is a secondary offense – it can only be applied when you’ve committed another violation – so in that respect, Ohio is way behind other states on this.”

The ideal solution to those problems is to create separations between motor vehicles and the self-propelled traffic of walkers and cyclists through dedicated trails and walkways, a subject that occupied much of the discussion Wednesday.

“I’m really glad ODOT is looking for a statewide plan for alternative transportation. Some of us have worked for 40 years on this, and if you look at a map of bike trails in our region, the only one longer than 20 miles is Nelsonville to Athens,” Kalter said Thursday. “We’ve got the disadvantages of a low population density and challenging terrain, so I’m thrilled to see the state focus on this.”

Photo by Michael Kelly A pedestrian crosses Second Street downtown Wednesday afternoon. A state project to improve pedestrian and bicyclist safety was put into action this month.

Kalter said he was disappointed so few people from Marietta showed up for the Wednesday session, although he acknowledged that the word of the meeting might not have reached all the people it should have, such as elected officials. He heard about it indirectly only two weeks ago, he said.

For developing dedicated biking and walking trails, senior government support is a key element. The city of Marietta is near to completing Phase 5 of the River Trail project, which will connect the west end of the existing system to the commercial area on the other side of I-77. The crucial part of Phase 5, a bridge over Duck Creek, was installed this week, city engineer Joe Tucker said.

The new extension will allow pedestrians and cyclists safe access independent of motor vehicle traffic to Walmart, Lowe’s, a complex of hotels and other businesses. The 1.1-mile addition crosses under I-77 next to the river and emerges at the back of the Pioneer Family Golf Center. Tucker said it will be complete in October.

The project, he said, was funded primarily by grants through ODOT, including the Clean Ohio trail fund. Of the total cost of $2,775,000, the city’s portion of the cost was about $143,000, he said. The initiation for the project dates back to 2013, he said.

The city’s application for federal funding under the congestion mitigation air quality project estimated that completion of the trail would save 165 vehicle trips a day and prevent more than three-fourths of a ton of emissions a year.

Anyone who wants further information on Walk, Bike Ohio or would like to fill out the survey on community needs for dedicated alternative transportation can find information at transportation.Ohio.gov/walkbike.

Walk, Bike Ohio

• Initiative of Ohio Department of Transportation.

• Organized because of increasing numbers of pedestrian and bicyclist injuries and fatalities.

• Now in community consultation phase.

• Two-year planning and implementation process.

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