By ANDREA DEGENHART and COREY SAATHOFF
For the Republic-Times
The Columbia City Council during its March 18 meeting incorporated the “Explore Columbia” bicycle and pedestrian transportation improvement plan as an amendment to the city’s existing comprehensive plan.
“We’re thrilled,” said Megan Riechmann, community and environmental planner for Heartlands Conservancy, who helped develop the 20-year plan that started last summer and included two public open houses and a walking workshop.
The goal is to transform Columbia into a more bicycle and pedestrian friendly community than it already is through an integrated biking and walking trail system that will increase recreational opportunities and provide safe routes to destinations like parks, shopping areas, schools, recreation areas and historic sites.
A survey conducted as part of this plan indicated 86 percent of respondents think Columbia should consider non-motorized transportation a priority.
With regard to walking, 84 percent said they would walk more if new sidewalks, trails and other efforts were developed to make it more accessible to do so.
As for biking, 85 percent said they would bike more if there were more bicycle routes, lanes and safer crossings.
In addition to installing new trails and expanding and linking existing trails, other elements of this 12-phase project include safety measures such as widening sidewalks, adding bike lanes to streets, and creating safer ways to cross busy intersections, as well as parking designed for safe bicycle loading and unloading.
Riechmann said the plan is helpful for when the city chooses to apply for various state and federal grants to pay for these proposed improvements.
Phases were chosen in a certain order in this plan based on survey responses, project expense, and construction efficiency.
First on the Explore Columbia priority list is a potential “rail-to-trail” line using the abandoned GM&O rail line. The current portion of converted alignment is located west of the American Legion property, which is an oil-and-chip surface approximately one mile in length. Extension of this trail and improvement of its surface would provide an almost five-mile round-trip route from Creekside Park to the Monroe County Welcome Center.
“As both a recreational and historical asset to the city, the GM&O Trail will become the backbone and focal point for Columbia’s bicycle and pedestrian network,” the plan states.
Estimated cost to implement this two-phase rail-to-trail plan is around $325,000.
The next priority item in the plan is a “school connector” trail in addition to sidewalks and shared use lanes along Rapp Street. Estimated cost to implement these items would be around $800,000.
The third priority item in the 12-phase plan is a Palmer/Quarry trail, and sidewalks and shared use lanes along Ghent Road at an estimated cost of $1 million.
The complete plan can be viewed online at www.columbiaillinois.com.
Waterloo is also working with Heartlands Conservancy on its own plan, Explore Waterloo, which the city council will vote on for inclusion in its master plan.
When asked if the Columbia and Waterloo plans could somehow be linked together, Riechmann said that “at this time, Monroe County is not interested in showing planned trails in unincorporated areas of the county, so we left a connector between the two communities off our maps.”
However, Riechmann said planning “arrows” on both maps recommend the two communities make a connection at the YMCA.