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City lands grant for pedestrian/ bike plan

"The news was good, and the timing wasn't too bad either.Just as a morning-long seminar on pedestrian and bicycle issues wound down at city hall Thursday, planners learned that the city had landed a $35,000 state grant for a non-motorized transportation plan.This is going to be a fun one, said Marti Stave, senior planner for the city, who applied for the grant earlier this year.The non-motorized plan will bridge what Stave calls a big gap in the island's transportation planning, long on policies for roads but arguably short on ideas for modes of transportation that don't involve four tires and a gas tank.For example, Stave said, a rough bicycle plan was adopted with the island's comprehensive plan six years ago, but without any real review by the public. Its shortcomings include a lack of dedicated funding, and no integration with the city's capital spending schedule.There's nothing that compels the city to actually do anything, Stave said of the bicycle plan.Planning by other local districts has been similarly scattershot. In her grant application, Stave noted that the park district has a trails plan, and the school district is trying to develop sidewalk access strategies for students getting to and from school.But those plans all exist on their own, with little or no integration between them or the various districts trying to put them into effect.That may change. Envisioned as part of the comprehensive non-motorized transportation plan are a list of all desired improvements around the island - including bike lanes, sidewalks, trails and the like - prioritized by need with a schedule for construction through 2012, and dedicated funding identified.The plan would then be incorporated into the city's capital facilities document, and become part of the annual spending cycle. Of the city's 101 miles of paved, two-lane roadways, only 17.5 miles have paved shoulders suitable for bicyclists, and just 7.6 miles have sidewalks, most in the Winslow area. City officials have heard ongoing calls for more improvements, the issue coming to the fore of late with an address by a walkability expert and a senior group calling for better pedestrian access around Winslow. National Bike to Work Day also was well received, with hundreds of local schoolchildren participating as well.I believe there should be safe and adequate bike access from anywhere on the island into Winslow, said Stave, who recently took to riding to her job at city hall.The grant came from a $1.5 million state pot used to help communities with growth management planning. The application was made under the urban livability category.Matching contributions of $5,000 each from the city and the park and school districts brings the total package to $50,000. A consultant probably will be hired to help draft the plan, with an advisory committee comprised of local citizens and public officials. A trails summit for citizen input on proposed bike routes and trails is planned, with the plan to be drafted over the next year.Announcement of the grant came at the end of the Pedestrian Road Show, a morning-long seminar held in the council chambers at city hall.About 40 islanders were joined by state and federal officials to discuss challenges and strategies in planning for alternative modes of transportation.Slide presentations showed a variety of conditions around the island and the country - bad and good, everything from poorly marked intersections to the latest in designer bike racks.Mayor Dwight Sutton said after the seminar that he is considering formation of a city advisory committee for pedestrian and bicycle issues, if there is sufficient interest around the community to sustain it.The group could be a 90-day ad hoc group, or a more formal group like the Road Ends Committee.Thursday, seminar participants expressed hope for a sea change in the island's transportation planning. A decade ago, for example, Madison Avenue was widened to speed vehicles to and from the ferry terminal. But this summer, the city will install traffic calming devices on that same street, in hopes of slowing drivers back down.We've got too many traffic engineers who are five to 10 years behind the people, city council chair Merrill Robison said."

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