Bon mots for the 'Non-Mot'

Like all journeys, the development of a Non-Motorized Transportation Plan began

with a single step.

Thumbing back through our travel journal, we recall it was the inspiration in early 2000 of Marti Stave, then a senior planner with the city, to apply for a state grant to study bicycle and pedestrian facilities around the island. The idea was so straightforward, one had to wonder why it hadn’t been thought of before: determine where sidewalks, bike lanes and trails are – or more precisely, aren’t – then devise and prioritize a list of projects and tie it to a long-term funding schedule. Hadn’t we been doing that for cars all along?

News that the $35,000 grant had been secured came in July of that year; the announcement thrilled a crowd of about 50 assembled in the council chambers for the Pedestrian Road Show, a morning seminar devoted to bringing parity to the relationship between motorists and those with whom they sometimes grudgingly share the road. (How far have we come since that day? Among the items discussed was a then-exotic traffic roundabout.) With matching funds from the city, school and park districts, the “Bike/Ped Plan” was off and walking.

A kick-off workshop was held in October 2000, drawing an overflow crowd to the council chambers; participants sketched out existing routes and desired connections. Steering committee members and a consultant went on to hammer out a workable draft and some maps.

Not that the path from there was necessarily smooth; proposed trail connections, in particular, raised the objections of some property owners, while others raised the inevitable question of cost. But after two years of exhaustive community input and exhausting revisions, the Non-Motorized Transportation Plan was formally adopted by the city council this past Wednesday, to a round of applause.

And for a fine effort that generated surprising interest and support, some folks should be taking bows.

The city’s Department of Planning and Community Development takes a lot of lumps for its day-to-day operations, but long-range visioning is another matter. And in this project, the department showed great clarity of vision. Presaging and fostering interest in alternatives to the single-occupancy SUV, the Bike/Ped Plan represents planning in the best sense of the word.

Credit too some previously disparate constituencies -- Squeaky Wheels bicyclists, seniors frustrated by poor sidewalks in Winslow, hardy trails buffs -- who coalesced into a significant and unified political force. With planners and the council’s diligent land use committee, they saw the plan through to completion.

Finally, we should recall the early work of Marti Stave, who left the department mid-plan for a quieter life of quilting and making hand-dyed textiles. Marti was last seen happily hawking her fine wares on the Winter Studio Tour; we assume she’s still riding her bicycle a bit, too.

In a sense, the real challenge starts now. Specific project

proposals tend these days to bring out suspicious and unhappy neighbors. Too, there is the question of funding; a plan that optimistically anticipates a voter-approved bond and support of $1 million per year has little earmarked in the 2003 budget.

But the island’s bicyclists and pedestrians finally have a real itinerary; the trip promises to get more interesting from here.

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