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City Not Planning Any Changes to Make Room for Walkers and Cyclists

Brent Warren Brent Warren City Not Planning Any Changes to Make Room for Walkers and CyclistsA graphic created by the City of Columbus to encourage trail users to keep their distance.
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Cities around the world have responded to increasingly crowded sidewalks, parks and trails by making changes to their street networks. Some have closed lanes or entire streets to car traffic, while others have opened up temporary bike lanes or tried to slow down cars on certain streets.

Officials at the Columbus Department of Public Service have “had thoughtful discussions about this,” said Debbie Briner, Public Relations Specialist for the department, but concluded that “streets closures aren’t warranted at this time.”

“We’ve considered factors such as whether vehicle access would need to be maintained on a closed street so businesses that are still open or residences wouldn’t be negatively impacted,” she said. “We’ve also weighed how the city could implement any closures equitably, and whether it would quantifiably impact public health in a positive direction.”

Other concerns include emergency vehicle access, and – at a time when future tax revenues are all but certain to decline – the question of whether the city can afford a new program that would require resources to set up and monitor.

Briner also pointed out that, with overall vehicle traffic during the last week of March down about 50 percent in Franklin County (according to the Ohio Department of Transportation), there is already more room for cyclists – “this drop facilitates safe biking in most areas around Columbus.”

Advocates, however, have pointed to evidence that all these empty streets are actually enticing drivers to speed more, which is leading to an increase in fatal crashes. Additional space for biking and walking that is physically separated from cars is what is needed, they argue.

The city is directing residents who want to exercise outside but are concerned about crowded parks and trails toward the 35-mile neighborhood bikeways network, which features low-stress routes in several different parts of town, including Clintonville, the South Side and the Hilltop.

Some local groups have also been shining a spotlight on the neighborhood walk, suggesting that people can look for out-of-the-way gems close to home instead of heading to the nearest trail or park. And the city is continuing to collect input and feedback from the public on its new Vision Zero program, which was unveiled on March 12.

Apart from closing playgrounds and recreation centers, the city has not taken any steps to limit access to parks or trails, although Columbus Recreation and Parks is urging people to keep six feet apart and recently posted a list of do’s and don’ts on its website.

UPDATE (4/20/20): Transit Columbus has posted a response to the city’s comments in this article about potential changes to the street network.

Keep up with regular news updates regarding Columbus and Ohio’s response to COVID-19 here.

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