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New Thoroughfare Plan Will Tackle Street Layout, Bike Lanes, Light Rail and More

Brent Warren Brent Warren New Thoroughfare Plan Will Tackle Street Layout, Bike Lanes, Light Rail and More
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The City of Columbus is moving forward with their Multimodal Thoroughfare Plan, and they are hoping that you have some opinions to share about how you get around (or would like to get around) the city. The first of three “Vision and Goals” meetings is scheduled for the end of March and a website has been set up to start gathering input, but that’s just the beginning – a “Plan Van” will be making stops at festivals and neighborhoods all over the city starting this summer, and future meetings will look to the public to generate new ideas for transportation projects, and for help in evaluating those projects.

The plan – which was originally referred to as a Complete Streets plan and is now being marketed under the name Connect Columbus – will classify all of the larger streets in the city, providing recommendations for how different types of streets should be laid out.

The overall focus of the plan, though, will be on balancing the needs of drivers with those of cyclists, pedestrians, and transit users. Topics like the bus network, future light rail corridors or streetcar routes, and protected bike lanes are all on the table.

“We’re at a crossroads,” said Rick Tilton, Assistant Director of the Department of Public Service. “Because of the changing culture in Columbus, and in light of how the city’s population is changing, we need to be smart about how we spend money…we don’t want to be just a car city.”

The timing of the process will line up with two other initiatives; COTA’s Next Generation campaign will be looking at the future of transit in the region, and the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission’s Metropolitan Transit Plan will be setting goals and priorities for the whole regional transportation network.

The city will be working in conjunction with COTA and MORPC to ensure that the three plans complement each other. The Connect Columbus process is expected to last at least 18 months.

Paul Moore is a Principal at Nelson Nygaard, the consultant hired to head up the project (the company recently worked on the Short North Parking Study, and will also be leading COTA’s Next Generation initiative). Moore said that the focus is on getting a wide range of feedback from all corners of the community, including people who may not normally attend public meetings.

We’re spending a lot of time, and using a lot of different avenues on the engagement piece, because it really is an important part of the technical process. Our experience has been that cities like Charlotte and Salt Lake City, that have really gotten transformational things done, it’s because the community knows about and owns those plans. That’s our goal, to see that happen here, so that regardless of what the recommendations are, it feels like it belongs to the community and it’s supported. Both of those cities really started from scratch on their rail and Bus Rapid Transit systems, and are now expanding them.

The public meetings and outreach materials will feature plenty of information, gathered by the consultant team and the city, about what is working in other places.

“Our focus is to provide information, get feedback, and use that to guide our recommendations,” said Moore, adding that a good example is protected bike lanes. “We’ll talk about the success other communities have seen with separated and buffered lanes, both in terms of safety and the rapid increase in usage that you get from those treatments.”

The key to the whole process will be citizen participation, added Patti Austin, Planning and Operations Administrator for the Department of Public Service.

“I see it all the time on the articles CU publishes, I see it on social media – everyone has an opinion about transportation, everyone has an opinion on what our transportation system in this city should be. Well, now is your time to give us your input!”

“Over the next 20 to 40 years,” she added, “we’re going to be investing billions of dollars into the street system – do we want to do it haphazardly, or in a way that looks at everything comprehensively? We think it’s worth taking the time to get a great list of priority projects and to get a street infrastructure plan in place for the future.”

More information, including a project schedule and details on upcoming public meetings, is available at www.columbus.gov/connectcolumbus.

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