Health grant to pay for Cape Girardeau bike lanes

Wednesday, March 9, 2011
This photo submitted by the Missouri Foundation for Health shows an example of the bike racks that will be purchased with Cape Girardeau's grant money.

A $253,000 grant from the Missouri Foundation for Health will pay for 30 to 40 miles of bike lanes along seven Cape Girardeau streets, which officials said will provide a healthy connection to the city's parks, schools and other recreational areas.

One thing could put the brakes on the project, however -- negative public reaction to the proposal's plan to convert five of the seven bike routes to no-parking streets.

"If there's a significant amount of pushback and it looks like we can't reach a compromise, we'll drop the lanes and go back to the drawing board," said assistant city manager Heather Brooks.

An open house will be held later this month after letters are mailed to homeowners on the affected streets, she said. The open house has yet to be scheduled, she said, but it will happen by the end of the month to allow for feedback.

If there is significant public opposition, she said, city staff will work to come up with alternative routes, though she added they have attempted to map out routes that already don't have much residential parking.

Two of the routes -- Lexington Avenue and northern parts of Sprigg Street -- already prohibit parking, but portions of five other streets would have to be changed to no-parking to make room to stripe the bike lanes: Cape Rock Drive, Frederick Street, southern parts of Silver Springs Road, Hopper Road from Kingshighway to Old Kage Road, and Perryville Road.

"For bike safety, a road has to be wide enough and there aren't many streets in Cape that are wide enough that also allow parking on the street," Brooks said.

The three-year grant will pay for striping, bicycle racks, safety education and to promote the health benefits of cycling, she said. About 175 single-post bike racks will be placed around Southeast Missouri State University, a partner in the grant, Brooks said. Twenty loop racks will go in various city parks and near the Osage Centre and the new Shawnee Community Center and 30 single-post racks will go to Old Town Cape for the downtown area, she said.

The grant, which did not require local matching funds from the city, will pay for painted bicycle-shaped stencils within the lanes as identification markers, as well, she said. The lanes, counting both sides of the street, will be 30 to 40 miles long when the project is completed, which she hopes is by this fall, depending upon resident reaction.

The bike lanes are the culmination of four years of planning, beginning with the formation of Bicycle Advisory Council, a group of cycling enthusiasts.

Chris Moore, a member of the advisory council and the Velo Girardeau Bike Club, said there has been a need for bike lanes here for years.

"I see people on their bikes all the time," Moore said. "This is very much needed. I think this is a great opportunity for the city. It's progressive. It's a move in the right direction toward a healthy community."

Moore hopes the bike lanes are well used. If so, the advisory council hopes it can add them to more city streets, so that children can ride their bikes safely to school and adults can drive their cars less.

"We're seeing a lot more people commuting by bike to work," he said. "It's healthier. These lanes will make it safer for cyclists and safer for motorists."

Moore agrees that the streets with bike lanes should not allow parking.

"We hear about that happening all the time, someone opening their car door and taking out a cyclist," he said. "We call that getting doored. If we can get 100 bikers to use one of these routes on a regular basis, is that equal to one person who wants to park? I think so."

The Missouri Foundation for Health formed in 2000 after Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Missouri converted to for-profit status. It selected Cape Girardeau for the grant because it recognized the city's desire to build a "culture of biking," said Amy Stringer Hessel, a program officer for the foundation.

"The focus of this grant is on obesity prevention," she said. "Cape turned in a really comprehensive plan. We want to help them change the environment so people can be more active."

About a third of Americans don't drive, she said, and in 2010 Missouri ranked 12th in the nation for adult obesity.

"What we liked about this project is that it's something that people could build into their lifestyle," she said. "We felt really confident investing in this."

smoyers@semissourian.com

388-36423

Pertinent address:

Cape Girardeau, MO

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