Contrary to the word going around, a bicycle and pedestrian plan for University City has not gone down in flames! - and contrary to claims of obstruction, all should know that University City has an already adopted bike path plan, and a $200,000 bike/walk project currently underway - an ordinance which I introduced, and which received unanimous Council approval. The idea of a city friendly to bikers and walkers is not dead, nor abandoned, but rather, a revision of the existing bicycle master plan is going back to the Plan Commission to look more carefully at the report produced by Trailnet and H3 and to incorporate those portions of the plan that specifically work for our city into the new Comprehensive City Plan now being developed.
University City staff was recommending the report produced by Trailnet and H3, which was labeled a Draft Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plan, be adopted as a supplement to the 2005 Comprehensive City Plan. Though touted as just a “vision,” this representation of the approval is not quite accurate. Passage by the City Council of a resolution to adopt this draft document as a supplement to the existing, but dated Comprehensive City Plan would have established this document as the policy of the City.
When the City Council establishes a policy, the Administration is bound to carry out that policy in whatever way the City Manager deems feasible. It is most difficult, if not impossible to go back and revisit a policy. It is a most important responsibility for the City Council to understand what that policy decision will mean to future Councils and to the citizens/residents who will be subject to those policies.
For instance, in 2002 the City Council told Mr. Edwards and others that they wanted a Trolley and to do whatever it took to bring the Trolley to the Loop. Years later those who objected in the final stages, found the policy had resulted in the formation of a company, establishment of a Transportation Development District (a taxing district), the generation of Federal Grant funds, as well as the collection of private donations. The policy could not be revisited or reversed.
Another example is the support for the building of the Centennial Greenway planning initiative of Great Rivers Greenway (GRG) in University City. In 2005, the City Council passed a Resolution in support of the Greenway:
“THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that the City of University City City Council supports the Centennial Greenway Plan and urges the Great Rivers Greenway District to adopt the plan and implement the high priority projects.”
According to the Director of Public Works and Parks, this simple sentence confers upon GRG “full authority over ongoing and future planning, design and implementation of the Centennial Greenway with our approval” - even if this path overlaps one of our parks and the residents do not believe GRG should have final authority on the planning and design in our parks… it is our policy.
Understanding the importance of all master plans, I spent many weeks reading through the new revised plan, considering the implications for funding, capital improvements, traffic, and zoning ordinances. There were several issues that needed to be further addressed and, perhaps, reconsidered. Here are some of the specific areas of the proposed Master Plan that are concerning and problematic:
1) The Trustees of Private Subdivisions were not involved in the planning process though bicycle paths were planned through these neighborhoods.
2) By law, public money cannot be used for a private entity. The City cannot fund the building of pathways/walkways on private roads or properties.
3) St. Louis County owns many of the roads considered for improvement, while Olive Blvd. is owned by the State of Missouri. We have little influence on what is done on those streets/roads and the best we can do is authorize the City Manager to negotiate with those agencies, which we can already do.
4) Opening up some closed roads in the North portion of the city to Wellston might make it more difficult for our Police to control crime, traffic, etc. The police should be included in the planning and decisions.
5) One resident out of 1000 were involved in the planning and the plan was not taken out to the public to develop buy-in… The completed plan revision was presented to the commissions and Council, but not to the residents of neighborhoods where changes were planned.
6) Not enough attention paid to developing a complete list of destinations of importance within University City. This plan disconnects from several important destinations contained in our existing bike path plan.
7) Replacing rolled curbs for vertical curbs would require millions of dollars and is unnecessary.
8) The building of sidewalks in areas not presently containing sidewalks would cost millions of dollars and ignores our Charter and Municipal policy with regard to Public Improvements. Some areas in the western part of University City are free from sidewalks by choice of the city and residents. This was a positive choice of policy by each Council as each neighborhood was platted – some with sidewalks and some without. Those neighborhoods with sidewalks paid for them when they purchased their homes from the developer, or later by petition, hearings and payment, at least in part, by the benefitting property owners. Grants and block grants were used to pay for sidewalks, when requested by the proper process when the neighborhood property owners could not afford them.
The Charter is very specific about Public Improvements: Article XI, §87, 90 and 91, which mandates a resolution by the Council for each improvement – and a public hearing where all interested parties are notified. Property owners must pay.
9) Additional lighting is very expensive to install and maintain.
10) Widening of all sidewalks to 4’ – 5’ would eliminate or compromise the size of the tree lawns and threaten the existence of hundreds of mature trees in University City.
11) While painting stripes on the roads and putting up new signs have first priority in the proposed plan, fixing broken sidewalks is scheduled to be addressed in years 5-15. Broken sidewalks should be fixed immediately.
12) We have a large demand for fixing our city streets and much of it is currently unfunded. How would the implementation of this plan affect the demand for the funds needed for our existing infrastructure?
At the end of the Council discussion of the proposed plan - with Staff available to answer any and all questions - 5 out of the 7 members of Council voted to “send the Draft Bicycle and Pedestrian Plan along with the comments from the just held Public Hearing and the comments from this Council back to the Plan Commission to be read and analyzed with regard to compliance with our Charter and University City Municipal policies, and considered for incorporation into the new Comprehensive City Plan in the process of being developed.” This was not to kill the plan revision as some complain, but to make sure the final plan truly fits our city.
Even without immediate adoption of this revised plan, we are moving forward in making our City friendlier to bikers and walkers. We just accepted grants to stripe and put in the proper signage on Old Bonhomme, Jackson and Canton. That required a match of $40,000. We received these grants even though we have not yet adopted this revision of our Bike/Walk Plan. Additionally, we already have bike paths in University City, several of which are the same paths proposed in the plan including Old Bonhomme, Jackson and Canton. (Map attached). While we move full speed ahead with our current plan and great project, we expect a hard look to be taken at all the proposed revisions,closely examining the philosophy and details of both the current plan and the revised plan.
It is far better to take a little extra time to make sure we are getting this right. It is my hope that you will understand that each of your Council members takes his or her responsibilities and powers to make policy very seriously, and to that end I believe we all should be free to ask questions and hold differing opinions without Council members attacking each other for holding those differing opinions. That is the stuff of good governance and democracy.