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Meet me at the Blue Line trailhead

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Vision, in many respects, is the ability to connect the dots.

Award-winning linear greenway trails, aversions to dependence on crude oil, unprecedented interest in cycling and new federal grant funding have become intertwined in a new local initiative simply called The Link.

For the past 19 years, Springfield, Greene County and the Springfield-Greene County Park Board have worked through Ozark Greenways Inc. to build an extensive linear park trail system to serve walkers, bikers and other nonmotorized travel, both for recreation and commuting. Center city successes include Jordan Valley Park, Silver Springs Park to Smith Park and a network of bike lanes on streets.

Yet despite these efforts, students from Evangel University, Ozarks Technical Community College and Drury University are cut off from Missouri State University by Chestnut Expressway. The researchers and employees in the IDEA Commons urban research park are separated from thousands of homes and apartments in the West Central Neighborhood by Grant Avenue. And the nationally recognized trails of South Creek, Galloway and the Frisco Highline are isolated from each other.

The current linear park trail system makes extensive use of floodplains not suitable for other development as part of the city’s multiuse strategy for storm-water management and trails. Unfortunately, floodways do not always go where people want to travel.

Springfield also has developed an extensive street bike route system that helps to connect the current greenway trails. However, some of these routes lack direct connections, and riding on routes with heavier auto traffic is intimidating to those accustomed to dedicated trails.

The Link will focus on streets with low-volume vehicular traffic that would be enhanced to increase the accessibility of cyclists and pedestrians. It would supplement, not replace, the existing bike route system.

The city of Springfield is applying for federal grants from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and Department of Transportation that could provide $2 million to $3 million to plan and construct The Link.

The city plans to have recognizable, color-coded signage that would inform users and motorists of the routes – similar to lines on a metropolitan subway.

It would be great to be able to say “Our business is on the Green Line to Jordan Valley Park” or “I’ll meet you at the Blue Line trailhead on our way out to Galloway.” This kind of branding would be an important enhancement for the marketing and adoption of the system.

According to the city planning information sheet to City Council, The Link would improve bicycle and pedestrian access to retail, service and educational facilities in Springfield’s core. These facilities include Doling Park, Central Bible College, Commercial Street, Drury, OTC, IDEA Commons, downtown, Missouri State, Phelps Grove Park, St. John’s Hospital, McDaniel Park, Battlefield Mall and Cox South Hospital.

Where The Link crosses transit routes, enhanced facilities such as shelters and bike racks would be installed to encourage multimodal transportation.

The Link builds on the work of thousands of Ozark Greenways volunteers, leverages federal funds with existing local resources and proactively responds to higher fuel prices in the not-too-distant future.

The 25,000 people who work in center city should have easier options for riding their bike. Loft residents should be able to ride to the mall, Galloway, Wilson’s Creek or the Frisco Highline Trail.

The city likely will apply for the grants within two months, and if funded the enhancements would take place during the next three years.

The time for this idea has come. I hope it doesn’t pass us by.

Rusty Worley, executive director of Urban Districts Alliance, can be reached at rusty@itsalldowntown.com.
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