Money is a powerful motivation. Without mandates, federal and state dollars influence our local environment.
When I interviewed city candidates around northeast Missouri (in Kirksville, Hannibal, Moberly, Mexico, Marceline, and Brookfield) about bicycling and walking, I learned that bike/ped projects aren’t really up to the city council or mayor. When candidates become council members, they learn about grants for sidewalks and bike lanes without any upfront cost to the city. (The future cost of upkeep of the facilities does not seem to bother them.) They learn how popular these are with the residents. Then they support biking and walking!
If the impetus for biking and walking doesn’t come from the city council members, where does it come from? Several months ago I tried to find Kirksville’s answer to that question. Whose idea was it to apply for the GetActive Kirksville grant? Who approved city staff time for the application process? The idea originated with the Kirksville Area Community Health Initiative (KACHI). KACHI itself is an outgrowth of a Kirksville program to curb rising insurance costs by improving employee health. But Kirksville had several sidewalk grants predating KACHI, which suggests that the trend started farther back. There doesn’t seem to be one person everyone points to as the instigator of Kirksville’s bike/ped trend.
Moberly has an interesting story which might shed a little more light. Moberly City Hall was across the street from an unused railroad depot when a tornado hit the old station (or so I was told). Worried that the privately owned land might become unsightly, the Public Works Director looked for a solution. He came across a grant that would allow them to buy the land for the purpose of a trailhead if they had a master trail plan in place to connect all of Moberly with a network of trails and paths. They assembled the plan, got the grant, bought the land, and built the trailhead (about a decade ago). Then they started in on the rest of the plan. Moberly is already proud of its trail system, and the master trail plan isn’t even complete yet.
Moberly’s story is a great example of how a grant program did more than allow a town to be a bit more bike/ped friendly. The grant program inspired Moberly to conceive of a trail network. I suspect external forces in the form of available grants, many from MoDOT or federal programs, drove Kirksville’s bike/ped-friendlier trend.
After decades of focusing on parking lots and freeways, bike/ped projects are fashionable right now in urban and rural areas. Every town recognizes that sidewalks are part of revitalizing the downtown area for economic growth. Every town is worried about the obesity epidemic and its impact on residents’ health—and their own healthcare costs. With the price of gasoline ever rising, every town realizes that alternatives to automobiles are critical.