A series of public meetings are being held around Arkansas, as officials work to develop a state plan to improve bicycle and pedestrian availability.
“I think our main goal is to find out from the people what are some of the bike and pedestrian issues," Robert Patten, a national planner with Toole Design Group, told a small gathering Wednesday at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.
He said they're considering issues like safety and access for people wanting to be able to bicycle in areas that may not have dedicated lanes or bike trails.
Mike Craw is an assistant professor with UALR’s Public Administration program and weighed in during the meeting that its location makes it a challenge for faculty and students who want to ride bikes to the campus.
“The most important problems that have come up really have to do with dealing with some of the heavier traveled routes to get to campus. University Avenue and Asher Avenue, Colonel Glenn Road, those are all heavily used by vehicles and they’re not very bicycle friendly," Craw said. "So in order to get to campus, most people have to find alternative routes to do so, and it’s not always obvious what the best routes are.”
The plan being prepared will ideally help identify those routes and perhaps suggest places bike lanes or paths can be placed.
At this point, those who work or attend classes at UALR are often left with few options other than driving or taking public transportation. But Leesa Freasier with the Arkansas Department of Health said university officials, like Partnership Director Ron Copeland and Chancellor Joel Anderson, should be credited for trying to find other options.
“Ron and the chancellor dug their heels in and said, ‘no, we’re saying that we’re going to be user friendly to all modes of transportation, which, for a university, takes a lot of effort because now you’re dealing with the city, you’re dealing with the highway department, you’re dealing with students and faculty.”
After Wednesday’s meeting, Dave Roberts, a local consultant with the design firm Crafton Tull, said they’re working to get input from as many people as possible from around the state.
“It’s going to be a year-long project and the goal is to have recommendations and design guidelines to the highway department so that they can start improving, not only their maintenance, but their education programs, safety for pedestrians and cyclists, and those recommendations will help them move forward in what projects they’re gonna do,” Roberts said.
He noted that cyclists have praised the expanding number of trails in the state, including Little Rock’s River Trail, as well northwest Arkansas’s Razorback Greenway, "but, you know it’s connections in between" that are a problem.
In 2012, Arkansas was ranked at the bottom of a list of bicycle-friendly states by the League of American Bicyclists. Last year it improved to 37th place and officials involved in this effort hope Arkansas will continue to move up in the ranking, providing more places for people to walk and ride.
Those interested can learn more at www.arkansasbikepedplan.com.