Here comes the Bike Boulevard.

You may have noticed construction on some of Columbia’s central city streets lately. It’s likely you’re seeing the work being completed on the new MKT-Parkade Bike Boulevard.

What is a bike boulevard you ask? Good question!

According to the National Association of City Transportation Officials, “bicycle boulevards are streets with low motorized traffic volumes and speeds, designated and designed to give bicycles travel priority. Bicycle boulevards use signs, pavement markings, and speed and volume management measures to discourage through trips by motor vehicles and create safe, convenient bicycle crossings of busy arterial streets.”

You may already be familiar with the bike boulevard that runs from the downtown area to Stephens Lake Park, going through the Stephens College campus. The boulevard provides a safe travel route for commuters, students, and families as they attempt to negotiate the narrow, crowded streets on their bikes.

Residential car traffic can still travel along the street and people can still park by the curb, but the pavement markings, signage, and other infrastructure changes make it a more bike-friendly route than other streets.

The current project under construction creates a new north to south bike boulevard that will connect Parkade Boulevard to the MKT Nature and Fitness Trail on Lathrop Road. The project also includes a spur down East Forest Avenue to Hickman High School, adding some needed safety measures for students crossing Providence.

The new bike boulevard will have numerous benefits, the most important of which being the increased safety for cyclists.

Studies have found that car/bike collisions are two to eight times lower on bike boulevards than on regular streets, making it a family-friendly option for getting to a school or park.

Anyone who has tried to cross West Broadway at Aldeah Avenue or watched Hickman students play frogger across Providence will realize that the new medians, painted crossings, and signage won’t just benefit cyclists, they’ll help pedestrians as well.

On the Business Loop, our crosswalks are few and far between, and it’s common to see cyclists, people on foot, or people in wheelchairs try to cross five lanes of speeding traffic to get to a lunch spot or grocery store.

The new bike boulevard will add a key crossing point at Madison Street by Parkade Center, which is home to several schools and hundreds of students who could be traveling to school via bike rather than by car or bus.

Kids living just south of the Business Loop may not know that the MKT Trail is only a mile and a half away—a quick bike ride to one of Columbia’s best recreational areas. Likewise, commuters may not realize how close the Business Loop is to them. If they knew, they could decide to forgo their car and opt instead to bike the short trip to work. And families will now also have a safe and pleasant route for Saturday bike rides to Cosmo Park or the MU museums on The Loop.

The bike boulevard is almost done and we hope to see you pedaling our way soon.

This article originally appeared in the Columbia Business Times.

Attack of the Birds

Last week, Jonathan Sessions and I were walking through the streets of Ann Arbor, Michigan with a group of other professionals from the Columbia Chamber of Commerce’s yearly Leadership Visit when Jonathan looked up from his phone and said, “There’s a nest nearby.” We dashed across the street and snagged the last two Birds.

Moments later, a college kid running late to work appeared looking for a quick ride. As we logged into our scooters, he ran off in search of another nest. We guided our Birds into the street, hit the throttle, and we were flying.

Well, maybe not flying. After all, Bird scooters only go about 15 miles an hour, but in contrast to the slow pace of walking, it sure felt like it.

Bird scooters first appeared in southern California — where the company is based — but their recent nationwide roll-out was aimed at college towns and timed to coincide with the start of classes.

The scooters are battery operated, app-driven, and cost $1 to unlock and about 15 cents a mile after that. They materialized overnight here in Columbia—downtown, on campus, and even on The Loop—all places with large student populations who are sure to be quick adopters.

I’m a big proponent of the park-once approach to cities. If you must take a car downtown, park it in a garage and then walk everywhere you have to be. But if your destination is a little out of the way—say Stephens College or down to Flat Branch Park—a Bird is more convenient. They’re designed for short trips, easier to park than cars, and more decorous than a bike (especially when one is wearing a dress). I love walking through cities but the Birds are a breezy alternative.

So what, then, is the problem? You may have heard that MU has banned them from campus. Cities across the country are up in arms over the infestation of Birds. In fact, just after our visit, Ann Arbor began confiscating the scooters.

It’s less about the scooters themselves and more about the commitment to disruption underpinning the business model of companies like Bird or Uber. The scooters appear in a city overnight without warning. They are parked in the middle of the sidewalk, no one is instructed on the rules of the road, and they use city infrastructure without contributing to its upkeep. Alternative modes of transportation are great; flaunting the rules we all live by is not.

So, what are the rules? First, don’t ride on the sidewalk—it’s far too dangerous for pedestrians. (Yes, I know I’m on a sidewalk in the picture, but we thought it advisable I didn’t try to pose for a photo in the middle of traffic!) Birds should be ridden like a bike, either in the bike lane or sharing the road if it’s narrow. Second, don’t leave the scooters parked in the middle of the sidewalk where they block pedestrians and people in wheelchairs.

And what about the larger question we should be asking of these new, disruptive forms of transportation like Bird, Uber, and Lyft? They use city infrastructure—streets, sidewalks, and valuable curbside space—but are they helping pay the bills? The city is in the process of negotiating a contract with Bird, but the fact that we had to reach out to them speaks volumes. So, let’s embrace these new forms of transportation but insist they embrace our community in return.

This article originally appeared in the Columbia Business Times.

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Turning Smokestacks into Artistic Icons

At a recent conference in Winnipeg I had the pleasure of visiting The Forks, an area located at the junction of two large rivers. The Forks has served as a gathering place for thousands of years and it’s now an active community space with parks, museums, restaurants, and, despite months of sub-zero temperatures, lots of outdoor activity spaces. One Winnipeg artist, aware of how compelling the first glimpses of spring are to a snow-bound city, wants to install a cluster of crocuses blooming from the top of an unused smokestack. This public art project would add a touch of whimsy to the area and remind visitors that spring was on its way.

Smokestacks dot our landscape, and while some still serve a purpose, many have long since been abandoned. Most are also far too expensive to dismantle. Not surprisingly, artists are beginning to take notice of these vertical canvasses. Some envision colorful additions to the stacks like purple crocuses, flying pigs, or pink hearts. Others take a more traditional approach and paint them as they would a mural with scenes that reflect the history of the town.

Smokestack, Milan

Smokestack, Milan

Perhaps the most stunning are the ones that play with light and projection. Spartanburg, South Carolina—a historic mill town—lit up not one but two old smokestacks as part of a city-wide celebration of lights. The City of Spartanburg was one of four communities nationwide awarded $1 million for temporary public art installations as part of the Bloomberg Philanthropies Public Art Challenge. The smokestacks were wrapped in reflective fabric and flood lights were programmed to project changing patterns of color onto them.

Glow in Spartanburg, South Carolina

Glow in Spartanburg, South Carolina

In New York City, a candle flickers on the side of a 50-foot brick smokestack on the banks of the East River. Funded by a local company, this permanent exhibit is a video projection visible every evening. And in Finland, the Turku Power Station displays a playful series of numbers in bright neon. The “Fibonacci Chimney” isn’t only a striking landmark — it invites people to stop and puzzle out its meaning.

Candela, New York

Candela, New York

 Fibonacci Chimney, Finland's Turku Power Station

Fibonacci Chimney, Finland’s Turku Power Station

We have a smokestack on the Business Loop too, and these artists inspire us to see it not as an unused eyesore, but as an opportunity for creativity and artistry. When Water and Light wound festive lights around our smokestack this past holiday season, we realized its potential.

As part of our Loop Corridor Plan, we’re looking at ways to beautify the street, add public art, and create iconic landmarks. Instead of trying to create a landmark from scratch, why not simply embrace the most visible piece of architecture on the Business Loop? The smokestack at the city’s power plant has long served as a midtown landmark — maybe it’s time we all started exploring the artistic possibilities.

This article originally appeared in the Columbia Business Times.

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Walking in a winter wonderland 🎶 📸: @ft_c_shooter #DowntownDenver

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What Cities Gain When They Embrace the Artisans

The multi-year process of rewriting the city’s development code caused a significant amount of sturm und drang, especially among the downtown folks, but here on Business Loop, we saw some new avenues open up. Under the new codes, activities on mixed-use corridors such as ours have been expanded to include uses previously prohibited but now recognized as creative ways to spark vitality and economic development. One category that caught our eye was something called “artisan industries.”

What are Artisan Industries?

Artisan industry is defined as small-scale fabrication, preparation, or production of arts, crafts, foods, and beverages. This can include welding, sculpting, arts and crafts, pottery, and carpentry as well as local, small-batch bakeries, candy shops, cheese shops, craft breweries, and micro-distilleries. Sounds pretty good, right?

Cities Across the Country are Embracing Artisans

As the “shop local” and maker’s movements gain steam, cities across the country are opening their doors to small-scale artisans and their production facilities. I’ve toured many artisan shops and have never failed to be impressed — from Shark Tank” contestants Mango Mango cooking up preserves in downtown Hampton, Virginia, to Old California Lighting handcrafting fixtures for historic buildings in my home town of Orange, California.

Few Distillery

Few Spirits in Evanston, Illinois, is another prime example of how artisan industry can find success. The small shop has barrels stacked to the rafters and a gleaming copper still standing in the middle of the chaos. Located at the end of an alley, visitors to Few spill outside as they listen to music and sample the gins and whiskeys. It’s abundantly clear these small-bore industries bring more than just tax revenue to a city; they bring the flavor.

How Columbia is Embracing Artisans

Although this category is new to the city’s code, it actually reflects activity already happening here in Columbia. From cabinet makers and metalworkers to small-batch coffee roasters and chocolatiers, our city is home to many of these artisans. We have our own growing ranks of brewers and distilleries well. The success of Few Spirits is mirrored by the growth of our very own DogMaster Distillery, Logboat Brewing, and Bur Oak Brewing Companies.

One change we did advocate for during the rezoning process was ensuring that retail sales would be allowed within this category. This was largely inspired by a Chamber of Commerce trip to Ft. Collins where we visited New Belgium Brewing and saw almost as many people buying T-shirts, pint glasses, and bike accessories as buying beer. It makes perfect sense — who could visit a brewery, chocolatier, or bakery and leave empty handed?

Artisan Industry on The Loop

As we move forward with our corridor plan—beautifying the street, improving infrastructure, and creating a welcoming entrance into Columbia—we’ll also be focusing on how to best encourage these types of uses on private property. We’ve already got a strong DIY attitude on the street and we’re ready to open our doors to even more of the doers, builders, and makers out there just waiting to show off their craft.

This article originally appeared in the Columbia Business Times.

On the Merits of Roundabouts

I grew up in Orange, California, a city that decided to forgo the traditional town square in favor of a circle. The Orange Circle is a two-lane roundabout surrounding a park and a fountain that was funded, I kid you not, back in 1886 through local bake sales. Every teenager in town learned to drive through it — if your high school football team won, you were required to cruise around it multiple times with your friends hanging out the windows cheering. Waving school pennants earned you extra points.

Proof that bakes sales work.

Roundabouts on The Loop

Given such fond memories, there was no one more pleased than I when MoDOT announced their plan to improve the West Boulevard exit off I-70 with not one but two new roundabouts. And it wasn’t just a case of personal nostalgia — roundabouts are better than traditional intersections in many ways. They decrease crashes, keep traffic flowing better, and, frankly, are usually more attractive than a typical intersection.

Roundabouts are Safer for Drivers and Pedestrians

Now to use a little traffic lingo. A traditional intersection has 32 potential vehicle conflicts and 24 pedestrian–vehicle ones. In contrast, a roundabout has only 8 potential vehicle conflicts and 8 pedestrian–vehicle ones. Collisions on a roundabout are also more likely to be minor fender benders than dangerous and costly T-bone collisions. Overall, the Federal Highway Administration has found roundabouts reduce injury crashes by 75 percent and fatal crashes by a whopping 90 percent. Because roundabouts slow vehicle traffic down considerably, any collision with a pedestrian is less likely to be fatal.

Roundabouts Reduce Traffic Jams

Traffic also flows better when you don’t make cars wait for a light to change. Stop-and-go traffic can be frustrating, and all too often, rushed drivers try to avoid red lights by cutting through parking lots, which is also dangerous for unsuspecting pedestrians and drivers. Because roundabouts keep traffic moving, its common to see at least a 20% reduction in delays — and safer parking lots too.

Roundabouts Increase Public Space

Perhaps the best reason for roundabouts is that it allows us to recapture precious public space that we lost to the road decades ago. In my hometown, the Circle is a community space. It’s where the city holds the International Street Fair on Labor Day weekend each year; it’s where we celebrated when runners brought the Olympic Torch through town on the way to Los Angeles; it’s where we hang our holiday decorations come November.

Cars and pedestrians managing just fine.

We may not be able to fit a park and fountain in the middle of our roundabouts, but beautification, landscaping, and public art are all options. Just imagine a piece of public art surrounded by native flowers, welcoming visitors off I-70 into our city. Parents dropping their kids off at college would have a pleasant entrance into town, road-weary travelers would see it as sign that Columbia is a good place to stop for the night, and families would welcome it as the first glimpse of home after a long journey.

Mike Heimos goes on trips and sends me photos of roundabouts.

Here’s another one he found in Ft. Collins. Notice there are more plants than signs.

There’s a long history here in Columbia of cruising The Loop — just ask any former Kewpie. Still, we could learn something from the kids coasting around the Orange Circle. And now that we’ve got our roundabouts, I’d be happy to serve as the pace car some Friday night after the game.

This article originally appeared in the Columbia Business Times.

City Shots

Our graffiti abatement program is absolutely toothless.