By JEFF DURBIN, Missourian staff writer

June 10, 1999

The next time you need to check out a video or price building supplies, try this experiment: Without using a vehicle, make your way to the super-complex of stores near the U.S. 63-Interstate 70 junction.

On second thought, take your car, if you have one.

"It couldn't be more hostile for pedestrians and bicycles and people in wheelchairs," said Chip Cooper of Columbia's Bicycle and Pedestrian Commission. "You take your life in your hands to cross the 63 bridge."

Other examples not to try at home include navigating car-less to Columbia Mall or to the Forum and Rock Bridge shopping centers.

Such commercial complexes are "very uninviting as far as pedestrians and bicycles are concerned," Mayor Darwin Hindman said. "You can get there, but it's such a challenge. We need to analyze intersections and streets to make sure they're bike-friendly."

Columbia may have a bucketful of livability awards, but it's also dealing with rapid growth and questions of just how walkable, bikeable and wheelchair-accessible the city is. A proposed new land-use plan for the expanding metro area, Metro 2020, is the next opportunity to answer those questions.

True to its name, the Bicycle and Pedestrian Commission is putting forward walking- and bike-friendly suggestions for inclusion in the plan. The commission's "Pednet" idea combines more inviting streets and sidewalks for human-powered travel, improved public transit and a beefed-up greenbelt trail system. The Pednet would allow people to move around conveniently, and reduce traffic congestion and the need for expensive street upgrades, Cooper said.

At least one member of the Columbia City Council agrees. Second Ward Councilman Chris Janku said it's time to integrate the pedestrian and bicycle plan into the overall transportation plan. The City Council will take the Metro 2020 baton after the Planning and Zoning Commission passes on its revisions and holds another public hearing on the plan tonight.

Janku said Business Loop 70 and I-70 form a barrier that non-motorized travelers need to be able to cross safely. Both Janku and Hindman also say wider sidewalks are needed.

"The five-foot sidewalk has proven to be good," Hindman said. "It works for wheelchairs, and people can walk side-by-side comfortably."

Bike racks mounted on city buses are another strategy that makes it more practical for people to leave their cars in the garage.

"If you ride your bike to work, or walk, and there's a thunderstorm, you can catch the bus home and throw your bike on it," Cooper said.

The City Council has already funded four racks. Two are scheduled to be installed on the fronts of existing buses this month, said Ken Koopmans, transportation manager at the Department of Public Works.

Next May, two new buses for the city will debut with bike racks installed.

Streets and sidewalks are not the only way for Columbians to get from point A to point B. Add in trails along local creeks and other greenways, and Pednet starts to look like a wheel with spokes. The Bear Creek trail between Cosmo and Albert-Oakland parks is already under construction, using mainly federal funds. A companion trail project to the south along Hinkson Creek is also planned. There are still gaps in the east, west and center, however. The Perche Creek floodplain is Pednet's choice for a western trail.

One spoke of the wheel already in place is the MKT trail. Despite resistance when it was planned, the MKT is now one of the most used and appreciated recreational opportunities in Columbia, Hindman said. Lorah Steiner, director of the Convention and Visitors Bureau, said the MKT and Katy trails drew 1,180 inquiries from around the country after the bureau placed advertisements.

"Most Columbians are not aware of the national and international interest in hiking and biking trails," Steiner said. "It's one of the few things we have that gives us an identification outside the state. It's a very nice image: It's outdoors, it's healthy, it's scenic."

An expanded trail system for commuting and recreation could be Columbia's crown jewel, said Cooper.

"We have a tremendous opportunity to distinguish Columbia from almost every other town," Cooper said. "We could finish these trails at very low cost."