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Letter to the editor: Better walk/bike connectivity needed
Letter to the Editor generic


It is great to read about city and county plans for expansion and new business opportunity. If you have lived here a good while you can list many new things that have come to The Hill over the years. Caesar Stone, McAllister Elementary, Francis Meeks, etc. Now, we will have a new hospital in the city, the county purchased the ole’ fishermans co-op, and we have had a new high school in the works for a while. It is great to see continued growth, especially those funded by SPLOST.

Last week, I was driving to Sterling Creek Park to attend a training event for my daughter's cross country team. It was apparent RH High had just adjourned as there were many kids walking and biking from the school to their home. There were a few kids trying to walk across the bridge over Sterling Creek while many cars were also trying to cross the bridge. I would encourage any of you reading to attempt to walk or bike across that bridge at the same hour. It is NOT safe. There is no room for two cars and a pedestrian to cross – safely. I watched as cars continued to travel at their same rate of speed while youngsters were trying to walk across the bridge to get home. I was not surprised that there were so many cars not stopping to let the kids cross the bridge as I see many selfish acts by motor vehicles on my weekly bike rides. I stopped, and though I heard a few horns blaring behind me, a young man graciously waved as he briskly walked across the bridge. I smiled and waved back, hoping he would be better respected in his travels the next day. I couldn’t help but think he may not have resources for a car or have the time to sit on a bus. The city and county must do better!

It is very clear to me and many others in my circle that city and county leaders are not as concerned with connectivity as they are with growth. In my opinion, the two are not mutually exclusive.

You should not be allowed any growth without means to connect to it by means other than by motor vehicle. I love growth. Growth brings new tax revenue from business to help fuel resources like teacher salaries, fire fighters, and police officers. Growth without plans for connectivity is the result of what we have today which are few options or incomplete options to move people instead of just motor vehicles. This type of growth is irresponsible. If you look around, there are many examples of half baked plans to move people rather than just cars. We have a very wide Ford Avenue with a sidewalk on only one side of the street for pedestrian purposes.

That same Ford Avenue has plenty of room for a 3 foot striped bike lane where folks could travel to local businesses, neighborhoods, and JF Gregory Park.

There is even more room to created a fully protected pathway for walkers, joggers, etc. Speaking of JF Gregory, there is not one safety crosswalk to access it. One should be able to push a button on pole that brightly lights up to allow folks to walk or bike to the park. We have a very wide Harris Trail where sidewalks are only on one side. If you live in Piercefield, there is only one place one can safely attempt to cross Harris Trail to get to the RH High and you need to travel through grass or unprotected street to get to it. Speaking of Harris Trail, we actually have a lane to ride a bike in, however, you have to ride on a very narrow and crumbling portion of Harris Trail or Belfast Keller to get to it.

Though many I know are grateful to Mr. Infinger and the county for the small portion of lane we have, we are unaware of any plans to extend it in the near future. Another example is the Dunham Marsh community and the Richmond Hill Middle School. This should be an easy bike or walk to school, yet there is not a peep about connecting the two, nor any mention of a plan or any evidence of construction in the works.

One would think that with a new school already open, there would also have been active solutions put in place for accessibility by means other than motor vehicles.

Nope! Another example is Buckhead east and McAllister Elementary. If you live in BH East, you can easily access the school via walk or bike. This is great!

If you live in Buckhead North, you are likely to get flattened by a motor vehicle if you want to walk or bike to school. Good luck in riding a bike through that makeshift roundabout. I have come close to being a hood ornament many times because it is so poorly designed folks traveling from the county don’t even have to slow down. I realize this is temporary, but it is too dangerous. If you take a drive on Harris Trail you will see a new road being built to the new high school campus, which I also believe will access RH Middle School. Surely our elected leaders have already planned for a path on each side of the road with a few highly visible cross walks. I believe there are plans for a few neighborhoods on that same road. Are there plans for connectivity? Is the county planning on extending the bike lanes or creating a multi purpose path to Timber Trail? Can one safely walk or bike to the new school from Creekside or other neighborhoods? Will future students be faced with the same dangerous route that those youngsters I saw a few weeks ago? Bussing is not the answer as it adds cost to the taxpayer. Bussing is not convenient for most students. I don’t know many people who really enjoy an hour commute from work to home. I can imagine our students don’t care for it either. We must do better!

I am looking at a map of the plans of the 144 project. It is exciting to see space drawn on it for a bike lane on both sides. I have to see it to believe it but my hopes are high that it comes to fruition. It is nice to see an actual sidewalk being extended out to the county on one side. Will there be one on the other side? I see it on that map but have to see it to believe it. Guess what, those lanes and sidewalks stop when you get to Parkers. From there, you need to cross a major road to get into town or walk in the grass on the other side. This is unacceptable!

What are the city of Richmond Hills plans to extend either? This is another example of a mixed bag of joint master planning and it needs to stop.

It is time our city and county leaders step up and become highly committed to moving people instead of just cars. Any plans for growth MUST include connectivity for people, not just cars. Don’t just buy land to develop.

Develop a plan to connect people to that endeavor.

Any future city or county purchase plan needs to be an all inclusive connectivity package presented to the taxpayers for vote. I really respect and admire our city and county leaders but you need to figure this stuff out and FAST. You need to create and implement a plan to move people. This consists of multi use pathways, bicycle lanes and trail systems that connect taxpayers to shopping, parks, schools, and restaurants.

“But John, those things you speak of cost money” They do. So do school busses, land for growth purposes, healthcare, and tax breaks for new business endeavors. Let me provide some statistics that help you understand the return on investment the city and county can gain with increased infrastructure for moving people. In a recent study on People For Bikes website titled “Bicycling provides $137 million in economic benefits to Northwest Arkansas” March 29, 2018, outdoor activity on multi use trails, paved bicycle lanes, and mountain biking is a huge boost to tourism. “But John, Arkansas is far away” The Outer Banks is close to home. Did you know that the region has enjoyed a return of 9 times that of their investment in multi use paths for pedestrians and bicycle lanes? They spent an initial $6.7 million to move people. They enjoy $60 million in economic benefit annually from that initial investment. This can be found on their report titled “Pathways to Prosperity” Want more information? safety_economicimpact.html. Also on the People For Bikes website you can find studies on people who shop by bicycle. Did you know that people who shop by bicycle spend 29% more over the course of the week than those who shop by car? They shop more often! Can you imagine the quality of life benefits to be had with more people getting outside? Air quality? Hard to argue with any of it.

The point I hope to make with local elected officials is that you need to have a better plan to connect people when you make decisions to buy land or build. Connecting area attractions and amenities by means other than a car and WILL reap rewards of increased tax revenues, new business investment, and healthier lifestyle choices. The city and county must do better.

It is time we all hold them accountable to make good decisions to connect and move people rather than just cars when it comes to any purchase. We can no longer think that a bus or a car is the only option in Richmond Hill and Bryan County to get around. I personally volunteer my time on any city or county committee available for the purpose of providing better means to get around the Hill. Lets roll up our sleeves and work together on increasing access for the taxpayer and our guests and reap the benefits of a better connected community.

John Cameron, Richmond Hill

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