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Fort Smith directors pedal forward on new plan for bicyclists, pedestrians

by Monica Brich | January 22, 2023 at 1:02 a.m.
Bicycles line a bike rack outside the entrance Nov. 10 at Hope Campus in Fort Smith. City directors unanimously approved this week a $24,000 agreement to create an updated bicycle and pedestrian plan for the city. Visit nwaonline.com for today's photo gallery. (File Photo/River Valley Democrat-Gazette/Hank Layton)


FORT SMITH -- City directors unanimously approved entering into a roughly $24,000 agreement with Frontier Metropolitan Planning Organization to create an updated active mobility, bicycle and pedestrian plan for the city.

Michael Mings, mobility coordinator for the city, said at the directors meeting Tuesday the current plan was adopted in 2004 and shows a map of existing trails and the priority for future, proposed trails. He said the city needs a plan that's more than a map and considers current challenges in the city.

"We need a plan that is more considerate of Chaffee Crossing and upcoming bicycle highways that are reaching across the state," he said. "We also would do well to identify further sources of funding that could help us get these trails on the ground.

"We talked to a lot of active transportation consultants and engineering firms who are always pushing us to updating this plan. Fort Smith kind of has a reputation of just kind of randomly doing projects and piecemealing together our active transportation system, so a plan would do us well to stick to it and to get a strategy here for the way we are building trails."

Reese Brewer, Frontier MPO director, explained the city is paying 20% towards the plan, with the rest coming from federal and Arkansas Department of Transportation dollars. She said they already have an evaluation team of city representatives and community members to begin the process of finding a consultant to draft the plan.

"Then you can go forward and start chasing grants and have a plan that you can refer to," she said. "Basically, your job is to leverage that plan so you can get federal dollars or other dollars to build those trails or that infrastructure for active transportation."

Mings said taking proposals, interviewing consultants and negotiating a contract will take roughly three months, then the plan taking 12-18 months to create. He said public input is important because there's a growing interest from the community to get outside, be more active and have safe, alternative forms of transportation.

"Being from Fort Smith, I can say that appetite has grown significantly over the past two decades," he said. "In a recent survey, we found 98% of people would use greenways more often if they lived near one. We need a plan that will give us a clear strategy for how we can create mobility improvements that can be enjoyed by everyone in Fort Smith."

Mings said he hopes the results of the plan makes the community become healthier and happier, noting public health, economic development, sustainability and quality of life are all very important.

"Bike and pedestrian friendly infrastructure has been proven to contribute positively towards these things," he said. "By getting this plan in place and by working hard as a community to execute it, I know it's possible for those same benefits we're seeing in other places to be realized here in Fort Smith."

Ward 3 Director Lavon Morton said the city is discussing rearranging truck routes and asked Brewer to consider that in the plan.

Ward 2 Director Andre Good asked if the plan could include a shared street for bicycle users and pedestrians.

Brewer said the directors should refer to the city's Street Department, but she would expect some kind of bicycling infrastructure or design concepts to come to the board for consideration.

"With the amount of accidents that we've had here in the city, we definitely want to make sure we keep our pedestrians and bicyclists safe, and the amount of traffic that's picking up as of late, and of course with the upcoming influx population that we're going to have, I just want to make sure everyone stays safe," Good said.


Print Headline: City approves updating bike plan

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