Friday, July 11, 2014

In The Meeting Rooms

This is the time of year for after work rides and my usual Tour de France fixation, leaving little time for writing, but the local bike life goes on! As always, there are a lot of folks spending time indoors working on our behalf. Here are reports on some of the ongoing efforts to make cycling better for all of us.

Arkansas River Trail Task Force

I attended the Arkansas River Trail Task Force meeting a few weeks ago. I've already covered a couple of the items that were on the agenda, including the Big Dam Bridge Pitstop project and the Pinnacle State Park Bud Light "Do good. Have fun." event.
Rob Stephens chairs the meetings, held  at Metroplan, and participants include representatives of agencies ranging from Arkansas State Parks and Tourism to M.E.M.S. and Little Rock Public Works. 
One important project that has seen ongoing discussion is the placement of 911 trail medallions along the ART and connecting trails around central Arkansas. 911 operators often have difficulty in getting a good description of location from emergency callers on the trail. The medallions, which will be glued to the trail at .2 mile intervals, will have a simple code that, when relayed to a 911 operator, will precisely identify the exact location and will allow responders to know if special equipment will be required.
Another ongoing topic is that of event planning. As anyone who regularly rides the ART knows, there are a lot of events taking place along the trail. Many of these events cover multiple jurisdictions as they cross the bridges. Event organizers can go to the event planning area on the website for a jurisdiction map, a planning form, and contact information. We have had everything from 5K's to marathons, a square dance convention, dragon boat races, a 100 bike Southwest Tandem Rally, charity events and mass bike rides, and a few more things that I can't think of right now. The point is that there can a lot of coordination required, and this is where it starts. Everybody involved wants to help create successful events on the River Trail and the link above is the place to start!

Bike Advocacy Of Central Arkansas

I was a little late to the BACA meeting this week, but it is hard to get a ride in and be on time for a 6:30 meeting. We all have our priorities. The crowd was small by the standards of recent meetings, which have seen over 100 in attendance, but it was still a good showing.
US congressional candidate and BACA board member Pat Hays was present, as was Barry Hyde, a North Little Rock cyclist, general contractor (Hydco), and candidate for Pulaski County Judge. I suggest that everyone in the cycling community use this election cycle to press candidates on their position on alternative transportation and, for local candidates, their stance on specific issues like Complete Streets and completion of the River Trail. Both Pat and Barry are active riders and who better to recognize the value of these resources than folks who use them? Both have served their communities well in the past, Pat Hays as NLR mayor and Hyde as a state representative.  Forgive the politics, but we're in an important political cycle and your engagement can help shape policy. It is a simple fact that the people who drive change are the people who show up at meetings, express their opinions, and vote. Bitching after the fact doesn't have much real impact.

OK, on to the meeting topics! Both of the speakers at Tueday's BACA meeting were touting bridge projects that could become important links in growing the status of Arkansas as a bike tourism destination.

Harahan Bridge Project-Memphis
Greg Maxted, director of the Harahan Bridge Project, has headed an effort to add a
bike-pedestrian lane to the existing Harahan Bridge over the mighty Mississippi River from Main Street in West Memphis to Memphis. The project is funded and should get underway this fall.

From Greg Maxted:
The overall project is Main street to Main Street, connecting Memphis to West Memphis.
The greenway connector from the bridge to West Memphis is a separate bid.
Bidding and construction will run concurrently. 

Obviously, a safe crossing of the Mississippi would be a huge addition the any east-west bike route.
The railroad bridge once carried auto traffic on traffic lanes cantilevered off of each side of the bridge.
One of the traffic lanes will be converted to a multi-use trail.
Here's a segment from a Memphis TV station news broadcast taken from the Harahan Bridge website.

The Harahan Bridge Project received a $15m TIGER grant , along with some other funding commitments toward the estimated $30m total project cost. As I understand, the project has bid once but the bids exceeded the budget. The project was released for re-bid in June, with bids due August 1. Assuming bids are within the budget, and Maxted is confident that they will be, construction is currently expected to begin in November.

The Big White River Bridge -Clarenden, Arkansas

Once the Mississippi is crossed, the swampy Big Woods and the White River become the next geographic barrier. Johnny Moore of Clarenden followed Maxted's program with a presentation about another east Arkansas bridge repurposing project.
Historic photo of the Big White River Bridge
The Big White River Bridge crosses the White River below its confluence with the Cache River, just south of Clarenden. The bridge curently serves Highway 79 and heavily used; however, the bridge is 80 years old, narrow, and scheduled for demolition in 2015 when a new bridge is completed.

The BWRB crosses about 2.5 miles of bridge and causeway through the White River National Wildlife Refuge
Since the bridges run through a National Wildlife Refuge, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's agreement with the AHTD requires demolition and removal of the existing bridge to mitigate the loss of 98 acres of habitat taken by the route of the new bridge.
The highway department is neutral on the subject and has, in fact, pledged the money budgeted for demolition to the repurposing project if the Fish and Wildlife Service will relent and allow the bridge to remain. The agency's mission is to provide wildlife habitat, so I am unsure of how much flexibility they have.

The bridge, along with the Harahan project, could add a link in a vital route across the Mississippi delta and, in the bigger picture, across the United States.
The Big White River Bridge Project has an excellent website that tells the story of the project along with some interesting reading about the history and future prospects for the region.

Little Rock Bike Friendly Community Committee

After years unfulfilled promises, lip service, and a perceived lack of commitment to the support of cycling, I must give credit to the City of Little Rock. I can't say whether the selection of Jeremy Lewno as Bike-pedestrian coordinator was a sign of the new attitude of if Jeremy has driven it, but there has been a definite change in attitude and action. A couple of years ago, department heads were likely to come complaining about problems with cyclists and a "just say no" attitude. The situation came to a bit of a head a couple of years ago when several members of the BFCC resigned in disgust and frustration. The negativity has been replaced by "what can we do to help?".
The result is that the City is near to finally adopting a Complete Streets policy, all street resurfacing projects are at least being assessed for bike lanes, and several capital projects have been approved.
 Some projects of note:
East and west trail terminals near Dillard's:
The east terminal project still requires formal approval of a bridge over the UP RR right-of-way, and two parcels of land must still be acquired.The railroad has approved it in principle. 
The west terminal land requires reappraisal due to a technicality of the financing.
Public Works Director Jon Honeywell was confident that these projects are moving forward.
It is recognized the neither of these links will add much real value, but they put us a couple of steps closer to "closing the loop" and will serve as the gateways to the proposed River Bluffs section behind Dillard's HQ.

Overlook resurfacing: Overlook Dr. from Rebsamen Park Road is due to be resurfaced. It will be striped to include a bike lane going up and sharrows going down so that us slow-climbing types will have a little protection and the new asphalt will likely make the descent both faster and safer. This is being done under a contract that runs through March '15, so it should be complete by March at the latest.
Rodney Parham Road from Hwy 10 to Valley Club Circle: This is a reconstruction project that will be bid this year. Plans call for bike lanes in each direction from Highway 10 to Valley Club Circle. This stretch is frequently used by cyclists and the lanes will be a welcome addition.

I won't try to list all of the projects and discussions that took place, but Little Rock is definitely moving forward! The BFCC meetings are open to the public so if you have something to contribute or just want to observe the process, show up.

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