Columbus Leaders Want Change In Transportation.

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When Columbus City Council recently approved a multi-million dollar plan to expand bike paths, Public Service Director Mark Kelsey quipped the city was moving away from a “car-centric” road system. But, any major shift will require lots of public monies money and an adjustment in many driver’s mindset.

At 8 O’clock traffic on I-70 underneath the High Street bridge is moving at near speed limit. The morning commute is going well. Columbus’ road system is doing what its designed to do. But, city and regional planning officials want to make Columbus less ‘car-centric.’ They want Central Ohioans to depend less on their motor vehicles.

“I got here from Centerburg today in 35 minutes.”

24 year old Josh Becker smiled as he strolled into the Franklin County courthouse. He was on time for an 8:30 a.m. appointment. His commute on a Friday morning from north of Sunbury on Route 3 is a testament to the convenience of Central Ohio’s road system. Most of the time its easy to drive in Columbus.

“I work all over town. I work concrete. So, we have jobs all over the place I can get anywhere in Columbus in about 20 minutes, as long as its not 4:30.” Says Becker

At 4:30 and at times during morning drive the I-70 71 split is often clogged. An accident or hazardous driving conditions can also slow the city’s traffic to a crawl at points along the outerbelt or on 315 and I-71. The latest federal census indicates about a half-million Central Ohioans commute daily to and from work and 80% of those, or more than 440-thousand are driving alone. Terri O’Dell is among that group. She commutes 18 miles one way from the Dublin area to county offices at Fulton and South Third. Would she consider taking a COTA bus to work?

“No, I live out where there’s no buses. I could drive to the ‘Park and Ride’ but I’d just as soon drive myself.” Says O’Dell.

Melvina Woodson-Levy has a shorter commute from her near east side residence. But, she too says she’d be reluctant to park her car even with a direct, safe bike route into downtown.

“I don’t know about other people but I wouldn’t, I’d rather drive anyday. Q: why is that? I don’t want to get tired, I’m lazy.” Says Woodson-Levy.

At the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission, Transportation Director Robert Lawler and others are working on blueprints for more bike trials, buses, and other forms of mass transit. Part of the plan is to build what he calls “transportation hubs” where commuters could easily change modes of transportation to get to different areas. But, Columbus is geographically large. While Cleveland and Cincinnati are each about 80 square miles in area. Columbus city limits take in 225 square miles.

“How do you make a city that’s 225 square miles in area less ‘car-centric’? (Lawler) Its going to take a lot of time and its going to involve money and its going to take a commitment, an on-going commitment from public officials as well as the community itself. If the community doesn’t embrace it, its not going to happen. Says Lawler.

The bill for less automobile traffic in Columbus is unknown. City Council approved a $20,000,000 plan for an additional 100 miles of bike lanes and trails to be added before the city’s bi-centennial in 2012. Plans call for more than 500 miles of bike lanes and trails to be built in the next 20 years at a cost of $167,000,000. Earlier this year, Mayor Michael Coleman proposed a streetcar line to run up and down High Street. Estimated cost $103,000,000.

David Grayson is a transplant to Columbus from perhaps the largest ‘car-centric’ city in the U-S, Los Angeles. He expressed skepticism when asked whether more bike trails, buses, streetcars, or carpools would reduce the number of cars on Columbus streets and highways.

“No, because I think alot of people in this city are married to their automobiles. I mean you can look at it, even coming to work, you know, where there’s just one individual in the automobile. I know the effort is up now for carpooling but as long as, you know, people are interested in driving their automobiles they’re going to do that. And with these gas prices going the way they’re going, I don’t know if even that is going to make a difference.” Says Grayson.

Tom Borgerding, WOSU News

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