Paola, Kansas has initiated a project called Paola Pathways, which seeks to “improve the quality of life and general appeal of Paola by promoting the development of safe, high quality trails and lanes connecting points of interest within the community”.
The growing community of 5600 people in Miami County, just south of the Kansas City metro, has suffered several unfortunate bike/ped incidents in the last few years. In the most recent, a young girl lost her life when she and her sister were struck by a speeding car while riding a bicycle.
Another factor that has motivated the city to improve bike/ped safety is the school busing situation. The school district eliminated busing for students who live within 2.5 miles of their school. That, in turn, left parents with the responsibility of either driving their kids to class, or allowing them to walk or ride a bike to their school. And with a lack of sidewalks in some parts of town, and crossings of major arterial roads to be navigated, most parents chose to taxi their kids to school, resulting in even more traffic for any prospective student walkers or bicyclists.
One proposed tactic is a walking school bus and bicycle train program:
The proposed idea would encourage students to walk or ride their bicycle with other students to and from school under the super-vision of a trained adult.
Most of the attendees agreed that it makes sense to start the walking school bus or bicycle train at a central meeting location, such as the Paola Fire Station, and then pick up more students as they head to the schools.
Sunflower Elementary Principal Staci Wokutch said walking and pedestrian safety is being taught in the school’s physical education classes, and there also recently was a schoolwide assembly reviewing the information.
Mike Oldfield, who is a crossing guard, said that he has seen it all when it comes to driver inattentiveness, but it does help when police officers are parked near his intersection. “When they do park there, 99 percent of people follow the rules perfectly,” Oldfield said. “When they leave, the drivers lose their minds again.”
And while the impetus for Paola Pathways is safer routes to school, the community also wants to become more bicycle and pedestrian friendly in general, allowing people to bike or walk for transportation to work or shopping, as well as safely accommodating recreational pursuits such as jogging and biking for fun and exercise.
Phase 1 of the proposed Paola Pathways program is aimed primarily at recreational trails — building 3.5-miles of non-paved trails in Wallace Park — but subsequent phases are envisioned to add transportational paths and on-street bike routes, possibly including bike lanes or sharrows.
The full system map is projected to look something like this:
If fully built out as planned, the system would total nearly 25 miles of paved bikes lanes or bike routes, and over 10 miles of off-road trails, as well as bike racks at strategic locations around town.
Bike Club Leads The Way
The local bike club, MiCoVelo, has been instrumental in the development of the Paola Pathways program.
MiCoVelo president, Scott Dreiling, said “A group like Paola Pathways was something our group thought was possible from the start. It’s pretty amazing what we as a group have put together in a little over a year. From a group just sitting in a room and talking about what could or should be, to creating the mission, mapping out future plans, to marketing and fundraising and actually starting the clearing process in Wallace Park. All while basically meeting once a month.
The club has been a pretty integral part of the entire process. In addition to having two members listed as Paola Pathways representatives, we’ve selected the routes for potential bike lanes, mapping all of these as well as trails in Wallace Park and future trails around Miola Lake.”
MiCoVelo is also hoping to spur the Paola City Council into developing a bicycle/pedestrian master plan, as many small and large communities around the state have been doing recently.
City Leaders On Board
Paola City Manager Jay Weiland, and his wife, Community Outreach Coordinator Peg Wieland have played big roles in getting the project moving, as have the city council and city staff, who have been at work clearing the trails in Wallace Park for Phase 1.
The Paola Chamber of Commerce has been an important supporter of the project as well, and has a page on their web site dedicated to Paola Pathways.
Local community groups are also on board. The Paola Knights of Columbus Council #1149, for instance, is donating the proceeds of their Lenten Fish & Shrimp Fry on Friday, March 8 to the Paola Pathways fund.
It’s great to see a community pull together to accomplish great things!