It may be a decade before Seymour residents are able to walk or ride bikes using a complete network of interconnecting trails in the city.
But the plan to create such a trails system is in place thanks to the interest and hard work of a group of people who are championing the project as a way to make the city a better place to live, work and play.
The Seymour City Council recently adopted an official bicycle and pedestrian plan prepared this year by Christopher B. Burke Engineering of Indianapolis. It was created using input from public surveys, a public workshop and a trails committee consisting of city officials, representatives from local businesses and schools, local cyclists and the hospital.
The plan proposes 73 miles of dedicated bicycle and pedestrian routes in and around the city, including 39 miles of on-street bike lanes, 22 miles of off-street multiuse trails and 12 miles of new sidewalks.
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By having bicycle and pedestrian trails available to the public, the city hopes to encourage more people to choose walking or riding a bike for both recreation and transportation by linking the places people want to go and making routes safe and enjoyable for all ages and mobility.
The total cost for the project, including engineering, design and construction expenses, is estimated at $3.4 million. The bulk of the cost is expected to be paid for through grants and fundraising. So far, efforts have been stalled after a planned “Seymour’s Greatest Loser” weight-loss fundraiser was canceled because not enough businesses signed up to participate.
Seymour Parks and Recreation Director Brent Jameson said he is pleased with the final plan and feels it accomplished its purpose of laying a foundation for the trails.
“The plan is just the first step,” he said. “We are committed to taking the necessary steps to follow through with implementing it.”
Although it sounds like a lot to take on, the plan identifies high-priority routes that the city is working on now.
“If broken down into bite-size pieces, this plan is very doable,” said Matt Nicholson, a member of the trails committee. “Columbus didn’t have trails overnight. They have been at it for over 20 years.”
Nicholson also is a founding member of the Jackson County Bicycle Club and owner of B2 Bikes and Boards in Seymour.
He expects the whole plan, as is, to take 10 to 20 years to finish, but he hopes to see parts of it usable before the end of the summer.
“If we are going to build this with mostly community support and not tax dollars, it will take longer,” he said. “If we can get excitement from both corporations and individuals, the time will be reduced.”
The most important factor that supports the project is that the plan was driven by the public, Jameson said.
More than 700 people gave their support of the project through the public surveys.
Some of the benefits of implementing the plan include improving community health and wellness, encouraging alternative transportation, reducing vehicle congestion, enhancing public safety, increasing economic benefits and reducing emissions and pollutants, Jameson said.
“When you have the support of the community, it makes funding and implementation a whole lot more doable,” he said. “With the public input that we received and the help of the Seymour Trails Committee, our consultants developed feasible routes and facility types.”
But Nicholson has some concerns that there are not enough people in the community supporting the effort.
“I think everyone likes to talk about projects,” he said. “I also believe every project needs a voice or it won’t happen. I am not currently convinced that the trails project has that voice. Anyone interested in seeing this project or any part of this project through needs to get involved and be heard.”
The planned network primarily follows the city’s existing street system. Wide streets with low traffic counts and low posted speed limits were chosen for nearly all routes to connect key destinations for commuters and to create loops for recreational users.
The first priority route is 7.6 miles on the city’s north side and includes a combination cycle track on Stadium Drive and multiuse trail on Community Drive, new sidewalks along Stadium and Lasher drives, a connector bike lane along Second Street to O’Brien Street, a looped combination cycle track along Fourth Street to Burkart Boulevard and more sidewalks on Fourth Street.
A cycle track is similar to a bike lane but provides an actual physical buffer, such as a median or other barrier, between cyclists and motor traffic.
A southwest route would provide 10.8 miles of bike lanes and multiuse trails along Chestnut Street through Gaiser Park to Gaiser Drive, Glenbrook Drive and Walnut Street and connect to trails in Freeman Field Industrial Park. Bike lanes then would follow a path from Airport Road to McDonald Street, Kasting Road, Laurel Street and back to Chestnut. The route also would include a multiuse trail along G Avenue East.
Together, the two priority routes are 18.4 miles of bike lane, cycle track, multiuse trails and sidewalk at a cost of $3.4 million.
The trails committee is studying the routes and should vote next month on which sections to get started on.
“I hope that everyone will understand that the first section done doesn’t have to be a million-dollar route. It could very easily be a $2,000 section of bike lane,” Nicholson said. “Like a puzzle, it takes all of the pieces to make the whole picture. After the pieces start falling into place, then we open ourselves up to larger grants to cover the big sections.”
Jameson said he is excited about connecting people to the downtown through the trail system as well as the industrial parks.
“This plan ties into a lot of different efforts to continue to improve our downtown and make it easily accessible,” he said. “We have tremendous industries in town, and I am excited that we can provide facilities to encourage employees to bike to work or exercise during their lunch break.”
Nicholson said the plan is a good start, but it will never be finished.
“As Seymour grows and changes, it needs to be a living plan and never be completely finished but always looking to the next step,” he said.