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Wheels turning on new bike plan

By DAWNE LEIKER

dleiker@dailynews.net

Hays city commissioners first identified a need for bike trails within the community nearly two decades ago. During Thursday night's work session, they took a look at the most recent proposal for a city bike system.

Assistant City Manager Paul Briseno told commissioners the need for a bike plan was a recurring theme as stakeholder groups gathered more than a year ago to provide input on the city's comprehensive plan.

"What we heard from a number of people is ... there was a true need for a bike system within our community," Briseno said.

That need, in fact, also had been identified during the city's comprehensive plan process in 1996-97.

"The goal that never did happen was once again a bike system for the community of Hays," he said. "So it's been about 18 to 20 years.

"This has been long-desired for this community."

The topic again surfaced in 2007 when a hike and bike trail master plan was commissioned by the city. That plan, roughly estimated to cost $11 million, has grown dusty on city office shelves.

The most recent Bike Hays Master Plan brought before commissioners at Thursday's meeting costs significantly less at $272,000.

The bike system is proposed to run approximately 15 miles and in its first phase will connect a majority of city schools, parks and other destination points.

The second phase of the plan enhances the initial phase with additional bike facilities and multi-use pathways that draw neighborhoods into the system, gives direct access to important destinations and links sections to complete the community network.

"There are a number of components of this system that are geared for family members," Briseno said. "But at the same time, there are sections that are geared for your avid rider."

Featured in the plan is the potential to implement street and road diets, which would convert certain arterial or high volume streets to a different lane configuration. One plan recommendation entails taking 13th Street from a four-lane road to a three-lane road creating a lane diet. The conversion would include a turning lane down the center, automobile lanes on the sides and bike lanes on the outer edges.

"The theory behind it is that you're narrowing the path for cars to travel, therefore psychologically people think they need to slow down," Briseno said. "Plus, people recognize that there's potentially people on bikes on these sections of roads."

Included in the city's 2013 budget is $300,000 for the project, set aside from special park funds from alcohol taxes.

Discussion of the bike system brought concerns from Commissioner Kent Steward, who said he fears Hays residents are facing a number of high dollar tax proposals in the upcoming years, including a convention center, possible projects downtown and on north Vine Street, and Ellis County building projects.

"Those of us who are on these boards ... by and large can afford these things better than the average person can, and I think we don't give enough attention to the fact that there are a whole lot of people in this community that just can't afford all this," he said. "What I'd originally proposed was that we stripe a couple of streets and do it as a test and see how it went for the drivers and the bike riders.

"Now we're up to almost a million for this thing. It just really bothers me."

The commission will consider action on the plan at next Thursday's meeting.

In other business, commissioners:

* Heard a request from Ellis County Administrator Greg Sund for a letter of support to be given to the state legislature in support of legislation allowing the county to keep the total sales tax proceeds generated should a countywide sales tax measure pass by voters in a June election. The sales tax funds are projected to be used for funding a new rural fire/EMS facility and new jail. City Manager Toby Dougherty said he would draft a letter of support for commissioners' consideration.

* Considered a presentation and public comments on restriping 27th Street from a two-lane to a three-lane street in the area from Plum to Hall streets. The measure will come before commissioners for a vote at next Thursday's regular meeting. Several residents of the neighborhood brought their concerns before commissioners following up on a discussion continued from the last commission work session.

* Discussed applying for a transportation enhancement grant to help fund the city's bike plan.

* Considered a developer agreement for Wheatland lots. The item will come before commissioners either at next week's meeting or an upcoming work session.

* Reviewed information about a city waterline design engineering agreement, which will be voted on at their next meeting.

* At Commissioner Ron Mellick's suggestion, discussed merits and pitfalls of imposing city commission term limits. It was agreed no action would be taken on the item at this time.