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City aims for safety for cyclists

The City of Valdosta wants to makes roads safer for bikers.


Several students want bike lanes on roads such as Baytree and Bemiss to ensure student safety.


“My roommate was riding her bike on Baytree and was hit by a car,” Ashley Dailey, a junior English major, said. “I feel like bike lanes would contribute to bikers’ safety.”


According to the Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plan, the city has a plan to accommodate the needs of students and other citizens.


“The future of the funding for the program has become uncertain. With the recent failure of SPLOST VII to pass in the recent election, residents of the city may face a dramatic tax hike in order to further progress towards a bike friendly Valdosta, ”Pat Collins, VValdosta city engineer, said.


The Valdosta-Lowndes Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plan, a 52-page self-titled document passed in 2006, outlines a system of sidewalk and bike lane routes that connect major sections of the city, such as Moody Air force Base and Valdosta State University, to central Valdosta.


In addition to the benefit of safe transportation for citizens and students who choose not to drive, the plan also mentions converting areas—such as unused railroad lines—into multipurpose recreational paths, areas that are designed for joggers, power-walkers, cyclists or just people who would like a stroll away from the high activity of a road.


The biking community of Valdosta has voiced disapproval over the lack of bike lanes in Valdosta. At this year’s The Happening, the Valdosta Bike Coop was signing volunteers in order to help with the group’s advocacy program. One of the goals of this program is the construction of more bike lanes in Valdosta


Currently there are two bike lanes in Valdosta, on Sustella Ave. and Melody Ln.


The Speed limit on Baytree Rd. is 45 mph. With cars travelling at such high speeds along the road, bike safety is a serious concern. Statistics listed in The Valdosta-Lowndes Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plan show that above the speed of 45 mph, the mortality rate of pedestrians (or cyclists) who are involved in accidents jumps to over 80 percent.


With roads like Baytree, a road regularly used by student cyclists, it is impossible to simply paint lines down the causeway and call it bike friendly, Collins said.


“One of the problems with Baytree is the amount of ride-of-way,” Collins said. “The cost it will take to purchase, all on that commercial corridor, the additional property we would need in order to accommodate a four-foot bicycle lane on either side of the road [is too high].”


That additional space that would need to be purchased in order to make bike lanes on both sides of the road could also adversely affect local area businesses and might require the city to buy the property of businesses that lost too much in the way of parking, Collins said.


Financing the project has become an issue. The budget for transportation has fallen from $6,953,162 in 2007, when the Genesis Group initially drafted the plan, to $2,920,272 according to the 2012 budget report from the Georgia Department of Transportation.


A major source of funding for the project came from SPLOST—Special Purpose Local-Option Sales Tax. With SPLOST VI ending in December of 2013 and the recent failure of SPLOST VII to pass, future funding for the project is in question.


“The cost for whatever projects you are going to do are [going] to be the same, whether you are using SPLOST money or another source [millage rates],” Collins said.


The SPLOST tax added a small percentage sales tax to any goods purchased in the Lowndes county limits. The money acquired from that tax was then placed into the coffers for use on public works projects. Some students might remember the sinkhole that opened up behind the Oak Street parking deck a few years ago. The repair of that sinkhole was paid for by SPLOST.


“That funding source [SPLOST] was the primary source for the community to match money if they were doing a DOT project where there [were] federal and state moneys involved, it was the primary funding source if we were to go out on our own and build a project,” Collins said.


Examples of the projects that SPLOST helped to fund include the extension to Woodrow Wilson Road as well as 14 sidewalk projects that are currently in various stages of completion.


Collins added that the projects would benefit both cyclists and pedestrians.


“The priority right now, [because] this community is greatly lacking in sidewalks, is to get sidewalks in, and as we expand roadways and widen them or add more roadways, we will put in bicycle [lanes].”


The Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plan also seeks to help students from outside the University. The Safe Routes to School Program is designed to allow children in Valdosta the ability to walk or ride their bicycle to school, as well as to reduce traffic, fuel consumption and pollution in the area of schools.


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