Conway Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Board

Proposal for a Better Infrastructure

Editor’s Note: The author, Tyler Porter, is an undergraduate student at Arkansas State University. For a recent Composition II

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assignment, Tyler chose to detail a few of the things cities can do to foster a strong bicycling community. He chose to use Conway as a case study for the city of Jonesboro.

In the United States, the obese population has continued to rise. The once active, outdoorsy lifestyle has been replaced by a more convenient sedentary lifestyle. The best way to lower the obese population and improve one’s health isn’t through medication or diet pills, but actually through being physically active, walking, running, jogging and various recreational sports. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the state of Colorado has the lowest obese population at 20.7 percent compared to the 30.9 percent of Arkansas. Colorado is one of the most physically active states in the country. One of the main contributing factors to Colorado’s better health is the majority of their cities have sports or are spending the necessary resources in providing their citizens with different venues that encourage physical activity, such as hiking and biking. Through my personal experience of Jonesboro, I have found the city to be less accommodating, as compared to Colorado, for those who desire to have an active lifestyle. At best Jonesboro has a couple of basketball courts for public use, minimal amounts of sidewalk, a couple of gyms for private use, and one major park, Craighead State Park. If Jonesboro wants to be a leader in providing physically active venues then this city will have to follow cities in Central Arkansas that have taken the initiative to encourage this type of lifestyle. The solution to this sedentary lifestyle in Jonesboro is to build an infrastructure that encourages people to get outside and be active. As Jonesboro continues to grow it is vital that Jonesboro begins to take steps in progressing towards a more active community. Constructing an active community infrastructure can’t be built overnight, but it can begin with small realistic steps. The implementation that I believe is the best to providing the solution to this problem is based from the plans that have been executed by Little Rock and Conway. The first step in implementing this solution is to form an advocacy group or a committee that can gather ideas and information to help move governing officials in the right direction. One important advocacy group in Conway is known as the Conway Advocates for Bicycling, CAB, and they are in charge of bringing rider safety awareness to the public as well as advocating the rights of cyclists and lobbying the city for change (About). The benefit of having an advocacy group would move Jonesboro in the right direction. Through this group there should be a case study to have a personalized touch on Jonesboro. The group would determine the areas that need more sidewalks, bike lanes, “Share the Road” signs and trail systems. Once the areas of improvement are determined the group will work with the city council and mayor for appropriate action to be taken. In regards to paying for the building of the infrastructure, bike lanes, trails and sidewalks, there are a number of ways: taxing, grant money, and private donations. The money that comes through the taxes, grants and donations will be spread between the street department and the park and recreation department. From here the departments will act with the mayor and city council to pass ordinances that would make it possible to build the infrastructure in the areas that the committee surveyed. The goal of the whole is to survey, direct and build the infrastructure needed to encourage a physically active lifestyle. The reason that Jonesboro needs to build this type of healthy environment is so that the health and well-being of its citizens will increase. Even though Jonesboro will not change the whole statistic of the South, having the highest obese population rate, it will have a positive effect on surrounding cities (Adult). Jonesboro is a “hub” that connects to Little Rock, St. Louis and Memphis, so ultimately Jonesboro could play a role in influencing major cities to follow suite. Safety is also a huge reason for the need to build an infrastructure that supports healthy living. Children and athletes, of all ages, have the same concern, motorists. When there are no bike-lanes or sidewalks it forces the pedestrian to take chances with the traffic causing

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a safety concern for both the pedestrian and the motorist. Having designated paths for bikers or runners will keep contact between traffic and pedestrian to a minimum. In Conway and Little Rock, a network of trail systems connects each park. In fact, Conway is “[investing] $40-50 million in parks over the next 20 years” (Lacy). A network that connects parks would keep children off of major roads thus preventing safety issues. One more reason Jonesboro may want to consider improving its infrastructure is to bring more business to the area. Erik Leamon, a local bike shop owner in Conway, says, “…having bike lanes and a ‘bike friendly’ status was a BIG part of [Conway] getting [Hewlett Packard] to decide to land here out of all the options they had.” Wes Craiglow, Deputy Director of Development Department of Planning and Development, says the reason for creating such an environment in Conway is, “[We are] creating a place where people want to belong.” It is in the city’s best interest to make the necessary investments so that people feel safe and motivated to get outside and enjoy an active lifestyle. As with any change there are always objections. The biggest objection comes from those that don’t want tax hikes. Opposition like this has occurred in Conway; according to Mr. Craiglow who says these people do not believe this is a “primary use of taxpayer money.” Generally I do

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concur with those who oppose higher taxes; however, if the advocacy group or committee does its job well the public should see the overwhelming benefits to physical activity. The benefits both short term and long term outweigh the funding argument. Hopefully the public won’t see it as a random tax increase, but through the education process the public will see the taxes as a way to provide the public with something that could ultimately benefit them and change their lives. The people are not alone, if major businesses see the the Jonesboro community is trying to build a more active supporting infrastructure it might be possible that these businesses will get involved and provide private donations. Also grant money that Jonesboro receives can be used to relieve the pressure of tax hikes. Another objection comes from people that believe this only caters to a small population. I do see their point because Jonesboro doesn’t have the active population as compared to other areas of the country. My solution to this argument is that when infrastructure is put in place then more people will become active therefore creating an environment for anyone to join. Use Little Rock as an example, many were opposing the Big Dam Bridge because it was only a pedestrian bridge, but now thousands of people use it every day for relaxation and exercise. The last major objection is for those that say the construction process will cause major disruption. These people are right that construction does cause disruption especially in instances where roads will be widened; the city will have to devise ways to keep traffic flowing in areas where construction slows things down. Today, Jonesboro, like Conway, has growing pains and the implementation of my recommended solution is based from the actions that have been taken by Conway and Little Rock. Jonesboro lacks the easy accessibility to public facilities that encourage public wellness and safety. The construction of bike paths, public parks and trail networks can promote new business opportunities for the city; provide safety for children and pedestrians who use “old-fashioned” transportation to get about. It will also provide different ways to enjoy this great city and improve the health of its citizens. If Jonesboro wants to be a leader in health and wellness in Northeast Arkansas it needs to begin to lay down the infrastructure that would allow this goal to be accomplished. All it entails is the vision and cooperation between the city and its people.

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