This article appeared in The Winchester Sun on Thursday, Jul 11, 2019.
In the fall of 2016, a document was presented to and approved by the Winchester Board of Commissioners and the Clark County Fiscal Court.
The report was a comprehensive plan to improve the health, safety, and quality of life for residents of Clark County by laying out the groundwork for improving the infrastructure for alternative modes of transportation.
In other words, a walk-bike plan. Among the major proposals were a shared use path along Lexington Road (U.S. 60), conversion of abandoned railroad beds to multi-use trails, safer connections to George Rogers Clark High School for students on foot, various other sidewalk and multi-use trail proposals, as well as the creation and funding of a capital improvement fund that will be used to repair, maintain and construct sidewalks in Winchester and Clark County.
There are many reasons why it’s essential for local governments to invest in this type of infrastructure.
For one thing, it’s an equity issue. Many low-income people have limited or no access to a car and are forced to walk or bike to work, to shop and to run errands.
Of particular concern are children who must walk to school in areas where doing so may be unsafe.
Another issue is health. Getting around under one’s own power — whether by bike or on foot — is a great way to get exercise. And if you’ve been paying attention to recent media reports, you know Kentuckians generally fall behind the curve when it comes to getting enough exercise.
“Walkable neighborhoods” is more than a trendy buzzword. Communities are more and more being judged by how easy it is to get around on foot or by bike. This has significant ramifications for economic development. Not to mention the impact on energy savings and the climate.
Again, cities and towns in Kentucky, including Winchester, tend to lag behind most of the nation in walkability scores.
Many of us are convinced that ditching the car for short trips is just a smart choice for quality of life. You can drive through downtown and miss a lot. But try it on foot and see how much more you connect with the shops, the buildings and the people you see.
You can see a town by car, but to experience the texture and vibe of a place, you have to get out and slow down.
Encouraging folks to get around more on foot or by bike is all well and good, but if they can’t do so safely, they either won’t do it or will risk life and limb in the process.
Trying to navigate major streets and roads with no sidewalk and little or no shoulders or marked crosswalks can be treacherous. If you don’t believe me, try walking along the sections of Bypass Road where there are no sidewalks.
I recently asked Stephen Berry, director of Clark County GIS services and president of the Clark County Bicycle-Pedestrian Advisory Committee (BPAC) why — in my view — nothing had been accomplished toward implementing the plan in the three years since its release.
Berry responded by inviting me to the next meeting of the Clark County BPAC. What I found there was a small but dedicated and passionate group of local citizens who are working on implementing this plan. In fact, a primary topic of discussion at that meeting was impending organizational changes that should significantly accelerate progress by forming tighter connections with local government.
The group also discussed a sort of “kick-starter” — a small project that will give the group a quick win and show the community progress is possible. It sounded as if this project will reach fruition soon.
They also talked about other projects that will support the goals of the plan. These include the imminent completion of Legacy Grove Park, which will include a hard-surface walking trail, as well as the prospects for connecting the park to other nearby parks and neighborhoods via sidewalks and trails.
Also mentioned was the development of a major multi-state bike route, U.S. Bicycle Route 21 (USBR 21), which will eventually run through Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky, and Ohio. Part of the Kentucky segment will bisect Clark County and run right down Main Street. Official signage will be posted, which will direct many visitors to our community. This has the potential to give a significant economic boost to Winchester and Clark County.
I’ll be writing more about these activities in the coming weeks and months, and letting you know how you can become involved in helping to see Winchester and Clark County become more welcoming to folks getting around town by non-motorized means.
You can view the entire Winchester-Clark County Active Transportation Plan at bit.ly/CCActiveTrans.
Final thought: Wouldn’t it be nice if all of Winchester were so well connected one could walk or bike anywhere in town safely and conveniently?