Tupelo considers sidewalk mandate for new city streets

By Emily Le Coz/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – A new policy being considered by city leaders would require sidewalks and bicycle lanes on all new roads and major road projects within the city limits.
The policy, called “Complete Streets,” is similar to those adopted in communities across the country as part of a national movement to provide safe alternatives to vehicular travel. In addition to sidewalks and bike paths, the policy mandates handicap accessibility, transit stops, signs and benches. It also requires shoulders on heavily traveled streets.
The proposal was placed on the City Council’s study agenda Tuesday by the Department of Development Services and will go up for a vote Feb. 2.
If the council adopts it, the policy will become a permanent part of Tupelo’s development code and subdivision regulations. It also will make the city Mississippi’s first to join the movement. Similar movements are ongoing in Arkansas, Atlanta, the entire state of Tennessee and more.
Local support for the policy appears strong, with Mayor Jack Reed Jr. among the most vocal backers.
“This is part of our effort at creating an environment in Tupelo for people to live healthy, safe lifestyles,” Reed said. “For too long we just built streets for cars, and this gives us a chance to rededicate ourselves to that idea of complete streets.”
But some residents say they’re worried about added cost to the municipal road budget and to private developers.
“I have a problem with adding a lot of standards at this time when the economy is going slow,” said Clyde Whitaker, a real estate developer and member of the city’s Major Thoroughfare Committee.
The Major Thoroughfare Committee handles Tupelo’s large-scale road widening and road building projects – exactly the kind targeted by the new policy.
Whitaker said he supports the concept behind Complete Streets but worries it could hinder development.
Those concerns weigh heavy on council president Fred Pitts, who said he likes the policy but wants to make sure builders are on board before adopting it.
According to Senior City Planner Renee Autumn Ray, however, additional costs are minimal if sidewalks and bike lanes are built into a project from the beginning.
And if costs exceed the total road project budget by more than 20 percent, the policy won’t apply. It’s also exempt if the additional amenities could create a risk or are deemed unnecessary to the public. Also exempt are minor road projects, like pot-hole repairs.
Costs will run high, Ray said, when it comes to retrofitting existing roads. The city will incur those expenses over the long term as it begins a push to promote more pedestrian and bicycle activity.
“On average, two-thirds of Americans drive, so one-third don’t,” Ray said. “So basically, everyone pays taxes and everyone pays for the roads, but only two-thirds of the people are enjoying the benefits of what everyone is paying for. This will establish equity.”

Contact Emily Le Coz at (662) 678-1588 or emily.lecoz@djournal.com.