Tupelo sets goals for biking, walking

By Emily LeCoz/NEMS Daily Journal

Public Hearing
The city will hold a public hearing this week on its draft Walking and Biking Master Plan. Everyone is encouraged to attend to learn more about Tupelo’s plans for sidewalks and bike lanes and to share comments.
When: 6 p.m., Thursday
Where: Second floor, City Hall
Who: City officials, members of the public

At a glance
To view Tupelo’s Walking and Biking Master Plan, visit the city’s website at www.ci.tupelo.ms.us and click “Newsroom.”

TUPELO – A recently released draft report cites a woeful lack of public sidewalks and bike lanes, and offers a series of steps to increase Tupelo’s non-vehicular amenities.
The 48-page report, called a Walking and Biking Master Plan, came from the municipal Department of Development Services as part of a community-wide push to create more alternative transportation.
But implementing the measures will require a substantial increase in funding. Currently, the city spends about $50,000 annually on sidewalks and about $1.5 million a year to repair and improve streets.
Although the report sets no funding goal, its lead author, City Planner Renee Autumn Ray, provided the Daily Journal cost estimates for standard bike lanes and sidewalks: It costs roughly $14 for each linear foot of new sidewalk, and $36 for each linear foot of new bike lane.
City blocks vary in size, but most range from 200 to 600 feet on each side, according to several online sources.
Tupelo’s current sidewalk budget therefore would fund three to nine blocks of new sidewalks on both sides of the street, or one to three blocks of bike lanes on both sides.
However, those dollars typically go toward repairing existing sidewalks rather than creating new ones, said Public Works Director Sid Russell, in whose department that expense resides.
Russell said he doesn’t expect the sidewalk or street budget to increase next year, meaning recommendations in the master plan will have to wait.
“Implementation will be difficult with no money,” said Ray, who provided in the report a list of potential funding sources. They included grants and a possible partnership with the Major Thoroughfare Program, which receives 10 mills of tax dollars annually for large-scale street improvements.
Currently, Tupelo has one bike path and several scattered pockets of sidewalks. But it lacks an interconnected system where non-motorists can travel safely to school, work, shopping or doctor’s appointments.
“There is currently unmet demand for sidewalks and bicycle routes in Tupelo,” the report finds. “Most residents currently have only one safe option for traveling, and that is in a car. However, one-third of all Americans do not or cannot drive, whether because of age, disability, economic hardship, or other reasons. … This plan is one of the first steps in creating a safe, accessible system of sidewalks and bicycle routes for the many residents who want and need them.”
Among the benefits of sidewalks and bike lanes are increased quality of life, accessible transportation for all, less traffic congestion and lower childhood obesity rates, the report notes.
Short-term recommendations call for sidewalks and bike lanes near schools, major employment destinations and other frequently used public locations like downtown and the North Mississippi Medical Center campus.
The report identifies Green Street – which runs north and south from Lakeshire Street through downtown and to NMMC – as an ideal candidate for complete sidewalks and bike lanes.
Long-range plans include linking other Tupelo neighborhoods with sidewalks and bike lanes, and making Main and Gloster streets more accessible.
Contact Emily Le Coz at (662) 678-1588 or emily.lecoz@djournal.com.