EDITORIAL: Bikes and feet

The city of Tupelo has a new long-range comprehensive plan, and for now at least, some members of the public and city officials are actually taking it seriously.
An important element of the plan is to create more biking paths and pedestrian-friendly areas. Public transportation is part of the vision as well.
In recent weeks, the prospects – sooner rather than later – for some small-scale public transportation in the city have improved. And this week people who want to increase Tupelo’s friendliness to bicyclists, walkers and runners have turned out at City Hall to examine possibilities and discuss strategies.
The crowd at Monday night’s first hearing wasn’t huge, but the people there were a committed core. Successful efforts to make positive changes of any kind in a community usually start with a small group of energetic stalwarts.
The city, through its comprehensive plan, is already committed – on paper at least – to the goals discussed at the meeting. But obviously the impetus for a concerted effort will come only if broader public support emerges.
One intriguing proposal that came out of Monday night’s meeting was to include bike paths and lanes, walking trails and other improvements under the purview of the Major Thoroughfare Committee. Tupelo’s voters could be presented with a master plan for such amenities as part of the next reauthorization of the thoroughfare program, which comes in 2011.
That approach makes sense for a couple of basic reasons. First is that it would be both an opportunity to create public support through the presentation of a specific plan. Second is that voter approval would provide designated funding for the improvements without new taxes.
Perhaps the most compelling argument for including alternative transportation improvements in the Major Thoroughfare Program is the necessity for coordination of needs. Traffic planning does not occur in a vacuum from these concerns; they must be considered together. It all must be part of a comprehensive system to make the changes work.
Of course there will be disagreements about needs and priorities, but those can be worked through and consensus developed by adhering to the major points of the city’s comprehensive plan.
Making Tupelo more friendly and safe for bicyclists, pedestrians and runners isn’t about catering to a small group of hobbyists. It’s essential to helping Tupelo compete in the future with other cities who correctly see these quality of life enhancements as central to community growth and health. They’re also in sync with a future that is certain to require greater emphasis on energy conservation.
So let the discussion continue, followed by appropriate action to make bike paths and walking trails move from official wish to tangible reality.

NEMS Daily Journal