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Open house for IISC

Note paper and pens were provided at a March 23 meeting that showed the proposed active transportation plan created by students from the University of Iowa. People attending could write comments about the plans and attach them to the posters.

SIOUX CITY | Megan Wissing usually bikes to her work downtown in the summer. 

She can pedal to her job at Siouxland Cares from her house in about 20 minutes with no parking or traffic hassles. 

"It takes me the same amount driving, to get into my car, hit the stoplights and find a parking spot," said Wissing, 31. 

She is confident in her route, but she said Sioux City's streets are not welcoming to bicyclists. 

To address that problem, city officials and students from the University of Iowa are developing a fresh bicycling and pedestrian infrastructure. 

An open house on March 23 at the Wilbur Aalfs Public Library provided feedback on the University of Iowa students' preliminary active transportation plan, which focuses on improving, creating and connecting bike and pedestrian paths.

The plan is part of the 2014-15 Iowa Initiative for Sustainable Communities (IISC), a University of Iowa program that seeks to modernize and improve cities while making them more sustainable. 

Sioux City and the Siouxland Interstate Metropolitan Planning Council (SIMPCO), a multi-government council, partnered with the university in August 2014 on the project.

An active transportation plan is part of Sioux City’s goal to being a certified Blue Zones community, said Sioux City planner Charlie Cowell.

During the open house the public examined posters of the students' plan. Several of the students were present to answer questions.

Bright, fluorescent sticky notes lay on a table for the public to write their thoughts and post them on the posters.

The preliminary plan also touched on funding, implementation and encouraging Sioux City to finish the plan. Michelle Bostinelos, deputy director of SIMPCO, said this plan goes deeper than just connecting bike trails.

“No matter how many trails you have, you still see bicyclists pedaling on the street or on the sidewalk,” Bostinelos said. 

Some recommendations for bicycles and pedestrians include adding various forms of bike lanes, signal buttons, visible crosswalks and smoother curb cuts.

The students designed the plan to be realistically priced, said Kevin Randle, 23, graduate student at University of Iowa. 

“By proposing bike lanes and sharrows, it’s a relatively simple and inexpensive way and also an extremely effective way to promote safety and an increase in use of cyclist and pedestrian transportation,” Randle said. “Really, you just have to pay for the paint on the road.”

A large part of the pedestrian plan will be closing gaps in the sidewalk network and creating new crosswalks.

“It’s something that helps alert motorists that it’s a pedestrian crossing which makes motorists more aware and can help reduce crashes,” Randle said.

For Dick Billings, president of the Siouxland Cyclist bicycle club, the proposed bike lanes and other bike-friendly improvements were a welcome sight.

“I’ve lived in Sioux City for 30 years and there has never been any formalized efforts to make it bike-friendly,” Billings, 55, said. “So certainly we’re in favor of that.”

An avid biker, Billings said the proposals will create a safer, more welcoming atmosphere for cyclists. 

“It’s just a comfort level really for both parties, the motorist and the biker,” said Billings.

Part of the plan also includes creating a permanent active transportation advisory committee in Sioux City, said Andrew Lynch, 35, graduate student at the University of Iowa.

“Something like (an active transportation committee) is really essential for coordinating a lot of the recommendations we’ve made and making sure that the plan is followed,” Lynch said.

On May 6, the students will present their final plan based on the suggestions gathered the March meeting. From then on it will be in the city’s hands to be reviewed by various committees and eventually approved by City Council, said Cowell.

There is no official timeline for the plan once it goes to the city, and it likely won't be enacted immediately, Cowell said.

Lynch said it is designed to be a 15-year plan to be implemented in several phases.

The students' work has brought to light necessary changes in Sioux City, Cowell said.

“It gives a new perspective to the city,” he said.. “Obviously we know where there are deficiencies and where the (trail) connections need to be made.”

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