The future of transportation lies in pedestrian-friendly connected communities.

That’s why towns and cities across Missouri and the United States are rethinking transportation, looking beyond traditional roads and highways, to bicycle lanes, trail systems and wider sidewalks.

This move to make streets and neighborhoods more pedestrian-friendly has real value.

It’s a competitive move to attract and retain businesses, but it’s also a practical move as more Americans look for alternative modes of transportation, both for health and economic reasons.

Many communities have seen firsthand the economic, health and safety benefits of doing so.

A 2013 study found Missouri communities that had adopted Complete Streets or Livable Streets programs, also known as policies that support more bicycling, walking and active design of our streets and neighborhoods, reported greater economic development.

One community reported almost 100 percent occupancy on its downtown Main Street while others reported increased construction of pedestrian crosswalks and sidewalks.

Over time, these small but mighty transportation improvements have a big impact.

Missouri’s Katy Trail, once an old railway, now has new life as a state and national treasure. As America’s longest converted rails-to-trail project, the Katy attracts more than 400,000 visitors a year and has generated an estimated $18.5 million per year.

If the economic benefits weren’t exciting enough, the health impact of these decisions can make getting more exercise in daily routines an easy option.

According to the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, almost two out of three adults are overweight or obese. It can be difficult to be active when there are few places to walk or play.

Perhaps not surprisingly, a study from Georgia Department of Public Health found that people who were less than 10 minutes away from a walk were more likely to meet the daily recommendation for physical activity.

The Harry S. Truman Coordinating Council is working to make this connected vision a reality for Joplin and our surrounding region. It’s the HSTCC’s goal to use allocated state and federal funds to help connect the surrounding suburbs to Joplin via bike paths and trails, building a more cohesive micropolitan area.

Projects like these continue to see success across the state, and the greater Joplin region boasts many recreational and quality of life amenities that can share in these successes while bolstering our economy.

The HSTCC will soon update its Regional Transportation Plan, making this the perfect time to grab the handlebars and steer ourselves to a more connected metro area.

For Joplin and the surrounding area, these updates could mean connecting bike trails in McDonald County to the impressive Razorback Greenway Trail in Northwest Arkansas, as well as the Ruby Jack Trail that extends to Kansas. With an updated trail system, we could see increased trail traffic in our communities and more business in our stores and restaurants.

Transportation infrastructure is one of those things that is so big you almost miss it. It’s so integrated into our everyday lives that we rarely think about it. But it’s time to consider our future.

How can transportation options here better serve all members of our community, not just drivers, but businesses, the disabled, seniors, bicyclists and families, too? Communities all across America, just like ours, have started making changes to connect all their residents. It’s time we do, too.

 

Michael Swan is a planner for the Harry S. Truman Coordinating Council of Governments.