Manhattan planners are envisioning a future with improved bicycle and pedestrian routes, including additional bikeways and protected cycletracks alongside city streets.
City commissioners Tuesday discussed an update to the Bicycle and Pedestrian Systems Plan, which lays out potential future projects to improve biking and walking around Manhattan. The previous plan was adopted in 1998.
City administration created the plan, with input from Kansas State University, USD 383, RCPD, the Chamber and area developers. Feedback was also sought from stakeholders such as Downtown Manhattan, Inc. and the Aggieville Business Association as well as the Rotary Club. Manhattan paid $40,000 to formulate the plan, leveraging a nearly $150,000 KDOT grant to assist as well. Funds for various projects will be sourced from the 2017 voter-approved Parks and Recreation sales tax, the City-University fund and an assortment of federal and state grants. In recent years, Manhattan has been able to leverage $1.6 million from $270,000 of city investment for trail projects.
The plan lists out a number of future projects to be tackled as funds permit over the next 10 to 20 years. Those include installing wayfinding signage on trails and expanding bicycle parking possibilities, finishing the final 6 miles of the Linear Trail loop, creating divided bicycle lanes and two-way cycle tracks and filling in gaps in the sidewalk system. A full list can be found here.
Projects will be prioritized using a matrix that accounts for equity, safety, connectivity, demand, need and financial feasibility. Based on these factors, projects are divided into four categories of prioritization: Do Now, Do If, Do When and Long Term. Commissioner Linda Morse suggested that priority be given to creating and improving trails in areas without connectivity to the trail system before improving walkways in already served neighborhoods.
“It’s a benefit for the people in our community,” says Morse. “And some of the areas have never had the opportunity to have a bicycle and pedestrian path.”
Mayor Pro Tempore Wynn Butler says he’s not a fan of separated bike boulevards, though questioned whether the city could make some streets one-way in order to accommodate more bike lanes. He says there were multiple one-way streets around town when he first arrived in the community in the 80s.
“If we’re truly concerned about safety and we want people to use [bike lanes and trails], I’d like to have some people just take a look at that and see if it makes any sense.”
Another specific project discussed Tuesday is a plan to pave and add lighting along the newly created Old Blue River Trail that connects Northview to Downtown and the Linear Trail system. Public Works Director Rob Ott says this project is “unique” and that they don’t plan to light every trail. Lighting will be handled by Evergy, for which the city will pay a small fee of about $12 per light. Mayor Usha Reddi says she is glad that is a part of the discussion.
“It’s a big safety issue,” says Reddi. “Hopefully it’s not going to be so bright that it impedes on some of the neighborhoods and their windows and their houses, but it’s enough that you feel safe and you’re not riding your bike or walking in the dark.”
The decision to pave the trail, administration says, is to increase its usability, especially after heavy rain when the walkway is turned to mud. City administration also says they’ve heard comments on how dark the pathway is, and as there aren’t neighboring homes they are in favor of adding lighting.
Currently, City administration is anticipating that project to cost $250,000, but hope to significantly reduce the impact on the city by drawing in grant money.
Riley County Police are testing new uniforms with an option available for officers to wear a ballistic vest, which the department’s director says is not just an aesthetic choice.
Director Dennis Butler provided an update to the Manhattan City Commission Tuesday and says the vests can help better distribute the weight of necessary gear and help reduce hip pain and discomfort caused by a heavy belt. He told commissioners a story of an officer he worked with in the past who was too small to fit all required gear on her belt.
“We evaluated it there and decided to go ahead and authorize our officers there to wear them, mainly for practical reasons,” says Butler. “Flexibility, not because it looked cool.”
Butler says he never was a big fan of the look of such vests, and expressed a desire to avoid looking too militaristic. He says whatever route they choose to go uniform-wise, he wants any ballistic vests to blend well with the standard uniform.
“Now it’s hard, in some ways, to get away from that perception from some people,” Butler says. “But that is part of my evaluation if they do recommend an outer vest as part of the uniform.”
RCPD is currently field testing a different shade of blue alongside a navy and a grey uniform over a 90-day period. The change in uniform comes after repeated complaints that the outfit is uncomfortable in certain scenarios and as many police departments move away from the “French Blue” color traditionally donned by Riley County officers. Butler also says that due to that decreased demand, acquiring uniforms in that color will be increasingly difficult as manufacturers remove it from production.
Additionally, Butler told commissioners that RCPD has begun the first of a million dollars worth of upgrades as Riley County plans its roll-out of a new emergency services radio system.
Butler says that price tag is necessary to re-outfit all officers and vehicles with necessary radios, microphones and holders to be able to utilize the new system. Butler says there are hopes the system will go live this summer.
“Live doesn’t mean we’ll be switched over and operating on it,” he says. “Live means then they’ll start testing the system to make sure everything is operational.”
Butler also gave an update on the new RCPD firing range, saying work continues steadily. They are working with the county and vendor to get the facility in order as the lease on their current range ends at the end of June.
“We’re hoping to at least have the basic, qualifactioned, firing line in place sometime before the end of the summer.”
If work takes longer than anticipated, Butler says they have contingency plans in place as well to ensure they aren’t without a training facility.
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