Guest opinion by Brent Thompson: The goal is good, but the plan is a waste of money.
The City Council voted to spend up to $416,000 for Kittelsen Consulting to revise Ashland's Transportation Plan. The plan's goal is for Ashland to become multi-modal. Once completed we'll pay millions to act on it.
The goal is good, but the plan is a waste of money. Staff and commissions can do much of what is needed. The city should choose a cheaper plan and use the savings for construction.
The plan's non-automobile aspects can be formulated by staff and decision makers riding bicycles or walking with school kids throughout town while they visit friends or go to stores. What they would learn is obvious: The principal barriers to walking and bicycling over driving are distance, unsafe conditions and inconvenience. Therefore, the plan would focus on reducing distances, hazards and inconveniences. That shouldn't cost $416,000.
What principally causes increased distances and barriers in much of Ashland is the now unused railroad tracks. We should want to keep the railroad, but we must negotiate to make the tracks less of a barrier. We need more routes over, under or across the tracks. With the current frequency of zero trains per day, crossing the tracks at grade level except in freight car storage areas is feasible.
For example, if a kid and his family living in Quiet Village near Helman School want to eat at the Breadboard or visit nearby physicians, they will drive because it is about 1 mile to get out of Quiet Village from Nevada Street between Cambridge and Willow. If the city bought a pathway easement across the tracks from the park near the end of West Nevada to North Main, the distance would be 1/2; mile. This reduction of distance makes alternatives to driving easier.
The same holds for going from Fourth and Fifth streets in the Railroad District to the increasingly developed area on the other side of the tracks near and on Hersey Street. The driving distance from between Fourth and Fifth via Oak Street is 0.7 miles and via North Mountain 1.2 miles versus 300 to 400 yards by crossing the tracks.
Regarding the Croman Mill District, we need two routes under, over or across the railroad tracks to Jefferson Way and to Benson Way plus a connector between Benson Way and Jefferson. And we need easements in other areas wherever shortcuts or a bridge would increase probabilities of walking or bicycling. On Highway 66 between the railroad overpass and the freeway, we need more crosswalks with median pedestrian refuges with the same flashing lights as near SOU.
In Ashland, we used to do planning "in-house" with success. Now it seems that too many decisions and studies are dodged by staff and decision makers and given to consultants without better results. Money available above grant money for the Transportation Plan should be spent buying easements and constructing pathways. And no transportation plan for a city of 22,000 should cost $416,000.
Brent Thompson is a member of the Ashland Transportation Commission and formerly was a member of the Ashland City Council and Ashland Planning Commission. He's lived in Ashland since 1983.