By BRADEN LAMMERS
JEFFERSONVILLE — One of its catalysts has been the anticipated completion of the Big Four pedestrian and bicycle bridge. Once it is finished it will tie into the Ohio River Greenway, have paths out to Charlestown State Park and be an amenity that is promoted to attract more businesses to the region.
The city has been developing, and the Jeffersonville City Council approved at Monday’s council meeting, a bicycle and pedestrian masterplan for Jeffersonville.
Jeffersonville Planning and Zoning Director Shane Corbin said the city has received a grant from the Indiana Department of Health to develop the masterplan that totals $43,000. The city’s matching money to receive the grant is $7,000, $5,000 of which has already been secured from the Pioneering Healthy Communities Task Force.
On Monday, the city council helped move the masterplan forward by approving up to $25,000 to develop it.
Corbin said the state department of health was quick to jump on board in helping the city with developing a bicycle and pedestrian plan, largely based around the anticipated completion of the Big Four Bridge.
The former railroad bridge has been converted into a pedestrian and bicycle crossing over the Ohio River and will connect Jeffersonville to Louisville’s Waterfront Park. While Louisville’s ramp to the Big Four Bridge is complete, the Indiana ramp has an expected finish date in June.
“They want to make communities more bike/ped friendly because they want people to be more active,” Corbin said of the Indiana Department of Health. “They want people to improve on health indicators in the state.”
The additional access to Louisville will create more opportunities for alternative modes of transportation.
“It provides and option,” said Steve Sizemore, senior planner with Louisville’s department of economic growth and innovation. “It’s an option that hasn’t been as available.”
Eventually, the goal of the improved accessibility will tie to bicycle and pedestrian paths on both sides of the river.
In Indiana, the pedestrian and bicycle plan will look to connect to the Ohio River Greenway, which will link Jeffersonville to Clarksville and eventually New Albany. The plans would also connect Jeffersonville to Utica and across the river to Louisville’s network of bicycle and pedestrian paths.
“Once they get across [the river] they’ll have access to 28 miles of contiguous bike trails,” Sizemore said.
Another connection that may improve the bicycle network would be a discussion centering around opening up the K & I railroad bridge to pedestrians. While it is not expected to have a quick resolution, planners are hoping to reach a resolution with the railroad to allow the public to access the bridge.
Sizemore said it would create a nine-mile circuit between the K & I and the Big Four bridges.
“You begin to create a really rich regional network,” he said.
The plan also could be integrated into parts of Mayor Mike Moore’s desire to develop a 23-mile bike and hike loop around Jeffersonville, but Corbin said they are independent projects.
Corbin explained the initial focus of Jeffersonville’s bike and pedestrian plan will start at the Big Four Bridge and nearby areas.
“We want to focus on downtown, but we want to [also] connect to other neighborhoods,” he said.
Corbin said the plan will start with areas directly connected to the Big Four Bridge and radiate out. Part of the reason the focus is set at the bridge ramp is the increased traffic that will result once the Indiana side of the Big Four is completed.
“We’re going to get cyclists on Spring Street,” Corbin said. “It’s going to happen. It’s exciting and scary at the same time to have that influx of new people in downtown Jeff.”
According to the Waterfront Park Development Corp. website, Waterfront Park receives more than 1.5 million visitors per year. If 10 percent of those visitors use the Big Four Bridge to cross into Jeffersonville, that would add more than 150,000 visitors per year, or more than 12,500 each month.
“My immediate concern is all that traffic coming off the Big Four,” Corbin said. “I want them to be safe. I want them to come back and visit. I want them to spend as much time as possible over here.”
As a result, he said public input from both sides of the river will help guide some of the decisions as to where the city sets its priorities.
“The plan should delineate the good places throughout the community, if there’s an opportunity to put a multiuse path in anywhere,” Corbin said. “It will also look at road segments and see if there is space to include road lanes on the road.”
He explained that a lot of Jeffersonville’s roads, especially in the downtown area, are wider than normal streets because of the electric street cars that used to operate throughout the community. As a result, bike lanes could be added to roads at a minimal cost because the city has a paint truck and the project could be done in-house.
“Considering what a lot of other projects cost, this will be very cost-effective,” Corbin said. “Of course, we want to capitalize on this influx from the Big Four, but it’s also hopefully going to change the culture a little bit where people are using their bikes.
“We won’t know where the lanes are going to go until the roads are analyzed,” he added.
QUALITY OF LIFE CONCERNS
By developing a network of bicycle and pedestrian paths, the hope is also that it will improve the outlook of the region’s quality of life and amenities.
“I think it expands the potential the livability and the attraction of the region and potential investment,” Sizemore said. “Younger generations, in particular, are very interested in facilities like this. [It’s a] really important investment, its beyond transportation its a health factor as well.”
Corbin said in addressing livability concerns, the city may also become more attractive to businesses.
“Businesses and corporations are looking for quality-of-life issues to relocate to communities, so they look at parks, schools and pedestrian and bicycle facilities,” he said. “It sort of increases our desirability for businesses that might want to move here.”
Developing the plan must move forward quickly. Corbin said a condition of the grant is the money must be spent by June 20.
“Once the plan is complete I hope we can use it to leverage funding or apply for grants,” he said.
Overall, the expectation for Corbin is that an improved pedestrian and bicycle plan will give other options to people and open up Jeffersonville to a new crowd.
“That’s really the way I see it,” he said. “Come spend the day in Jeffersonville and that means exploring the city by foot and by bike.”