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Making plans into reality: Worthington works toward better walking, biking paths

WORTHINGTON -- Officials are trying to make Worthington's busiest streets safer for pedestrians and cyclists in a series of projects, included in the city's active living plan.

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Macy Baerenwald rollerblades along a Worthington bike path as the sun begins to set. Tim Middagh/Daily Globe

WORTHINGTON - Officials are trying to make Worthington’s busiest streets safer for pedestrians and cyclists in a series of projects, included in the city’s active living plan. 

It’s a common sight to see people walking or biking down Ryan’s Road to commercial areas - right next to moving cars, said Nobles County Public Works Director Stephen Schnieder.
“There are no sidewalks and it’s a heavily trafficked area,” he said, adding that the area makes drivers nervous. A community survey conducted last year showed that many people also agree the street - stretching four blocks - was unsafe and in need of sidewalks.
While city officials hope to install sidewalks on the street next year during an overlay project, they also have a trove of other transportation projects outlined in Worthington’s Active Living Plan (ALP). The ALP was drafted by Worthington officials and the Southwest Regional Development Commission (SRDC) last year to identify transportation problems in the city.
“We have always had transportation, but in the last five to 10 years, there’s been a push toward active living,” said Drew Hage, development planner for the SRDC. In the past, transportation plans would consider the movements of cars, but they now also address pedestrian, bike and freight travel.
The active living plan tries to create an environment that is safe and enjoyable for people to go out and bike or walk, Schnieder said.
“People can go out, walk somewhere and see people they know and stop and say hi,” he said. “That kind of interaction creates a community bond. “When people travel in cars, it’s not the same.
“More people want to be healthy,” Schnieder continued. “To be healthy you don’t have to lift weights or run marathons - you just need to move.”
The only problem is that people don’t feel safe walking outside in some areas of the city. Additionally, some people in Worthington cannot choose the way they travel.
“We want to push (planners) to think about accommodating everyone that travels,” said Nobles County Health Educator Cecilia Bofah, adding that some people in town do not have access to cars - such as children.
Up first on the city’s agenda is creating safe routes to Prairie Elementary.
In the 2014-15 school year, students were not allowed to bike or walk to Prairie due to the lack of pedestrian infrastructure.
“It is important that these kids can go to school safely,” Schnieder said.
The city hopes to apply this fall for grants for the project. If the city receives grant funding through Safe Routes to School and Transportation Alternatives Program, federal and state aid will cover 80 percent of the total cost for the project.
Project crews will build a sidewalk that will connect to an existing trail along First Avenue Southwest and a sidewalk leading to the entrance to the school.
A series of community meetings will be arranged this summer to discuss the project.
City officials are in the process of prioritizing the other projects in the ALP. The city will create a plan to construct and fund those projects as soon as that’s finished, Bofah said.

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