Of Bikes and Birds
As a former Columbia resident, I’m not surprised that the city is working to build more bike trails. Columbia has a dedicated group of enthusiastic bikers, and some of the most beautiful trails I’ve ever seen. I put more miles on my bike than on my car during my time in Columbia. And who wouldn’t, with the MKT trail connecting the city to Missouri’s KATY trail, a stretch of more than 200 miles, some of which runs along the Missouri river?
But the cause of expanding bike trails, no matter how popular, should not give Columbia community leaders carte blanche to lay bike trails down wherever they please. If some person, business, or organization owns property and doesn’t want a bike trail running through it, they should be able to politely reject the city’s plan to construct a bike trail on their property.
Unfortunately, it appears that the city council may decide to ignore such a refusal. And, in a strange twist, the city is poised to harm the ability of some Columbia residents to enjoy the outdoors in the name of encouraging other Columbia residents to enjoy the outdoors. PedNet, the Columbia organization that promotes bike travel and the expansion of bike trails, is urging the city to use eminent domain in order to construct a bike trail on the Columbia Audubon Society’s (CAS) property.
Bill Mees, who is on the board of CAS, worries that the construction of the trail will irreparably damage the bird-friendly property. From his op-ed in the Columbia Missourian:
Actually, the trail would extend the full length of the south side of CAS property. The southwest corner is a steep forested hillside. Compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act will require switchbacks and extensive grading. Result: 100- to 200-year-old trees cut down, and others damaged or killed by the construction.
I wonder, does the city of Columbia think that the views of people who enjoy biking matter more than the views of people who enjoy bird watching?
Some might argue that bike trails constitute a “public purpose,” and that the use of eminent domain is warranted. After all, eminent domain is used for roads. Aren’t bike trails, as a form of alternative transportation, just as valid of a public purpose?
In short: No. As much as bike enthusiasts might hope for a future when more people use bikes as their primary form of transportation, goods will not be transported by bike trail. Even the local grocery store’s stock involves road transportation. If public transportation rates were to double, roads would still be necessary — how else could buses travel?
Bike trails in general are traveled by a small set of the population. The bike trail that proponents want to construct on the Audubon Society’s property will be used by an even smaller group. Why take, and partially destroy, the Audubon’s Society’s property for use by these favored few?
It’s not as if there is no alternative. According to Mike Hood, the director of the city’s Parks and Recreation Commission, sending the bike trail through the Audubon Society’s property would cost nearly $1 million. An alternative route, along a section of existing sidewalk, would cost between $120,000 and $150,000.
I’m no city council member, but the decision seems easy. Choose the low-cost option that doesn’t require taking someone’s property.