GOSHEN — With the help of a comprehensive study, city leaders may soon be able to steer a plan for bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure into reality.
The “Elkhart and Goshen Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plan" got its start back in 2016 when the city joined Elkhart and the Michiana Area Council of Governments (MACOG) in applying for a grant through the Indiana State Department of Health Division of Nutrition and Physical Activity with the goal of developing a comprehensive pedestrian and bicycle plan for the two cities.
According to Goshen Civil Traffic Engineer Leslie Biek, who helped present the plan Tuesday to the Goshen Plan Commission, once the grant had officially been received by the partnership, MACOG immediately set about searching for a consultant team to guide the process, eventually settling on Alta Planning + Design and Taylor Siefker Williams Design Group.
With the consulting team selected, the process kicked off with a review of existing conditions in each city, Biek explained. The consultant team inventoried existing bicycle and pedestrian facilities in the area, conducted field visits to verify conditions in person, and evaluated related existing plans, policies and programs in the area. Existing data was assessed, including traffic stress analysis, crash data and demand analysis.
Also during this period in the plan’s development, a steering committee of about 14 local stakeholders was formed which then met at key points in the process to provide perspective on past achievements in the area, help identify priority improvement areas and provide commentary on recommendations, Biek added of the process.
“We also held a number of public meetings, just trying to get as much public input as we could,” Biek said. “So we had three public meetings total, as well as an online survey, and based on the public input, and based on a number of criteria, crash studies, any type of data that we had available, any policies that we had available, and kind of comparing it all to our goals, they suggested some policy and infrastructure changes.”
Once identified, those recommendations were then prioritized based on criteria developed with the help of the steering committee, Biek explained. That work included formulating the plan’s primary mission statement, which includes the following three overarching goals:
• Build and maintain transportation networks that follow Complete Street philosophies, are welcoming and connect people to the places they want to go
• Create networks that are useful at all times of day and throughout the year
• Educate and promote predictable behaviors to ensure that people who walk, bike and drive can travel to and around Goshen and Elkhart safely and comfortably
According to Biek, establishing such a forward-looking, comprehensive bicycle and pedestrian plan has become a major priority for the city in recent years.
“I think, with Goshen, having multi-modal forms of transportation is important,” Biek said. “We want people to be able to bike if they want to bike, walk if they want to walk, or if they’re in a wheelchair, that they can access where they want to go, etc. We just want to give people options and provide the infrastructure for it, and this plan will help us to kind of prioritize those areas so it’s not so overwhelming.”
Per the plan, Goshen’s prioritized recommendations have been divided into three main sections: high-priority projects, of which there were five listed; medium-priority projects, of which there were 14 listed; and low-priority projects, of which there were 14 listed.
Within the high-priority section, establishing a neighborhood greenway on Eighth Street from Lincoln to the Central City Trail was ranked highest of the top recommendations.
Other top recommendations listed in the plan include:
• Establishing a bike lane and signed route on Main Street from the Mapleheart Trail to Woodlawn Drive
• Installing a sidepath or sidewalk along the Lincoln Highway from Main Street to Kercher Road
• Installing a sidepath and separated bike lane along Main Street from Middlebury Street to the southern municipal boundary and along Third Street from the Mapleheart Trail to the Lincoln Highway
• Establishing a bike lane and sidewalk along Main Street from Westwood Road to Kercher Road
In addition to the prioritization of actual projects, the plan also outlines a number of other recommendations in the areas of education, encouragement, enforcement and evaluation which offer significant opportunities for efficiencies in program implementation, Biek explained.
Included among the recommendations is a suggestion to maintain the project steering committee beyond the plan’s adoption in order to foster continued interagency cooperation between Goshen, Elkhart and MACOG.
Also suggested as an option is the establishment of a new Pedestrian and Bicycle Coordinator position by either the cities or MACOG. Once established, the coordinator would then oversee several of the program recommendations included in the plan as well as implementation of local and regional infrastructure projects.
Rounding out the primary program recommendations suggested by the plan is the establishment of a Bike and Walk Ambassador program to conduct bike-related events and interact with the public at neighborhood or citywide events, all with the goal of encouraging city residents to ride their bikes more often, and to do safely.
“So it’s more of a kind of overall, top-down plan. It doesn’t get too far into the nitty-gritty,” Biek said of the master plan. “Really, it’s more of a guidance document. The end goal would be to adopt it into our comprehensive plan. So, whenever we were looking at new projects, we would look to see what kind of treatments were recommended for that area, and add them at that time. If we were looking to get grants or federal funds, we could use this to show a particular project is a priority, and to back up our grant applications. So there’s no real timeline, per se, but it is an important document for our future development.”
As Biek’s presentation was just for informational purposes, no formal action was taken by the commission Tuesday.
Along those lines, Biek noted that the current plan is to bring the document back before the plan commission for formal consideration during the commission’s upcoming Feb. 20 meeting. If approved by the commission, it would then be forwarded on for final consideration by the Goshen City Council.