Lack of sidewalks in Columbia create transportation issue

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COLUMBIA - Christina Ingoglia said she sees the world through her daughter's eyes. She said she thinks a lot about how the world could be more inclusive of her.

"I can't live forever," Ingoglia said. "I want to make sure she has the ability to do what she needs to do in the world."

Christina's daughter, Lilly, has a rare genetic syndrome called Mowat-Wilson syndrome. As of a few years ago, there were only 600 known cases in the world. 

"It impacts physically how she can move and how she can negotiate the environment," David Nykodym, Lilly's dad and Christina's husband, said. 

Lilly uses a walker and other transportation means to help her get around. This has made Christina and David pay attention to how the city accommodates to non-motorized transportation.

When the family practices walking with Lilly or when they are leaving their house, they often use sidewalks to get around. Christina said their greater use of sidewalks has unintentionally revealed many issues about them.

"Some of them are in disrepair, some of them are nonexistent, some of them aren't wide enough," Christina said. "Where we live, there are no sidewalks, so when we want to go out with our daughter to take her strolling or to use her walker, there's no option to practice even in our own neighborhood."

During the 1950s, the city's focus, "for residential subdivision layouts was to provide roadways designed solely for the private motor vehicle. As a result, most neighborhoods were built with no sidewalks."

In 1973, Columbia passed an ordinance requiring sidewalk construction on all streets in new housing developments. The changing law has resulted in a large number of gaps in the sidewalk network, according to city documents, and the Ingoglia/Nykodym family's home was built in that time period.

To fill the gaps, the city developed the Sidewalk Master Plan. These plans were developed and amended in 1976, 1981, 1996, 1997, 2007 and 2012. The city updates the plan every five to six years, and the next update was supposed to be this year. Due to staff changes, it will probably be developed by 2019, according to the city's transportation planner, Leah Christian.

The city partners with different groups to develop the list of sidewalk projects. It uses a public input process to prioritize the projects, then when grant opportunities and other funding sources become available, the city uses the plan to guide their investment decisions and choose which area will get new sidewalks. 

From the 2007 plan to the 2012 plan, nine sidewalk projects were funded. The 2012 Sidewalk Master Plan had 42 projects, and three have been funded. 

If a resident wants a sidewalk, they can advocate for a spot on the plan's list for consideration. Christian was the 2018 plan's project manager, but because of a recent job switch, someone else will take the job. She said after the item is being considered, it goes through a public input process. The city council ultimately decides which projects the city will pursue.

The city's Bicycle and Pedestrian Commission develops the list for the Sidewalk Master Plan. Christian was also part of the commission before switching jobs. She said the main focus is on areas with high traffic. 

"A lot of times small residential streets are not going to move up the list," Christian said. "It's easy to get your sidewalk discussed, but because there are so many sidewalk needs, we want to make sure that the ones we put on the list are the highest need."

This priority rule often leaves neighborhoods, like the Ingoglia/Nykodym's with no way to add a sidewalk.

Nykodym started graduate school a year and a half ago, and with that, he began research on the city's sidewalks. 

"My personal drive to do this is because of my daughter," Nykodym said. "I wanted to find out how I can make my community more accessible for her and be able to give the city a good base of what is working for people with disabilities and what we can improve upon so that my daughter can move throughout the community."

Part of Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 requires cities and states to make programs and services accessible to people with disabilities, including its streets. The city finalized the ADA Sidewalk Transition Plan this year. It is used in conjunction with the Sidewalk Master Plan to outline how the city will construct new sidewalks, improve existing ones and how to make those ADA accessible. 

The city is currently "inventorying" existing sidewalks, according to Richard Stone, Public Works Engineering and Operating Manager. Public Works staff uses an app to rank particular features of each sidewalk and determine accessibility of them, such as their width, slope, gaps and obstructions.

"You can't really do the best job that you need to do until you know what you have," Stone said. "We're inventorying to find out if we need to pursue a fix to meet requirements. Then, it would be come part of an overall planning process like the Sidewalk Master Plan."

All newly created sidewalks must meet ADA requirements. 

Public Works has many different sources of funding for its sidewalk projects. It follows its Capital Improvement Project Planning Document to prioritize and fund projects. A 2015 ballot initiative also provides funding. 

Most sidewalk projects have previously been funded by GetAbout, according to Stone. In 2006, Columbia was one of four cities to get a $22.4 million grant from the Federal Highway Administration, followed by an additional $5.9-million Phase II grant in 2012.

There are three remaining GetAbout projects. For future projects, funding will have to come from ballot initiatives, Community Block Grant funds and the Transportation Alternative Program (TAP), according to Stone.

Every two years, MoDot seeks projects to be funded by TAP. Columbia is currently in the application process to get funding for the Leslie Lane Sidewalk Project. The application is due November 2.

The Ingoglia/Nykodym family urges the community to care and support all sidewalk projects.

"I've opened my eyes to thinking about the world and how Lilly is going to exist in it," Ingoglia said. "We need to think about how we can make it a better place for her."