Martin A. Shukert, a consultant with RDG Planning & Design of Omaha, Neb., Janelle Rose with the Barton County Health Department and Sue Cooper with Be Well Barton County as they travelled Hoisington, Ellinwood, and Claflin over the last two weeks to gather information from residents of each community for the bike and pedestrian master plan Shukert has been hired to draft.
They brought aerial maps of each community as well as the entire county, markers, and their listening ears while people ranging in age from young adults to the elderly stopped by and pointed out the routes they walk to get from home to school, the park, shopping, where they feel safe and where they don’t.
Bicyclists also shared favorite routes from town to town, and ideas of how to make the trip more enjoyable and above all else more safe. As they opened up, a picture began to form.
Hoisington’s walkers contend with two highways
Wednesday, Sept. 29, Hoisington’s Clara Barton Hospital opened the Turnbull Safe Room to residents to stop by and provide their input. Those who stopped by shared concerns about the need to safely cross US 281, otherwise known as Main Street, as well as K 4, the main thoroughfare on the north end of the city. The two highways crisscross the city into three main sections. On the north, there is the hospital, the Hoisington Activity Center, Hoisington Middle School, the GPS Kids Club before and after school, all of which require children walking from the south side of the town to cross at least one of the highways to reach their destination. The absence of streetlights, and the need for pedestrian operated crossings were cited as key needs.
On the west side of town sits Roosevelt Elementary, where the youngest students in Hoisington attend school. It’s also home to Hoisington’s city pool and Bicentennial Park, where baseball games are held and an attractive paved fitness trail is located. Again, travel from the North or West ends of the city require crossing highways frequented by faster moving vehicles and semi-trucks.
The Walking School Bus is very popular in Hoisington, so volunteers with that program were on hand to inform Shukert about routes taken, agreeing crosswalks at 5th or 6th street across US 281 would be welcome. At one time in Hoisington’s past, a light had been located near there, but following a state highway resurfacing, some community members recalled, the lights were removed and never replaced. The exact reason why was not known, however.
Ellinwood’s one stop light may not be enough
Ellinwood’s elementary, middle and high schools are within a few blocks of each other on the side of town that is East of Main Street and North of Santa Fe Blvd., a.k.a. Hwy 56. Students that live in the Southern portion of the city have one crossing light, at the intersection of Santa Fe and Main, at which to cross safely. This requires them and others to walk several blocks out of their way in order to safely cross the road often busy with semi-truck traffic. Most do not, take a chance crossing without a light.
It was also noted that the lack of safe crossing elsewhere on the strip is a problem for motorists too, with some admitting they drive across parking lots of other businesses instead of pulling out onto the highway in order to get from business to business.
Claflin great for walking, but biking is ‘buzz’ kill
“Claflin is as close to a near-perfect town for walking as any I’ve seen,” Shukert said.
The entire city is located on the North side of K-4, so students have only residential streets to cross to get to the high school or the bus stop where they catch the bus to either Holyrood or Bushton, where the middle school and elementary school are located. Sidewalks are available throughout town and for the most part are in good condition. Plus, there is a short walking trail located at the high school.
“Pretty much everyone knows the walking routes as well as who the walkers are in town,” said one resident.
Bicycling from Claflin into the surrounding county, however, was of more concern. A handful of avid bicyclists were on hand to talk about the routes they ride from Claflin to Great Bend, Hoisington, Odin, Beaver, and many other small Barton County towns. They ride for health and enjoyment, and all were very well versed in biking etiquette. They shared stories of being “buzzed” by speeding motorists almost every time they ride.
“Education is key for both bikers and motorists,” Shukert said. “Both groups had misconceptions about the others.”
Developing a plan
Reaction to the planning process has been very positive, Shukert said. He was impressed by the number of recreational bicyclists in the area, as well as the participation in the Walking School Bus program in both Great Bend and Hoisington, he said.
“There is certainly a lot of interest in this,” he said. “The people who attended the kick-off and the community sessions make up a very positive foundation of support.”
The emphasis county wide appears to be on the need for adequate sidewalks and crossings rather than trails, Shukert said. Many of these concerns can be remedied with short, inexpensive projects like crosswalks and pedestrian activated crosswalks, and wayfinding signs.
“Everyone is tight on funding, so our priority is determining how we can do a lot for a little,” Shukert said.
One consistent issue stands out from each community. Arterial and highway barriers exist, making it risky to cross K 4 in Hoisington, 10th Street in Great Bend, and US 56 in Ellinwood. Another commonality is the desire to connect various features within a town. While residents of Great Bend are interested in connecting to Barton Community College and the Arkansas River Hike and Bike Trail head, Hoisington residents would like to connections between the schools and the park and Hoisington Activity Center, Rose said. In Ellinwood, there was interest in linking the North side of the city to Wolf Pond on the South side of US 56, Cooper said.
For the most part, he’s finding that long-distance bicyclists are pleased with the opportunities in the county, but would like to see improvements to the route between Great Bend and Hoisington, and a route along Hwy 96.
Armed with the information gleaned from the four community meetings, Shukert will now develop the first draft of a comprehensive plan for the county. The public will again be invited to return for a second round of input before he presents the plan to city and county officials, he said. The next round will begin sometime during the second half of November or the first half of December.