Paving section of Frisco Highline Trail leads to controversy, compromise

The Springfield News Leader had an editorial today on the controversy around the recent decision to pave a three mile section of the Frisco Highline Trail between Springfield and Willard.

The issue is that a paved trail is preferred by many trail users and generally leads to far higher use of the trail. But the paved surface is worse for one key group--runners--who are typically heavy users of the trail.

The News Leader wrote:

Not a tough call here. Do the greatest good for the greatest number of people.

We support the recent decision by the Ozarks Transportation Organization Board to pave a portion of the Frisco Highline trail between Springfield and Willard.

We're also glad, however to hear talk of compromise.

Ozark Greenways executive director Terry Whaley offered to work with runners -- most vocal were members of Missouri State University cross-country team -- to try to find funds to add a gravel strip alongside the trail to be paved. . . .

In this particular case, though, it's hard to argue with reports that initial paving of part of the trail near Willard has brought more families on to the trail, and more use in general.

The News Leader also adds something we would agree with:

These kinds of debates rage across America these days.

Bikes versus cars. Runners versus bikes. Walkers who don't like either of those faster-moving folks on their favorite trails.

But, like we said at the outset though, that's a good thing. More and more of America is moving out from behind the wheel and discovering muscle power.

Working out the rest will be easy -- compared to never taking that first wholesome step at all.

We've seen this type of controversy in Columbia as the city has rolled out dozens of miles of new bike routes, intersection improvements, and a law to protect bicyclists and pedestrians from harassment. And all this has caused a very definite increase in the amount of people bicycling and walking around the city but also a lot of discussion in media and around the city.

Are the right type of facilities being built?  Is the money being well spent?  Is too much being spent?  Is anyone using the new facilities?  Do we want more people walking and bicycling on city streets or do we want to keep them all on trails? Was the overall project a success or not?

When you make these kinds of changes, and people start to get off the couch and do more bicycling, walking, running, roller-blading, and all the rest, the result is conflict and new problems--streets that never saw a bicyclist now see many, trails that didn't exist twenty years ago are now crowded, streets that never needed a sidewalk before now have a commonly-traveled dirt cowpath.

These are problems--but they are problems that can be addressed and solved.

The over-arching problem that Missouri has, is that its citizens have historically bicycled and walked half as much as the national average.

(And the national average isn't much to brag about, either . . . )

That means lower levels of fitness, higher levels of obesity, more congestion, more pollution, more greenhouse gas emission, and neighborhoods and communities that are not as livable as they should and could be.

All that adds up to a lower quality of life for our communities and a lot of additional costs.

And now that we are addressing these issues head on, there is the occasional conflict or problem.

But at least we, as a society, are now addressing the core issue--because all of the controversies about whether to pave or not pave a certain stretch of trail, or add or not add a bike lane to a certain street, don't add up to anything when compared to the cost to our society of building an entire state where bicycling and walking are discouraged and made dangerous and difficult.