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City considers bike helmet, sidewalk laws

April 16, 2012

By NATHAN GREGORY
sdnreporter@yahoo.com

The Starkville Board of Aldermen will seek to make amendments to the city’s sidewalk ordinance, consider calling for a public hearing to amend the city’s bicycle safety helmet ordinance and discuss possible placement of stop signs and traffic calming devices along University Drive at Maxwell Street at its meeting today.

The board will also hear from Greater Starkville Development Partnership Vice President for Tourism and Chief Operating Officer Jennifer Gregory regarding two-hour parking enforcement on Main Street and will receive an update from Greater Triangle Planning and Development District GIS Manager Toby Sanford on the status of the city’s ward redistricting plan.

Amendments to the sidewalk ordinance, as suggested by Ward 5 Alderman Jeremiah Dumas, would require sidewalks within all newly platted subdivisions but would not require sidewalks connecting adjacent properties outside of the city’s sidewalk development area.

Dumas said it is necessary to have the new language in the ordinance because more sidewalks are necessary in order to achieve a more pedestrian-friendly atmosphere but some areas don’t need sidewalks.

“I think we have a better understanding of how to make a well-informed decision on an area with sidewalk development potential. There’s no secret there are some areas where it doesn’t make sense for sidewalks,” Dumas said. “Hopefully a successful mass transit grant with MDOT (Mississippi Department of Transportation) and having that better understanding of density with transit routes (will allow us to have more sidewalks in areas of potential).”

Consideration and discussion of calling a public hearing to amend the city’s bicycle helmet ordinance will also take place. The current law, which was passed two years ago and is being revisited at the request of Ward 4 Alderman Richard Corey, requires all cyclists to wear helmets.
Starkville Mayor Parker Wiseman said that stipulation was put in place to protect cyclists and prevent head injuries.

“It was after receiving some research from (Starkville Police Department) that we decided to change it to an all-ages ordinance because the research indicated that virtually all accidents between bicycles and vehicles in our community in the past had involved individuals over the age of 16,” Wiseman said.
“The primary objective of this ordinance is to prevent head injuries, and at that time we determined the ordinance couldn’t serve that objective if it only applied to people under the age of 16.”

That change implemented two years ago passed in a 4-3 vote, with Aldermen Ben Carver, Sandra Sistrunk and Eric Parker opposing.
Sistrunk said she was against the ordinance primarily based on how difficult it is to enforce.

“Another concern I had was the university doesn’t have a similar requirement in place and you have people traveling from the city to the campus and it makes it cumbersome for cyclists,” she said. “Obviously, I think wearing helmets is a great idea and cyclists ought to do it, but my research shows it’s really a difficult regulation to enforce.”

Dumas and Sistrunk said traffic calming devices at the corner of Maxwell Street and University drive would, along with amending the sidewalk ordinance, make Starkville more pedestrian-friendly.

“We’ve had a couple of issues with people getting hit crossing from one side of the street to another on University Drive. That has become a very popular spot both day and night. In order to make that as safe as possible, we need to make a true intersection,” Dumas said. “We’ve talked to people in the Cotton District and they are for it.

Businesses benefit significantly from that because people are going slower, so there is more economic value, but the most important thing is safety.”

“I like that we’re looking at some creative methods for traffic calming,” Sistrunk said. “One of the complaints I get a lot of in my ward and in other wards is people telling me traffic is too fast in their neighborhood. (Along with stop signs), speed tables and bump-outs are other ways of slowing traffic down in those areas.”

Sanford will update the board on the status of GTPDD’s redistricting plans. Wiseman said Sanford has been holding individual conversations with board members and will bring back revised maps based on input he’s received.

Sistrunk said she believes there will be more land mass in her ward as a result of the revisions if they were to pass as they are currently.
“The questions I have (for Sanford) will be whether or not we’ve met that desire to keep areas of common interests together, (such as) historic neighborhoods and subdivisions,” she said.

“I want to be sure we’ve done all we can do to keep those areas in the same wards, but it’s not an easy proposition.”

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