Hillcrest High School Army JROTC swept the 4th Annual Tuscaloosa Marines Memorial 5K Run held on February 18, by winning seven medals.
Like many folks, health may be on your mind as you make those New Year’s resolutions. Exercise is often at the top of the list, with hopes and dreams to keep your physical activity as consistent as possible. If you’re anything like me, not only is time a big factor, but so is making sure I’m not getting bored or burned out with my activity of choice. Thankfully though, Tuscaloosa offers quite the bounty of opportunities to keep you active throughout the New Year.
Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox and Athens-Clarke County, Georgia Mayor Nancy Denson have made a friendly wager for the College Football Playoff National Championship game.
Area residents who want to help support the DCH Breast Cancer Fund will have a chance to do so by participating in a trio of upcoming “Play Pink” fundraising events hosted by The DCH Foundation.
Typically, when you come to my column, it’s to read my poor attempts at humor and maybe momentarily escape reality. For this one, we get a little more serious.
As a general rule, I sidestep political remark as much as humanly possible. In this bizarre day and age in which we live, tolerance of others’ beliefs and values seems to be almost non-existent. Everyone seems to have an agenda, while almost no one seems to be willing to listen to dissenting opinion with an open mind. And that is a long-term recipe for disaster.
Ever tried biking through Tuscaloosa? It probably wasn’t as easy as you thought it would be.
At the moment, there’s a group of community members and organizations working to remedy the problem. The Sassafras Center for Arts and the Environment leads the movement for more bike lanes in Tuscaloosa with the support of the City of Tuscaloosa, The University of Alabama, the UA Bicycle Advocacy Coalition, the Druid City Bicycle Club, I Bike Tuscaloosa and local businesses.
Sassafras has only allocated hundreds of dollars for a project that would be the equivalent of $250,000 of master planning. Partnerships in the community, like those the Sassafras Center has implemented, are vital to overcoming budgetary hurdles, Mayor Walt Maddox said.
“Over the past 10 years, the City has made great strides in becoming a more connected City for pedestrians and bike riders. The River Walk was instrumental in setting the tone, as we incorporated cycling and other physical activity as a part of City infrastructure and continue with citizen-driven initiatives like the City Walk,” Maddox said. “We want to be a more connected city, and accomplish that through the development of shared use paths or bike lines when feasible. As is the case most often, budget drives how far the City can go, so developing partnerships is critical to see this vision fulfilled.”
The center’s efforts to make Tuscaloosa as bike-friendly as possible have included thousands of hours of man hours retrofitting old roads for cyclists and installing new bike racks, while encouraging community members and University students to continue cycling around town. The push to add more bike lanes to Tuscaloosa’s roads will benefit motorists as well as cyclists, Sassafras’s Executive Director Eric Courchesne, said.
“If you put a cyclist on the road without a bike lane, there’s an increased probability for accidents and traffic because of the cyclists. We know people who cycle see this as a no-brainer,” Courchesne said. “For people who have a negative view [of cyclists], we’re trying to put people in a bike lane to get them out of the way. That’s a 10 percent reduction of traffic. That’s two lights and 10 minutes saved on the average commute.”
Sassafrass has approached the project by developing a map of Tuscaloosa divided into 32 areas of roughly the same number of miles. Volunteers were then trained to look for four categories of classification for roadways: an already existing safe street for bikes, a street that can be made safe with low-cost investments, such as paint and signage, an unnecessarily wide street for its current speed, and traffic that could benefit from a bike lane and/or streets that would simply not be safe for bikes, like interstates or private roads.
“Our volunteers went out, had a map in their hands, four highlighters and a pen. They rode every single street segment on their map,” Courchesne said. “We then sent out volunteers a second time to control for human error.”
The UA Civil Engineering department helped to digitize the data that the City of Tuscaloosa plans to use. The department added elevation data, included demographics data showing the population density and average household incomes, as well as key data that shows where schools and shops are located for areas where people would want to bike to, Courchesne said.
“It’s one of the most robust maps in the country, and it shows where we can build the lowest cost possible to get the biggest bang for our buck,” he said. “The City is going to take this data, and they’ll have a list of recommendations to prioritize for planning. Even the UA Planning department has expressed interested to help them best retrofit existing roadways for cyclists.”
Courchesne said the map is just the first step.
“The City and UA are going to need to invest in planning, so we want to give them planning for free. I’m obsessed with efficiency, and we have an army of volunteers who have gone out and biked and because of that, we’ve ended up with a fantastic resource,” he said. “The next step is to share it with everybody and to have a version of the map we’re going to be able to put online. We want the community to take a look and to be able to crowd source future edits.”
Courchesne said those interested would be able to look online, see where their house is and report whether they think the center’s label of the street should change. Sharing the map with Google and other map services are also planned for even better bike route options.
“As we build new facilities, we will update the map and our partners so that the whole community has better access to safe route options,” he said. “We’re working additionally with UA’s Civil Engineering department to have senior design projects to be able to have students conceptually design plans and then hand the designs over to the City for high priority building projects to make building less expensive.”
Sassafras has even involved UA sculpting students as part of its efforts. Courchesne said the center is working to develop relationships with students to produce sculptural bike racks for the City to have access to for the same price that they would purchase regular bike racks.
“Our first [bike rack] is on 4th Street just west of Wilhagan’s and Green Bar. We have a blog post about it on the website,” Courchesne said. “We’re working with the City to develop a parallel program to that of their bench program. If a business wants a bench by their location, they can purchase one – we’re trying to arrange the same for the sculptural bike racks. If they want to buy one, they can pay the City $500 to procure the bike racks. It’s just one way we’ve been working to develop public-private relationships.”
Courchesne said the effort found a little more motivation in that Auburn is currently considered the most bikeable city in Alabama. Courchesne said he sees the rivalry as a healthy one.
“The fact that they’ve been investing in bikeability longer than us means we have some catching up to do. I would love to surpass Auburn. I see it as a win-win ultimately working on making our cities healthier, more livable and more fun,” he said. “If we’re going to spend money to get people downtown, why not spend it as efficiently as possible? We’re finding most projects can be built with little to no cost.”
The City already has construction documents for downtown, it just needs to appropriate funds, while the rest of downtown is essentially just a paint project, Courchesne said. As the City is experiencing a parking crunch, the support for bike lanes is clear.
To show community leaders that the push to make Tuscaloosa bikeable isn’t as controversial as it once was, Sassafras started a petition with a goal to garner 2,000 signatures.
“The reality is, we’re just getting started. We’re a young organization with a handful of projects. We’re building our inaugural Sassafras Park, we’re going to build a world class facility and we’re helping to build community gardens,” Courchesne said. “We’re invested 100 percent in the community. I’m still volunteering as Executive Director. We’re hoping the community will be willing to support the work we’re doing financially.”
To find out more information about the petition, the a larger version of the bikeability map or Sassafras, visit sassafrascenter.org.
Tis the season for little league games and summer sporting events, which brings us to the inevitable topic of competition. Most people would agree that teaching children how to compete is a valuable skill in life, and that childhood sports are one of the avenues by which to learn this. This is also an excellent opportunity to define the difference between healthy and unhealthy competition.
On Saturday, May 20, Lake Lurleen will be filled with the sounds of area children running, swimming and biking throughout the state park as part of the fifth-annual Tuscaloosa Kids' Triathlon.
The 23rd Annual Youth for Christ Legacy Golf Challenge will be held this Thursday, May 11, at the NorthRiver Yacht Club. The organization hopes to raise a total of $70,000 for its programs this year.
Two specific programs that benefit from the Youth for Christ golf tournament are its Campus Life and Parent Life programs, which provide outreach to students at 14 different high schools and middle schools. Maintaining the programs helps students stay connected with a welcoming atmosphere, said Mike Green, Youth for Christ’s executive director.
University of Alabama Director of Athletics Greg Byrne announced Tuesday that head football coach Nick Saban and the University have agreed to a long-term contract extension. The new agreement will extend his current contract to eight years and keep him in charge of the Crimson Tide football program through the 2024 season.