Pathways update includes responses, needs and issues

(Gillette Public Access)
(Gillette Public Access)

The City of Gillette held a special pathway presentation and Q&A Oct. 14 to show progress made in drafting a new master plan since the outdated original dates back in 2007. Residents are urged to continue making suggestions and share feedback at through this weekend. After Sunday, the design company in charge of the improvements will turn talk into action with the final plans.

Hosts of the public hearing provided visuals and statistics from surveys received regarding pathway usage from residents as they prepare for the final draft in the next few months.

The new master plan will have the local pathway system set for the next 10 years.

One thing was made clear when presenting ideas and plans – Gillette has changed since the decade of the last master plan.

(Gillette Public Access)

“The pathways add to our quality of life. Our quality of life helps us when we start talking about economic development.” Gillette City Projects Manager Josh Richardson said. “You’ve got to have jobs. You’ve got to have places to recreate.”

Most of the project is paid for by the federal government through the Department of Transportation’s Transportation Alternatives Programs (TAP) TAP grants. Those grants will pay for 80% for the work, with the city contributing a 20% match from  its Optional 1% Sales Tax funds.

City leaders and citizens were briefed by Alta, the company in charge of designing the new pathways project, in an hour-long meeting that covered ideas, hopes, plans and questions. The group also presented the findings from surveys received about the local pathways system.

“It’s been a long time since there’s been a lot of planning resources devoted toward the pathway network. It’s been 13 years,” said Joe Gilpin, vice president of Alta. “Gillette has grown, the number of pathways has grown, there’s all kinds of new development going on and we want to make sure we’re not only being responsive for that but getting ahead of it into the future so we can leverage those projects for additional linkages and connectivity on the pathways.”

He added that the popularity of pathways around the country have grown tremendously during the pandemic. It not only encourages getting outside and social distancing, but they also provide a value for physical activity, exercise, travel between recreation areas and even commuting to work.

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Gilpin commented that Gillette has stayed ahead of the growing curve as it currently has nearly 80 miles of pathways. That milage includes paved paths, dirt trails, sidewalks, cycling lanes and bridges all which allow pedestrians to travel between all parts of town.

“I’m quite impressed with the city. For a network this size, for a community like Gillette, you have something that a lot of communities have been working very hard towards for many years and not achieve. I’m very proud of what’s already been developed here,” said  Gilpin.

Among the survey results, how frequently do walk for recreation or to get to work, school or shopping confirmed the popularity of the pathways. About 70 percent of the respondents said they walk at least a few times a week.

By contrast, the same question was pitched to cyclists. Of 92 responses, 57 said they rarely or never bike to their destination.

(Gillette Public Access)

When asked why residents walk or bike, the answer was overwhelming as nearly 90 percent of a respondents said for run/recreation and exercise for physical or mental reasons.

When polling residents on what the top three obstacles or concerns there are locally that prevent people from walking or biking more, the majority answered weather – too cold, too hot or not enough protection from the elements. The second biggest reason was safety concerns, which included lack of lighting and concern with sidewalks next to busy streets.

“We want to know which ones are interesting to all of you,” Gilpin said.

A few residents who attended the meeting had questions, ideas and concerns. Requests were made to install more crosswalks at schools, extend bike paths, place signage indicating distances and a pedestrian/bike path over Gurley Avenue.

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“By Lakeview Elementary a lot of kids cross the street to go to the park and play and there is no crosswalk. Kids don’t want to go down to the light, so they play chicken and cross the road,” said one concerned citizen at the meeting.

(Gillette Public Access)

Gilpin said using asphalt for unattached paths is the most popular because runners and walkers agree it’s easier on the joints and it burns off snow quicker. He noted that it makes maintenance a challenge because asphalt has a shorter lifespan of 15-20 years.

It was also discussed implementing more unattached sidewalks which are up to 14 feet from the curb. It provides more safety for pedestrians and gives more curb appeal with landscaping between the street and the pathway.

The most popular concerns and suggestions from the community are:

  1. Crosswalks needed at specific locations
  2. Considering lowering speed limits on certain routes
  3. Paths/routes needed to better connect to downtown and other parts of town
  4. Add running surfaces next to walking and biking paths
  5. Fix drainage where water is flooding and/or freezing
  6. Add and improve lighting in darker areas of pathway for safety
    (Gillette Public Access)

“I want to know personally as we get into the last phases of the project how popular some of these projects are versus others,” Gilpin said.

Another citizen expressed concern about the Echeta and Foothills area because the amount of cement trucks and oilfield vehicles that travel those roads. She said the idea of making decisions on changes based solely on the amount of likes on a Facebook post is a problem for part of the pathway she said is a hazardous situation. Alta officials said they are using the likes from posts on its website as one of the tools to determine what residents want or do not want.

Gilpin said with constant growth and development in the city that implementing improvements of the pathway helps the city stay ahead of the growing curves.

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“Neighborhoods around the town, you can get around in them, but if you want to get to the next neighborhood, you have to cross a busy street,” said Gilpin regarding the need to further connect paths.  “That becomes a breakage in the level of comfort. Some of the things we’re looking at is how can we reconnect all of these isolated neighborhoods.”

(Gillette Public Access)