By the title you might hear a big yawwwwn...on this topic but for those interested in creating communities that are more bike and walk friendly I offer the following. This Saturday in Johnson City we are hosting an Open House and Clean Up Day at our recently acquired 1909 rail depot. Neglected and blighted it now is in the hands of our downtown development authority. It also happens to sit happily on the new greenway for bicyclists and pedestrians leading from the area university to the city center. How did we acquire this new trail head and welcome center?
(1) By passing a TIF (Tax Increment Funding) program in the city and county that captures the taxes on increased property values and directs them into a designated fund that is to be used for financing improvements that bring in more investment dollars.
(2) By instituting storm water runoff fees. These are based on the size of commercial parking areas and are designated for use in flood control and improved water quality of local streams. In our case a creek passes directly under Johnson City's downtown and does not have the capacity to carry large volumes of rain water, thus we have flooding and decreased interest in investment in downtown properties. Additionally the creek receives a great deal of urban run off pollutants including petrochemicals, nitrates (fertilizers), and fecal material. We are now in the process of buying unused warehouses and lesser valued buildings and uncovering this water way, adding riparian filtration areas and tree cover. We expect that there will be a measurable increase in water quality flowing into our lakes and streams and enhanced aquatic life.
Result? Urban green spaces and safe bike and pedestrian links financed by TIF, storm water funds, and debt service. The proposed system will improve the quality of life of those living in and visiting the community without raising property taxes and becomes an incentive for future investment. The system links a university, a regional hospital, a Veterans Administration site, a medical school, a university baseball complex, a new 600 unit apartment complex, a 1908 mill being preserved and developed commercially sitting on 30 acres, a community Senior Center and aquatics complex, a 10.5 mile rail-to-trail project, and our beloved railroad depot.
Good urban planning takes professionals with vision, civic leadership with backbone, and support from the grassroots community of voters and those who believe that infrastructural investment of this nature is both wise and beneficial in the long run. We hope to develop a safer community for those who choose to bike and walk, sit by a stream, jog along a greenway, or rest in the shade of a tree.