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A two-wheeled vision for the future

MPO of Johnson County unveils bike plans at public meeting
A Coralville resident, and bicyclist, looks over a map of current and proposed bike trails during a public meeting hosted by the Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) of Johnson County Wednesday, Nov. 20, at Van Allen Elementary in North Liberty.

NORTH LIBERTY– About a dozen or so people took a first-hand look at future plans for bicycle trails in the Iowa City, Coralville, Tiffin and North Liberty area at a public meeting held by the Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) of Johnson County on Wednesday, Nov. 20, at Van Allen Elementary School in North Liberty.
Sarah Walz, an assistant transportation planner with the MPO, said the organization has been working on the comprehensive plan for roughly a year, in conjunction with the communities. Iowa City has had a master plan in place since 2017, Walz noted, and she explained the MPO previously formulated a plan, which was in need of revision to account for continued population growth in the metropolitan area.
“We had something called the Metro Bike Plan that represented the whole metro area, and the other communities wanted to go forward with an update of a plan,” she noted. The MPO presented a five-year plan, along with goals and recommendations for the various communities in terms of how they can make their community more bicycle-friendly. “That’ll be everything, depending on the size of the community, from programs that teach kids how to ride, to materials they publish to guide people through their bicycle network, to local ordinances for bicycles.”
The MPO is a federally mandated organization for metropolitan areas over 50,000 population. “Our primary purpose is to help with the allocation of federal funding for roads, and we bring communities together so that as roads are being extended, that that network connects community to community, so that you have coordinated, cooperative planning of the transportation network.”
Within the federal dollars allocated for road projects is Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP) funding. Walz said it is frequently used by communities for trails, but noted “side paths” (extra-wide sidewalk suitable for walking and biking) are often included within the funding for a specific road project, which comes from a Surface Transportation Block Grant program (also administered by the MPO).
“When it’s just strictly a trail, that’s more likely to get TAP funding,” she said. But in the case of North Liberty, the city (through the MPO) applied for TAP funding for a new side path alongside North Liberty Road. “So, in a few years, that’ll be put in,” Walz said. The TAP funds, she added, are a local match, meaning the federal government splits the project cost with the city.
Walz said she has seen an increased demand for more bike trails, particularly in North Liberty and Coralville, for recreational biking as well as commuting. “I think there’s a healthy bicycling culture that supports local businesses,” she observed. “It’s very popular to ride up to North Liberty to Reds Alehouse and places like that.” In the next five years, she anticipates completion of the Clear Creek Trail from Coralville to Tiffin. Currently, the connection is on hold awaiting completion of the Interstate 80/380 interchange project. “And then you’ll be able to continue on the trail all the way out to Kent Park,” Walz added.
A network of trails continues to evolve in the area with the completion of the trail along Mehaffey Bridge Road from Solon to North Liberty, as well as Johnson County’s efforts to complete a trail from Solon northward along the former Rock Island Railroad right-of-way to the Linn County line. This trail continues through Ely into Cedar Rapids, where it connects to the Cedar Valley Nature Trail (following the former Waterloo Railroad right-of-way). Once all of the pieces are in place, a bicyclist could ride completely on trails from Solon to Waterloo.
“We’re excited about this next five-year period, because once all of those segments are complete, it will really open up an opportunity for bicycle tourism,” Walz said.
Bicycle tourism is on the increase in Iowa with popular destination trails such as the Raccoon River Trail (a 92-mile trail from West Des Moines to Jefferson on former railroad routes) and the High Trestle Trail from Ankeny to Madrid. “It’s really becoming a popular activity,” she said. “We will once in a while get a phone call from out-of-state from someone who’s looking for trail information because they’re riding the length of the Mississippi, or they’re riding across the country, or across the Midwest and they’re looking for what’s available to ride in our area.”
Walz also sees the Tiffin-to-Coralville link as opening up an option for commuters such as students living in Tiffin and attending the University of Iowa, or working in Coralville at businesses as close as Coral Ridge Mall. “It’s an easy ride, it’s flat as a pancake, and it’s very safe,” she noted.
The MPO manages the Long-Range Transportation Plan, which goes out to 2025 and features the prioritization, by the communities, for roads and trails based how they fit into the funding cycles, Walz explained. “There are concepts for trails that are 20 years out. It’s a lot of money for roads and trails, so you want to be thinking well ahead,” she said. Determining actual funding needs, she said, is very difficult. “What can we get for what funds will be available… do we need to look for funding somewhere else? Maybe some things occur because of development, and maybe the developers pick up the cost. There’s a variety of ways.”
The trail system in North Liberty makes the community seem more connected, said Walz. “You see people biking and walking on the trails all year round. I do think it really adds to the quality of life.”
The full plan can be viewed online at www.mpojc.org/bike.