By NATHAN GREGORY
The Starkville Board of Aldermen will hold public hearings on amending both the bicycle safety helmet and sidewalk ordinances at its meeting today.
The only proposed amendment to the safety helmet ordinance aims to lessen its strictness. Currently, the law states anyone riding a bike in the city is required to wear a helmet. The amendment would allow individuals 16 years of age or older to ride without a helmet if they so choose.
Ward 4 Alderman Richard Corey said while he believes everyone riding a bicycle on public roads should wear a helmet as a safety measure, those who don’t feel the same way should not be forced to do so.
“As with any public hearing, I hope we have an engaging discussion on the need for this change,” Corey said. “I do think we need to have something in effect to protect our children, but I think this change will allow the adults in this comity to have more freedom of choice in this matter and make the requirement less onerous.”
A letter to the board written by the Healthy Starkville Committee said the group supports the ordinance because helmets drastically reduce the risk of brain injuries.
“We recognize that not everyone sees donning a bike helmet as an obvious and natural part of getting ready to go out for a ride. To understand why our Health Coordinators conducted a small focus group of cyclists recently as part of a city-wide assessment of needs and resources related to health,” the committee said in the letter.
“The discussion confirmed that the participants were not well educated about the risks of riding without of the helmet or the benefits of wearing one … The helmet ordinance and bike lanes that we do have are a strong statement but may not prove sufficient on their own. This situation of inadequate education among cyclists and motorists is of our own doing.”
The letter also referenced proposed amendments to the city’s sidewalk ordinance.
“We also recognize sidewalks as a central component of civic infrastructure and that walkable neighborhoods contribute not just to health but to accessibility and quality of life,” the committee said in the letter. “We see the sidewalk ordinance as a mechanism for ensuring that as our community grows we take sensible steps to ensure that pedestrian accessibility is part of the built environment.”
Those proposed amendments, as introduced by Ward 5 Alderman Jeremiah Dumas, include mandating the construction of sidewalks in appropriate areas of the city and exempting certain areas of the city that are not conducive to pedestrian traffic.
Dumas said there were two factors considered in the revising the language of the ordinance.
“The logic there was if there was no ability to touch back into an existing sidewalk network in the core of the city, it’s justifiable that those not be included in a sidewalk area. One of the bigger factors was we definitely wanted to focus on areas that were contiguous to the area served by the mass transit system,” Dumas said. “There are three routes … designed to serve specific areas and populations. Those are the same areas where it makes perfect sense for sidewalk development. We focused on areas with schools, health care, density, residential, public-service type and civic-service type entities … It was not too different to the same logic that went into routing those routes.”
In other business, the board will consider approving a revised job description of the city clerk and authorization of advertising for a replacement to current city clerk Markeeta Outlaw, who informed the board last week of her intention to retire effective June 1.
The board will also consider approving a special event permit for the Starkville Community Day scheduled for July 21 at J.L. King Park requesting street closings, in-kind services and a financial donation from the city.
Items on the consent agenda include the approval of a resolution and contingency contract with Government Services, LLC for the audit of local cable carrier Metrocast’s franchise payments to the city as well as the revising of the 2011 capital improvement program to include an overlay of Critz Street from Jackson Street to Old West Point Road in stead of a project involving the rebuilding of Central Avenue.
Rebuilding for Central Avenue was delayed last year due to bid amounts exceeding what the city budgeted for the project, and the board discussed the idea of supplementing the project with additional funds from the 2012 capital improvement budget. Due to Critz’s deteriorating condition, though, it has been consented that the funds allocated toward Central be redirected. In addition to an overlay of the street, the motion calls for striping of the street with a center line with bike lanes on either side of the roadway.