The Columbus Recreation and Parks Department's webpage on the often-crowded Olentangy Trail says the path offers a "seamless route" from Worthington Hills to downtown along the Olentangy River.

Some might beg to differ, given the section in Clintonville between Northmoor and Clinton-Como parks where cyclists must use surface streets to continue, crossing busy West North Broadway via Milton Avenue at a signalized intersection.

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In January, Clintonville Area Commission members voted 8-0 to send a letter to OhioHealth and city officials, urging that an extension of the Olentangy Trail to close the gap be made part of the $40 million in infrastructure improvements for the consolidated headquarters now rising off Olentangy River Road.

The letter's sponsor, District 1 representative David Vottero, called it a "once-in-a-generation opportunity."

"I think it's the last gap that's significant on the trail," Vottero said Feb. 28.

"This is the one missing piece in the trail that I think would make a great deal of difference."

Will Koehler, a member of the CAC's planning-and-development committee and a proponent of improving bicycle safety in neighborhoods, echoed that sentiment.

"The fact that there's $40 million going into that and it doesn't include a bike path is a huge dropped ball," he said. "That's a vital connection that's broken right now.

"Much more important, many orders of magnitude more important than providing a bypass to the Milton connection ... is providing access to the other side of the river."

The CAC's letter asks for a pair of bridges to carry the trail across the Olentangy River, along with an extension of the trail along the west side of the river through public right of way and the OhioHealth site.

"One of the things we know is that infrastructure plays a big part in people's willingness to try to use a bike for transportation, particularly when we look at a large employer like OhioHealth," said Catherine Girves, executive director of Columbus advocacy organization Yay Bikes!

Share the road

The current path of the Olentangy Trail has cyclists, runners and cars sharing the same road for several blocks -- not an ideal situation, said David Roseman, a Northland resident and advocate for bike trails in central Ohio.

"Multiuse Greenway Trails users would certainly welcome a more direct pathway and alternate routes that would avoid conflicts with motorized street traffic and having to meander along roadway," Roseman said.

Those squeaky bicycle wheels might be in for some grease soon.

Brian Hoyt, communications and marketing manager for the Columbus Recreation and Parks Department, announced March 1 that the department would apply for a Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission grant to pay partially for some resolution to the issues raised by the CAC.

The application is due in June, and the decision on its approval will be known by December.

The amount sought is contingent on whatever is proposed, but the grant would cover 80 percent of design and construction, with the city's capital-improvement budget picking up the rest, Hoyt said.

"Today, we don't have an estimate," Hoyt said. "We don't have a budget yet because we haven't figured out what and where. Quite obviously, we would have that by June.

"We don't know if it's a bridge or where the path would go. The process is we must come up with that plan."

City Council President Pro Tem Michael Stinziano, after learning about the MORPC grant, said he would continue to support the CAC's request and would work with the parks department and "pursue other avenues" to make it happen as soon as possible.

Stinziano said earlier comments from city and OhioHealth officials stating any Olentangy Trail solution would be too costly and would have to be considered down the road were related primarily to worries about how much a pedestrian-bicyclist bridge would cost.

"That seems to be what spooked the engineers, but I think this is the right time to have the conversation," Stinziano said. "I agree and have been pushing for this to happen."

A wider path

Until then, cyclists can look forward to a few other trail improvements.

In spring 2019, the city plans to construct a connector ramp from the trail to Bethel Road and to build a shared-use path along Bethel to Olentangy River Road and Anheuser Busch Sports Park.

In addition, the trail will be widened from 9 feet to 12 feet from Bethel north to Antrim Park.

As for the CAC's broader proposal, OhioHealth seems amenable to the idea of helping to close the gap on the Olentangy Trail.

Mark Hopkins, director of media relations for OhioHealth, wrote in an email that the organization is well aware of the conversations about extending the bike path and that it supports the concept.

"If the city of Columbus decides to move forward with that project, we will do everything we can to help make it happen," Hopkins wrote.


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