As our City leaders confronted the impact of COVID-19, it became obvious that revenue from tourism related taxes will not support capital projects that rely on this funding. On April 17, 2020 we received an email from Calin Owens the City Mobility Coordinator:
“One impact related to something you all have worked hard on and been involved with is the Protected Bike Lane Study. We were contracted with Toole Design Group to complete this project, and were gearing up for project kickoff when the decision was made to reallocate it’s funding. At this time, the contract with Toole has been terminated, and the project has been put on hold until further notice.”
The City has been allocating $1 MM a year of hospitality tax revenue for greenways and trails, and we had successfully advocated for the protected bike lane study to use these funding source. Last year when the City completed the downtown master plan by consultant Urban Design Associates, their principal Ron Robinson stated, “the safety of the Swamp Rabbit Trail does not translate to the City’s streets.” With that endorsement we believed this project had become more important to the City leadership.
We started working closely with staff on protected bike lanes in 2016. While clearly understandable it is of course disappointing to not be moving forward on this important project. It will likely be deferred until FY 21-22 that starts in July 2021. This is another example of the saying that advocates measure success in decades not years.
On April 27, 2020 City Council held the second of two budget workshops, and when we reviewed the slide deck we learned that the budget not only eliminated the greenways and trails funding, but it also reduced the previously committed $4 MM for the Laurens Road Swamp Rabbit Trail extension bridges to only $1 MM.
As an all volunteer organization with no paid staff, I have learned that an important part of my role is to review all Council agendas to find items related to our advocacy. You may remember our recent success with City Council on Sharrows that we explained in a short video.
When I discovered this bridge funding shortfall, I immediately contacted our board chair Mary McGowan who agreed we must act. We developed an advocacy letter to City Council that was reviewed, edited and endorsed by our board and was sent on May 7, 2020. We stressed the need to fund these bridges in the FY 20-21 budget citing the economic impact this project will bring to the Laurens Road corridor that was highlighted in the SRT Extension Master Plan Report.
With the advocacy talking points from our letter we reached out to our network of community leaders asking them to contact City Council Members. Amy Ryberg Doyle who while serving on City Council was the driving force for the bridge funding was an important advocate. She did not want to further delay a project she has been so passionate about.
These phone calls and emails clearly made a difference as just four days later on May 11, 2020 Council added a discussion of the bridges to the City Council meeting agenda, where Ty Houck who is managing the project for Greenville County provided the latest bridge cost and schedule information to Council. The ensuing 15-minute dialog among Council members and Ty brought several ideas about funding the bridges and statements that this project is vital to the community.
At the May 18, 2020 City Council Meeting the first reading of the FY 20-21 budget was held and our advocacy clearly made a difference as the budget included an additional $1.5 MM in funding from the Economic Development Fund. The budget passed unanimously and is scheduled for final adoption in June.
The responsiveness of this City Council and staff to keep this most vital project moving forward despite the significant revenue reduction due to COVID-19 is greatly appreciated.
So, what do we as advocates do for the remainder of the year with no funding for the ideas that we have worked so hard to move forward?
The answer is simple, we keep on message, we keep advocating for safe places for people to walk and ride a bike knowing that when funding returns our project ideas will slowly move forward.