I thought CoMo was bike/ped-friendly before. I had no idea.

My husband had business in Columbia, MO the other day and I went along for the ride. I arranged to meet with a couple friends, and I brought my bike so I could bike from one friend to the other. CoMo received a $22 million Alternative Transportation grant several years ago, and the infrastructure changes have mostly been built in the past 3 years since we left. When I started biking we lived in CoMo, and I was curious to see what had changed.

I had thought it was a bike-friendly place, although since I'd never biked much in any other town I didn't have anything to compare it to. When we moved, I was surprised to find any bike lanes at all in Kirksville, but such a small town as this has very low traffic and, while not bike-friendly, isn't bike-hostile.

There sure are a lot of new bike lanes, sharrows, and "bike route" signs in Columbia, and several connector trails have sprung up. Businesses everywhere are sporting bike racks, and not the wheel-bender type. They have good solid serpent-style bike racks or, even better, the post-and-loop style.

More important than this infrastructure were the actual bicyclists. Not only were there many, but they rode like they knew what they were doing, riding in the direction of traffic, signaling turns, taking the lane, and waiting their turn.

I noticed all this before we had even parked the car. I eagerly jumped on my bike and headed south to meet one friend at a coffee shop (which did not have bike racks). We had a good long chat and then he recommended a route back to downtown, where I was meeting another friend, using a nascent connector trail that had been graded but not paved yet.

"You should be able to ride most of it," he said, "except perhaps a short stretch toward the end."

The trail wound through the woods, flecks of sunlight through the green forest. It was lovely. It was also a bit muddy. My tires picked up the mud and skidded slightly on the switchbacks. The trail dropped into a valley and I walked through the mud. The mud rendered my wheels immobile and I dragged my bike along. Back on dry land, I freed the wheels and pedaled into downtown, flinging bits of mud everywhere. (I hosed the bike down when I got home.)

Both friends are current City Council Representatives, and it was exciting to hear how far CoMo has come. No more arguing the merits of Livable Streets and bike lanes; everyone takes those for granted. They aspire to have a City/University-partnered transit system that will rival those of Ames, IA, Champaign-Urbana, IL, and Lawrence, KS. They're talking about a bike share program. They recently approved an experimental apartment complex with a car share program, reduced parking for tenants, and a separate rent for the parking space, models they hope to incorporate into city ordinance and see widely adopted.

It's an exciting time to be there. Lessons learned through CoMo's experiments impact all of Missouri. Smaller towns all over Missouri are already applying CoMo's Walking School Bus in their own Safe Routes to School programs, and will be able to incorporate CoMo's experience to become healthier, walkable communities.