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The businesses on Columbus Road, Feb. 20, 2024, in Athens.

Sidewalks added to Columbus Road increase accessibility

Athens city officials are working to put sidewalks along Columbus Road to increase accessibility to the area as a part of the shared-use path project, which is part of a larger project to make the entire area more appealing to businesses, restaurants and pedestrians. 

The city was awarded safety funds from the Ohio Department of Transportation, or ODOT, for 90% of the eligible construction costs up to a cap of just over $1 million to enter a contract for engineering design services, Councilmember Solveig Spjeldnes, D-1st Ward, said.

Spjeldnes said $160,000 of the city’s money is going toward the design services to provide a shared-use path for bikers and walkers along Columbus Road. 

The council passed to enter into the contract at its Monday meeting.

“Increasing the sidewalk usage and improvements is part of an overall city improvement plan,” Spjeldnes said. “Columbus Road is a major entry point into the city that right now looks not that great and has tremendous potential for increasing the economic development."

Another part of the city’s strategic plan and pedestrian accessibility project includes encouraging walking and biking, Spjeldnes said.

“We want to encourage the use of walking and bicycling and non-gas fueled engine vehicles to get around the city,” she said. “That's part of the pedestrian accessibility project that I worked on for over a year to encourage walkability.”

Cameron Fuller, owner of Devil's Kettle Brewing, located at 97 Columbus Road, said he believes the area needs to be more walkable, and he wants to see the area become more of a commercial corridor – an area where residents can shop, gather, find jobs and increase the city’s small business economy. 

A new Memorial Health System medical facility is coming to Columbus Road, Spjeldnes said, along with other companies and restaurants, so it’s important to make the area attainable for people to get to rather than just by car. 

There is also some hope that bringing in the new medical facility will help bring more infrastructure to the area and draw more people to Columbus Road.

“There hasn't been anything too significant until this (medical facility), so I'm hoping that this is the beginning of developing Columbus Road into a true commercial corridor,” Fuller said. 

The sidewalk construction will make the buildings on Columbus Road more accessible to more people in Athens. 

“If we can make that area walkable as well as riding bikes and getting there in a variety of different ways, that will make that whole area a good economic development engine,” Spjeldnes said.

City Council President Sam Crowl shared a similar sentiment, and he is optimistic that with the addition of a path along the road, more businesses will want to come to the area.

“We already have a project to put in a (multi-purpose) bike and pedestrian pathway, to help sidewalks along that whole area,” Crowl said. “I'm excited, not only for the (medical facility) but for the coming infrastructure for that whole corridor.”

Fuller said any development would be positive for Columbus Road, and he would like to see more people drawn to the area.

“I just want to draw people to Columbus Road because there just aren't enough draws here,” Fuller said. “It's office buildings, warehouses, thrift stores and myself for the most part.” 

Crowl said he has seen many people walking on the side of Columbus Road. 

“I do see a lot of people walking along the road a lot, so I have long been concerned about the way that road is constructed, or not sort of constructed, with modern kinds of amenities,” Crowl said. 

Although, Fuller said his business doesn’t receive a lot of customers who walk to the restaurant, there are several who bike.

“We do get some people coming off with a bike path, but Columbus Road is a little bit isolated,” Fuller said. “It doesn't feel that far in a car, but you can drive pretty fast down that road. It's pretty far away.”

Currently, there is no timeline for the construction, but within the next year, Spjeldnes hopes the project will be completed. 


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