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Months after a tragic death, a bike plan for Covington and Newport is starting to gain momentum

11th street bridge
Nick Swartsell
Cyclists ride across the 11th Street bridge on their way to a Sept. 13 Covington City Commission meeting where they spoke in favor of improved bike infrastructure.

Long-awaited progress on safer bicycling in Newport and Covington could be underway soon.

The Newport City Commission on Monday unanimously agreed to participate in a planning effort led by cycling and pedestrian safety group Tri-State Trails. The Covington City Commission unanimously approved that city's participation in the same project Tuesday night.

The planning efforts come after years of calls for more bike lanes and other safety measures in both cities. Those demands intensified last August when a car hit and killed cyclist Gloria San Miguel on the 11th Street Bridge between Newport and Covington.

Newport City Manager Tom Fromme says the city has had its eye on the issue for a while now.

"It was obviously a horrific incident," he said at the Monday commissioners meeting. "It did cause some thinking (into) what could be done to mitigate this — in other words, improving bicycle and pedestrian safety."

A handful of Newport residents attended the meeting to show their support for the plan.

"This is something that's going to be great for the community," Newport resident and nonprofit leader Rachel Comte said. "It's much needed and is going to move us forward to where we want to be."

The memorandum of understanding between the cities and Tri-State Trails approving planning efforts is good for one year, but could be extended.

Bicycling and pedestrian safety advocacy group Devou Good Foundation is funding the process. President Matt Butler says it will include a lot of input from the community.

"What we'll be looking for is fully separated and protected bike lanes," he told WVXU earlier this month. "We're not looking for sharrows (markings on regular road lanes). We're looking for infrastructure that will keep people safe and induce more people to ride bikes."

Newport City Commissioner Ken Rechtin thanked Devou for its support at Monday's meeting. He said the city is excited about the opportunity, but warned that funding could prove challenging.

Covington's approval of the MOU was passed on a consent agenda, meaning it was included in a vote with other legislative items all commissioners agreed to support. Several Covington residents and cyclists came out to voice support for the plan.

Covington Mayor Joe Meyer said in the commission's caucus meeting last week that the city is eager to engage in the planning process. That meeting did not include discussion of the MOU or public comment on it.

"The city commission supports that 100 percent," he said. "We're 100 percent in support of it."

Nick Swartsell is a general assignment reporter for WVXU. Before his current role, he worked on the station’s Cincinnati Edition program as assistant producer and was a journalist for outlets in Cincinnati, Washington, D.C., and Texas prior to that. When he’s not reporting, he likes exploring places he probably shouldn’t on his bike, taking photos, and growing corn, tomatoes and peppers that are, in all honesty, much too hot for any practical use. He is from Hamilton. You can find him at @nswartsell on Twitter.