Sidewalks: Who Gets to Decide?

Did you see this front-page article in today’s paper?  Should neighborhood residents be the ones to decide whether or not sidewalks are included as their street is reconstructed? Is it about building a transportation network that serves current and future residents, those who drive and those who don’t?

Caution: Sidewalk fight ahead on Duluth’s Glenwood Street

35 Comments

[email protected]

about 11 years ago

This is silliness.  Sidewalks are about safety and accessibility, not convenience, and as such, should not be subject to the tastes of residents.

super matilda

about 11 years ago

This is a huge issue in Duluth right now. Glad to see it get some press.

The street I live on is going through a similar situation. The state and city have decided to re-do the street, and held a couple of meetings to 'decide' what to do. Their plan is to widen the road, add boulevards, a sidewalk, and a bike path to Anderson Road.

It would be one thing if they merely wanted to take away parts of people's yards (current easement space, to be fair - but still, a 15-foot strip that has been part of each yard since the houses were built). The delightful thing is the city would like to charge us all $50-60 a foot for the privilege. 

Only 6 years ago, the same street saw a sewer upgrade that put each resident on the hook for several thousand dollars for the sewer line plus $8,000 for a 'grinder pump.' A competent municipality would have put in a lift station, not required urban dwellings to install grinder pumps. Anyway, we're all still paying for that.

After 3 or 4 meetings, in which very many residents voiced concern over the plans repeatedly, the city decided to go through with its original plan, as if nothing had ever happened.

One helpful resident organized a petition and researched the situation. According to the findings he circulated, there was a court case in southern Minnesota a while back where it was determined that a government cannot charge a fee for improvements in excess of the increase of value it brings to the property. Is a sidewalk and bike path in front of my house, which decreases the size of my yard by 10+ feet and increases the traffic level, already very high, in front of my house really going to increase the property value? Possibly the opposite. People already exceed the speed limit constantly. It's a long straight residential street used as a thoroughfare. The last thing we need is more traffic.

To sum up this lengthy post, the city has completely ignored the wishes of the citizens. More than one city worker who showed up at the meetings made me feel like I was not important. The improvements they are doing are not even practical for our street, which is unlikely to have significant pedestrian or bike traffic. We're all giving up our yards, which is much more significant for some houses than others - one woman is going to be like 15 feet from the street.  And, the worst is that they want us all to pay another $5-20 thousand in assessments for this.

[email protected]

about 11 years ago

Your concerns are complex and worth hearing, though I despise the "we have so little foot traffic, why do we need a sidewalk" argument.  See "which is unlikely to have significant pedestrian or bike traffic" above.

I assigned my students to study the use of Braille and audio guides on trails at a local nature center.  Their first reply was:  why would we need such accommodations for the visually impaired;  they do not visit this place?  Of course, the answer is:  they do not visit this place because they are not accommodated.

If given the choice to walk a street with a sidewalk or walk one without, I will walk a block out of my way to access the sidewalk.  I am lucky to simply be obese, and so able to huff and puff that extra block easily.  Someone without that ability (in a wheelchair or just plain older) does not have that ability, easily, and it is not just to force them to do so to continue to lay claim to what the property owner must admit was easement, not their property to start.  

It is to be regretted that someone built on their land as if the easement were their property, but where you locate your home on your property is not the city's lookout, I hope.

...

There are just reasons to be concerned about the process, and I am glad that you voiced them.  There are unjust rationalizations, and I'm just raising them.  Somewhere in the middle is the right way.  (The compromise in the article, which unfairly commits the city to clearing the sidewalks, doesn't work for me.)

[email protected]

about 11 years ago

My verbs in the first paragraph of the last post went too far.  I don't want them to convey that I don't value your perspective and your sincere and real problems with the process.  There is a lot to learn from what you posted, though in the end, I think the need for safe pedestrian access has strong weight of presumption.

super matilda

about 11 years ago

I don't have a problem with a sidewalk. I do object to a bike path, extra shoulders, and green space carved out of my yard (apparently, to save the city the duty of cleaning the sidewalk).  

Mainly, I object to having to pay thousands of dollars for this in addition to the thousands I pay each year already in taxes for the extra amenities such as the bike path and wide shoulders. I'd feel differently about the whole project, if I  personally wasn't going to be paying an extra $150 a month for 8 years for this. 

The road has such hills that I doubt that bicycle riders, obese people or people in wheelchairs would choose to navigate it. I'm an avid bicyclist, actually and I avoid this road even when there's no traffic because the hill wears me out. There are relatively flat alternate routes.

I was not impressed with how I or others were treated by some city employees at the meetings. Mainly, the issue is the city is entirely ignoring the desires of the people who live in it.

Beverly

about 11 years ago

I wish the cost of street upgrades were shared by the whole city instead of the property owners unfortunate enough to live on that particular street. The whole point of these kinds of upgrades is to benefit everyone who drives, rides and walks around the city.

super matilda

about 11 years ago

I've thought that too. On the other hand, I suppose everyone has to live somewhere, and even people who rent end up paying these assessments through their landlord passing on the costs.

j

about 11 years ago

I would LOVE a sidewalk on my street but was told it would never happen - Arlington Avenue could be a good place to walk and easily get places, but when even police drive around on the shoulder, I'm not risking life and limb to do so.

Steve from Mora

about 11 years ago

Streets connect neighborhoods. Sidewalks connect neighbors.  Which do you wave at?  There are precious few connections in our lives.  Don't take away the sidewalks.  Please.

Nick L

about 11 years ago

"Mainly, the issue is the city is entirely ignoring the desires of the people who live in it."  

Just because a desire isn't satisfied doesn't mean it was ignored.  Lots of people expressed many opinions on this and a decision had to be made.

bluenewt

about 11 years ago

It ain't right that the neighbors have to pay for sidewalks they don't want. 

But if there are going to be sidewalks, how can there even be a question about whether there will be boulevards? Sidewalks right next to streets just suck to walk on, especially in winter. They're unpleasant and dangerous if there's traffic. Neighbors often plant bushes that grow out over the sidewalk and force pedestrians onto the seven open inches along the curb. And sidewalks without boulevards look stupid. 

I think the sidewalk right up against the curb says, "We're all about cars here. Why don't you drive to the store instead of walking?"

Boulevards with trees would be better for the city. Urban trees demonstrably improve health and happiness, reduce crime, and boost the economy.

Elden

about 11 years ago

I would like to offer the following analogy and other random thoughts: I don't like the streetlights on my street, and I hate having to pay the "streetlight fee" the city has imposed. Does that mean I can complain that the city isn't listening to me if they won't turn off the streetlight in front of my house and stop charging me the fee?

Also, saying "we don't need sidewalks because nobody walks on our road" is an anecdotal argument that carries no weight.

Additionally most people have no idea where the road right-of-ways are, and where their property actually starts. Their lack of foresight to learn that, and failure to understand the consequences of that before buying a property are not valid arguments against the sidewalks either.

Then, is it not also possible that when all the 80-year-old NIFYs move out, a family with children who may want to walk to school, or a store, will move in and actually appreciate the sidewalks?

Remove those arguments and you have people that don't want to pay for something they "won't use." I agree that special assessments suck. I agree with Beverly that all city taxpayers should share that burden. 

So my question is, if the special assessments were removed from the immediate property owners, would there be as much opposition to the sidewalks?

Question

about 11 years ago

Personally, the only say a resident should have in a sidewalk issue is how and where the sidewalk is installed, not whether or not it should be installed.

There is a reason why there is an easement, and why it has been part of those properties since they were built. 

I agree that cost is a major issue here, and it has always been a problem with homeowners when there is something added to their area. But this is something that is done in city areas, it is a neccessity.

If you do not like city assessments for road improvements, move to the country. If you do not like to pay taxes for city amenities, then move to the country.

This is the price we pay to live in this city. It is long, it is narrow, it is hilly and cold. It is located next to a large body of water, and has very strong bedrock. All of these challenges add to the cost of living in this area.

todobrillante

about 11 years ago

If complete streets is about creating a safe network for all modes of transport, my thought is that an effective network of transportation shouldn't have a patchwork of different set-ups...it's like the old The Far Side comic where the Great Wall of China meets up with a smaller wall that doesn't line up at all, what's the point of sidewalks/bike lanes if they stop and start on different blocks?

edgeways

about 11 years ago

There are a lot of things which I, and you, pay for that we do not wish to pay for. I, personally, think the amount of money spent on military matters is exceedingly excessive. I think bike lanes and sidewalks are good. I think tax breaks for those most able to afford high taxes is the same as a tax hike on middle- and low-income people. As we progress the automobile will hopefully become less important in our lives, it is but an artifact. But we will always have our feet, and the bike will likely outlive the car. 

I understand the frustrations of not having things go your way, I understand thinking there is no reason to change something that already works for you.

While street and sidewalk repairs hit home hard because our system is set up that homeowners in those areas are the ones to bear the direct cost, those improvements are a benefit. Perhaps not a benefit you care for, but sidewalks and bike lanes are things that are increasingly becoming more important in how liveable a city is. Right now we have this regressive thought pattern that no new revenue on the state level is a good thing, but all it does is shift burdens and make it harder to maintain and improve city systems, which gets shifted down to individual owners.

LisaL

about 11 years ago

Here are two great resources for those who want to know more about the Complete Street concept:
http://www.completestreets.org/
http://www.mncompletestreets.org/

dbb

about 11 years ago

Homeowners are only assessed a portion of the cost of street improvements; the city certainly bears a portion of the costs. I might be remembering incorrectly, but I believe property owners are assessed 25 percent of the project cost while the city pays the remainder.

hbh1

about 11 years ago

I am sorry, but as someone who walks whenever at all possible (we are a one-car family, and I use walking errands as a way to get errands and huskie-dog walking chores done at once), more sidewalks are always an important improvement. And I totally agree that sidewalks right up against the street are evil suburban-style things that should be blown up and spit upon. *ptoo ptoo*

And though I grumble about street assessments, I accept my lot as a homeowner with streets *three sides, yes three. Our little dead-end street was paved against my will some years ago, and we got a sidewalk that dead ends at our house. Not sure why only our house got a sidewalk, but there you go. Also, Oxford Street is about to be fixed up and we'll be assessed on top of our previous assessment. Yippee. But I console myself by knowing that paving Oxford will mean that all the landscaper trailers that bang their way past our house will be less bangy when the road is all smooth-like. 

I do wish a street could vote to either opt out of street lights or get dark skies friendly lights.

bluenewt

about 11 years ago

+1 on opting out of the dumb streetlights glaring in the windows and ruining the night sky. But I'll bet most of the neighbors would vote for the things.

The Big E

about 11 years ago

Building off what someone said above, a sidewalk is a transportation system.  It's not there to walk back and forth in front of your house, or up and down a single block--it's there to get across the city.  As such, it's stupid to have sidewalks that aren't part of a contiguous, logical system.  Bike space on the streets is similar.  If we maintain a hostile streetscape for bikes, most people will refrain from biking.  

If we actually stick our necks out and make some investments in changing that, they just might pay off.  Witness the Lakewalk extension--an investment that has seen a lot of use.  A counterpoint would be Woodland Avenue, the major corridor in a part of town primed to generate heavy bike traffic--there, despite mouthing the words "complete streets," when push came to shove the powers that be ignored that.

[email protected]

about 11 years ago

HBH, my big city ways of thinking associate streetlights with safety.

samh

about 11 years ago

Not accepting and instigating a Complete Streets policy would be a dinosaur move on the part of Duluth's city commission.

super matilda

about 11 years ago

The sidewalk is f-ing great, but I don't think we need a bike path and a 5-foot strip between the sidewalk and bike path.  Not right now when everyone is broke as can be, unless this is Ness and Cuneo's idea of using government spending to beat the recession.

The city planning process is total shit. I hope the people who defend it have to deal with these corrupt, arrogant, incompetent bureaucrats sometime soon.

[email protected]

about 11 years ago

super matilda, correct me if I'm wrong, but the green strip adds a little cost to installation, yes (the cost of sod, I guess) but actually saves the city money, long-term, by eliminating annual responsibility for clearing the sidewalk.  The savings to the city will balance within two years, I'd bet.

(It still strikes me as nuts that the city has to clean any sidewalks, but that's Milwaukee in me talking.)   

And the addition of a bike path is, what, the cost of paint?  Unless there is some plan for supercool bike paths I don't know about.

It's clear that there are some corrupt, arrogant, incompetent bureaucrats -- it's just not clear that, maybe by accident, those corrupt, arrogant, incompetent bureaucrats don't reach the right decision, sometimes.

dbb

about 11 years ago

What evidence has been provided that the city bureaucrats were corrupt, arrogant, and incompetent other than that Super Matilda disagrees with them? 

In fact, I don't think they're corrupt. If they were corrupt, you could have just bribed them to get your way. Since you didn't get your way they sound honest enough to me.

hbh1

about 11 years ago

Well, based on my experience, the sod the city buys must be dirt cheap, since it's full of thistles and pigweed, and ends up dying off completely (the grass part anyway) within a year. We've had to kill the whole lot with black plastic and start over.

edgeways

about 11 years ago

The only problem with the bike path is that is it does not have a physical separation from auto traffic. 

And seriously? "Corrupt, arrogant, incompetent bureaucrats"? You do know that the mayor has time each week to talk with you, yes? You do know you can contact your city counselor and talk with them, yes? You can even run for city council and run on an anti-bike-path agenda. The thing is, government officials making a decision you don't agree with doesn't automatically make them corrupt, arrogant, incompetent bureaucrats. Sometimes making decisions that constituents disagree with is actually the correct moral and ethical thing to do. The "wisdom of crowds" is not so wise and tends to be pretty damn stupid at times. 

As to street lights, I think there are lights designed to provide decent focused street lighting without splashing it around, into people's houses and so on.

Iron Oregon

about 11 years ago

I don't use the street in front of my house so why do I have to pay for it?

super matilda

about 11 years ago

Hey, you guys have the city government you deseve, clearly! I'm looking forward to escaping myself. Good luck.

super matilda

about 11 years ago

"In fact, I don't think they're corrupt. If they were corrupt, you could have just bribed them to get your way. Since you didn't get your way they sound honest enough to me."

That's pretty clueless. What makes you think I have as much money as the contractors who run the town? Or am willing to engage in illegal infuence? Does this even pass for logic?

So, I love how my words are being attacked, and even myself personally - it seems like half the commenters referring to my posts barely even read what I said, much less attempted to understand the spirit behind my thoughts.

Much like this pathetic, dying city in the Arctic, this blog is utterly useless.

super matilda

about 11 years ago

"What evidence has been provided that the city bureaucrats were corrupt, arrogant, and incompetent other than that Super Matilda disagrees with them?"

So, you don't believe me that there was a large room full of Anderson Rd. residents at several meetings, opposed to the details of this plan? 

Or that we circulated a petition, and contacted city counselors, only to have the city ignore our requests entirely? Is it fair to label that arrogant?

You've watched the city build shit like the Tech Viillage, Aquarium, etc. and you think everything involved in throwing away millions on other people's buildings is on the up-and-up?

Do you think I'm commenting on this in a vacuum, on one issue? You people are horrible.

Question

about 11 years ago

Super Matilda...

Just because you don't feel something is necessary does not mean it is not necessary. 

And if you are going to throw a blanket statement that all politicians are corrupt, arrogant, incompetent bureaucrats; then we are simply going to ignore your views on political issues because your mind is already made up and there is no point in discussing it with you.

Iron Oregon

about 11 years ago

Super Matilda, your words:

"I was not impressed with how I or others were treated by some city employees at the meetings. Mainly, the issue is the city is entirely ignoring the desires of the people who live in it."

City employees are not ignoring your desires...they are responding to the desires of the entire city and to future residents on your street. I thank them for that.

The Big E

about 11 years ago

Bon voyage, super matilda--you'll be missed.

I tend to think that physical separation of a bike lane from traffic can be as much of a liability as an asset, at least the ways I've seen it implemented in a situation like Glenwood.  Look at the Lakewalk in Lakeside.  I love it, but when I'm riding by myself rather than with the kids, I'm always torn about whether it's safer to ride in traffic or to have to sort out a series of bike path/side street intersections where the right-of-way is not entirely clear.

Question

about 11 years ago

Just because they didn't give you what you want does not make them arrogant.

Even groups of people do not get what they want, especially when it comes to city infrastructure. I am willing to bet the people who live on 21st Avenue East gave plenty of petitions, complaints and waxed many palms trying to get the city planners to change their idea of running a busy street right by their house and depreciating the value significantly. 

But it was done, and it was done because it had to be done to keep the city moving in the right direction. 

To quote Spock: "The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few."

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