By JANE MCCLURE
Several area neighborhoods lack sidewalk connections, sometimes for a block or several blocks. That’s a problem for walkers, children on bikes or trikes, and people who use wheelchairs or mobility scooters. It can mean crossing the street to travel or in some cases, traveling in mixed traffic.
For property owners, sidewalks add installation as well as ongoing maintenance expense. That’s why the notion of adding the walkways can generate so much controversy, as happened recently in the North End.
Getting infill sidewalks added in the future will be easier if Ward Five Council Member Amy Brendmoen is able to craft new policies for the city’s street paving program. But during the upcoming summer construction season, one North End residents who wanted infill sidewalks added as part of an upcoming street paving project will be disappointed.
Because the request for sidewalks was made so late in the street project planning process, Brendmoen said a request for a sidewalk along Kent Street’s west side from Orange Avenue to Wheelock Parkway would be denied.
Typically when the city redoes neighborhood streets, existing sidewalks are replaced as needed. Under the Residential Street Vitality Program, residents pay 25 percent and the city pays the rest. But in this case, there isn’t a sidewalk on Ken’s west side. Some residents contend that would add too much to project costs.
“I think sidewalks are important,” Brendmoen said. She wants to change the city’s Residential Street Vitality Program so that future projects include potential costs of infill sidewalks up front.
That action disappointed one group of North End residents, who wants to see the sidewalk installed along Kent. More than a dozen people attended a May public hearing on the sidewalk issue, including several children.
Deborah Kuebler and her family live on Front Avenue, and use Kent frequently. They told the City Council in May that the area isn’t safe for pedestrians. “Our area has a hill and vehicles tend to speed up there,” she said. Her children would use the sidewalk to get to friends’ homes and other destinations.
Deann Urbaniak-Lesch lives on Wheelock Parkway “I feel badly that we as a neighborhood are so split on this issue.” But she walks frequently and agrees with the safety concerns, saying a sidewalk is very much needed.
Others vehemently protested the idea of sidewalks. Concerns ranged from not wanting to pay for sidewalks to not wanting to move landscaping that has been planted in a city right-of-way.
Forest Lake resident Corrine Mitsch owns rental properties at 1309 and 1311 Kent St. “I am opposed to any sidewalk there,” she said. She and her tenants testified at they wouldn’t be able to keep the sidewalks cleared of snow, and that paying for snow removal could make rents cost-prohibitive.
Steve Nelson lives on the part of Wheelock Parkway eyed for sidewalks. He said installing them would be “a classic overreach” by city government. He also contended that adding sidewalks would be detrimental to the area and would affect neighborhood character.