It's been a while since Crookston City Council members have had an enthusiastic debate over sidewalks, but they had one this week, when a proposal to add sidewalks on both sides of Widman Lane from Fisher Ave. to Johnson Place – in the name of increasing safety for kids walking to and from Crookston High School – came before the council's Ways & Means Committee.
That stretch of Widman Lane is in line for a reconstruction project this coming summer, totaling around $231,000. The inclusion of sidewalks was initially not part of the project, but at a previous Ways & Means Committee meeting, some council members who are continually looking to boost pedestrian safety on the north end brought up the possibility of adding sidewalks. Widseth Smith Nolting & Associates engineer Rich Clauson subsequently drew up some project plans that include sidewalks, which council members got a glimpse of this week.
What the plans show is that, if a sidewalk is put in, almost every tree along the west side of Widman Lane will need to be removed, and two or three trees on the east side would be lost.
Public Works Director Pat Kelly, who was not in attendance at the committee meeting in which adding sidewalks to the project was first mentioned, told council members this week that if they are serious about adding sidewalks to the project, they'd better invite impacted residents to come in and offer their views on the subject.
Chances are, most people won't like it. That's kind of how it's been over the past several years, since the council shied away from Kelly's community-wide vision of adding sidewalks essentially whenever the opportunity presented itself. Significant opposition from the community to that plan steered the council in another direction, which in the years since has been a piecemeal, at best, approach to sidewalks. Whenever a significant sidewalk project has been proposed, affected residents have been invited to attend a meeting to offer their views, and most of the time they haven't been happy about it, and the council has nixed the proposed sidewalk.
"People like sidewalks; they say they're for sidewalks and the community should have sidewalks," Kelly said. "But then they want to know where you want to put one."
Kelly said he's not necessarily against having sidewalks on Widman Lane. But if the council is serious about it, "I strongly recommend you notify these property owners," Kelly said.
The city will do just that via letter very soon, Mayor Dave Genereux said.
In the meantime, the debate rages among council members over how much safer sidewalks anywhere on the south side of Fisher Avenue make young pedestrians, when they still have to cross the busy north-end artery in order to get to and from the high school.
Page 2 of 2 - "It's a waste to put this in if you're not helping them get across Fisher," said council member Tom Vedbraaten, who said he sees kids while on his mail carrier route every day dodging traffic as they cross Fisher Avenue. "Before we worry about putting in a sidewalk we have to get them across that road safer."
Kelly said council members need to rid their minds of any thoughts of stop signs or stop lights near the high school on Fisher Avenue. But, he said, MnDOT might favor pedestrian signs that flash when activated by someone looking to cross the street. There's a similar sign further to the east on Fisher Ave., near the railroad tracks. Council member Wayne Melbye even suggested returning to the days of crossing guards, who would stop traffic while students cross the street.
Ward 2 Council Member Dana Johnson said she spoke to many Widman Lane residents about the sidewalk possibility, and found that most are in favor of one on the east side, but are against one on the west side. That's expected, Kelly said, since there are many more homes on the east side, while there are several apartments and fewer homes on the east side.
"I'm for sidewalks, but they have to make sense; I have to justify where they go in and where they end," Kelly said. "I always wondered what was so bad about a cohesive plan, but it all fell apart as soon as someone said boo.”
Melbye said people will talk of being "devastated" by a sidewalk going in and trees being removed. "What's going to be devastating is if one kid is killed," he said. "I want it on the record that I think if you’re coming from the schools we should have sidewalks in there."