Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Bellevue residents rap sidewalk plan

Proposed paths are part of Safe Routes to Schools program

Express Staff Writer

Joel Christ points to a snow berm in front of his house on Fifth Street in Bellevue. The city plans to build a plowed sidewalk through the area as part of its Safe Routes to Schools Program. Christ said of the plan, ?I don?t think people will really use the sidewalks. Considering the maintenance and snow removal problems, it?s not cost effective. We don?t get that much foot traffic and the kids are pretty safe as it is.? Photo by Willy Cook

Bellevue residents packed City Hall during a public hearing Thursday, March 13, to voice concerns over the city's plans to build sidewalks along Cedar and Fifth streets. The sidewalks were designed as part of the city's Safe Routes to School program. They would be built in city right-of-way zones that have long been used by Bellevue residents for parking, gardening and snow storage.

"I have two kids who walk to school every day. They walk in the middle of the street because they need to be seen," said Marcel Goitiandia, who lives on Fifth Street.

Goitiandia and others at the meeting said that plowing a separate bike and pedestrian path parallel to the street will result in putting children at greater risk of being struck by drivers backing out of driveways when winter snow berms make visibility difficult.

"And if you do this," Goitiandia added, "my front yard will be gone."

Under the proposed plan, packed-gravel sidewalks will meander from 10 to 18 feet from the roadside and run along the north side of Cedar Street from State Highway 75 to the elementary school, and on the east side of Fifth Street from Beech Street to Pine Street.

Critics of the proposal at Thursday' meeting said city funds would be better spent fixing pot-holes and building speed dips to slow traffic.

Others called for a more expensive, concrete bike path and curb adjacent to the road. Many were concerned with the cost of maintaining the sidewalks. Pastor Tad Walton spoke vehemently against the plan as proposed and what he called "the method with which it was brought forward."

"There has been a big trust issue raised here," he told the City Council. "You serve the will of the people and we'd like to see some humility in the positions you occupy. We are the city, not you."

After Walton received a round of applause for his comments, Council President Tammy Eaton responded, "I have properties on both Cedar Street and Fifth Street that will be impacted by this. We on the council are also a part of this city."

The Bellevue Safe Routes to School program is being funded by an $88,000 reimbursement grant garnered by the city in partnership with Mountain Rides from the Federal Highways Administration. Similar programs are under way in Ketchum and Hailey to provide safe pedestrian and bicycle access to schools.

"This is the culmination of nearly three years of transportation planning," said City Administrator Tom Blanchard.

The sidewalk construction will also mark the first step in developing street-design standards under the city's 25-year Transportation Master Plan. Two workshops were held in February to discuss the proposal with Bellevue residents.

"We must lessen our carbon footprint in this city," former City Councilman Jon Wilkes said. "This is city property and it belongs to all of us. It's time we got the boats and trailers off of it and onto our own property."

John Hollenbeck also spoke in support of the sidewalk plan, saying the sidewalk would run through property in front of his house with trees more than 100 years old.

"Everyone is going to have their own agenda in placing the sidewalk where they think it should be," he said.

The council voted to form a committee of local residents and public officials to readdress the sidewalk plan. Councilman Larry Plott will head up the committee. He will be joined by Jim Finch, a coordinator for Mountain Rides who is heading up efforts in Bellevue to get kids out of cars and walking and biking to school in groups with an adult.

"We call them walking buses and bike trains," Finch said. "Kids are better students after they get a little exercise."

The Bellevue Safe Routes to School program is part of a national network of more than 300 non-profit organizations, government agencies, schools and professionals. According to the movement's Web site, the program "can provide a variety of important benefits to children and their communities, including increasing physical activity, reducing traffic congestion, improving air quality and enhancing neighborhood safety."

In other Bellevue news:

· Bellevue native Jason Calhoun was named firefighter of the year for the third year in a row by Fire Chief Greg Beaver. "I love everything about this job," said Calhoun. " It's nice being able to do something for this community."

· The City Council is exploring plans to construct the Skate Plaza skatepark on city property at the north end of Second Street behind the Sawtooth Animal Center. Councilman Steve Fairbrother said there is "strong community involvement and support for this."

· Following an annual audit report for fiscal year 2007, Bellevue is working to track and confirm billing transactions for water and sewer services that were unaccounted for over the last six months.

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