Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Bellevue citizens present sidewalk plan

City working toward compromise on Safe Routes to Schools

Express Staff Writer

Fifth Street resident David Campbell has been worried that Bellevue’s plan for new sidewalks could spell doom for aspen trees on the edge of his property. Photo by Willy Cook

Bellevue residents spoke out against the city's Safe Routes to Schools sidewalk plans last month when they realized it would encroach on city rights-of-way that have long been used for parking, gardening and snow storage. But last week, a citizen's committee provided the City Council with sidewalk plans of its own that could meet many of the city's original goals, while also reducing traffic speeds and saving the city money.

"I think we have a scaled-back plan, which is more neighborhood-friendly and will accommodate future development," said David Campbell, who acted as chairman of the committee formed to seek a compromise with the City Council, during a council meeting Thursday, April 17. Campbell had held four meetings and conducted two surveys last month involving 34 city residents, many of whom could have their front yards impacted by the sidewalk construction. Campbell's findings, reported to the council last week, called for narrower sidewalks and a larger buffer zone between them and private property.

Councilman Steve Fairbrother applauded the committee's recommendations and suggested the sidewalks would be an asset for property owners on Fifth and Cedar streets.

"Many Bellevue residents opposed the construction of the bike path in front of their property," he said. "Now the bike path is a selling point in real estate brochures."

The Safe Routes to Schools sidewalks are intended to provide pedestrian safety for schoolchildren walking and biking to Bellevue Elementary School. They also mark the first step in developing street design standards under the city's 25-year transportation master plan.

The Bellevue Safe Routes to Schools program is being funded by an $88,000 reimbursement grant garnered by the city in partnership with Mountain Rides from the Federal Highway Administration. Mountain Rides will spend $22,950 of the grant for education purposes.

Similar programs are underway in Ketchum and Hailey to provide safe pedestrian and bicycle access to schools. Statewide, the Idaho Transportation Department awarded $890,000 in grants this year to 19 communities for projects designed to encourage students to walk or ride bicycles to school.

Mountain Rides Safe Routes to Schools coordinator Jim Finch said the emphasis is "to train kids on safety and to organize groups of kids to walk and ride bikes to school." He said the groups will be led by an adult.

The original Safe Routes to Schools plan called for sidewalks running on 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. Residents packed City Hall in March, claiming the sidewalks would actually decrease the visibility of walking and biking children due to high snow berms in winter. They also said pedestrian safety should begin with slowing traffic in the city.

The citizens committee recommendations called for:

- Six -foot meandering, concrete sidewalks extending no more than 10 feet from the roadside.

- Wider sidewalks at intersections to provide improved visibility.

- Painted two-foot bike paths on Fifth and Cedar streets to narrow the roadway and slow traffic.

- Stop signs along Fifth and Cedar to slow traffic

- Moving the sidewalk to the south side of Cedar Street to tie into Bellevue Park.

- Closing of Cedar Street between Sixth and Seventh streets to provide a walking and biking path.

Bellevue City Administrator Tom Blanchard said most of the recommendations provided by Campbell were endorsed by city staff.

"We will still have to make a final decision based on the needs of adjacent landowners and the city as a whole," he said.

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