Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Hailey sidewalk plans could bring surprises

Complete Streets plan to include sidewalk standards

Express Staff Writer

These trees on the east side of Third Avenue in the city of Hailey’s right of way zone, could get in the way of sidewalks plans the P&Z commission is putting together next month. Photo by

Hailey officials plan to make streets more pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly by implementing standards for new sidewalks. But the city's plans could present some big surprises for property owners who have been parking cars or planting trees in the city's right-of-way.

"There are a lot of encroachments that have been there a long time," said City Planning director Beth Robrahn, who is tasked with working out the details of the Complete Streets plan.

"Encroachments" is city planner-speak for established uses of municipal property. You're on their land, in other words.

"This is an important process and we want to involve the community as much as possible," said City Engineer Tom Hellen.

During a Planning and Zoning Commission workshop on Dec. 15, Hellen and Robrahn presented a 14-member citizens' advisory group with Hailey's "Complete Streets Improvement Plan and Standards." The public meetings series they've begun could last through February.

According to city officials, the purpose of the Complete Streets plan is to "comprehensively design Hailey streets to properly address multi-modal needs." City leaders are hoping to provide safe access to city avenues for everyone from pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists and bus riders.

The plan also calls for sidewalk designs that will accommodate new city ordinance amendments. Those amendments will require more thorough assessment and consideration for pedestrian and bicycle system needs.

But, Hailey is big enough that some areas have unique characteristics. The city is calling for input from its many neighborhoods to ensure that the final street and sidewalk standards are flexible enough to address those disparate areas.

The city's main problem? Try creating sidewalk standards in a city with few sidewalks. The ones that do exist are old and in pretty rough shape. If the city builds new ones, they could land on city property that has been in use by private property owners for decades.

"We are trying to develop different standards for different areas," Robrahn said.

During the meeting, Mountain Rides representative Jim Finch called Hailey's Complete Streets plan "a good way to begin getting around in this town without your mother driving you there."

Finch, whose title at Mountain Rides is "multi-modal coordinator," has worked for several years to educate valley residents on the value of walking and biking to school. He participated in Bellevue's Safe Routes to School sidewalk construction plan last year, a process that resulted in the formation of a citizens group to establish winding pathways for sidewalks running across the city to Bellevue Elementary School. The sidewalks were designed to avoid large trees and other obstacles within the city's right of way, many of which reached to the edge of homes on Cedar Street.

After much discussion, the Bellevue sidewalk designs were approved, allowing for standards that could be applied across the city in years to come. Hailey will see the first of its own Safe Routes sidewalks built on the south side of Elm Street between Third Avenue and the bike path this spring.

Both Hailey and Bellevue's Safe Routes sidewalks programs were funded in part by federal grants acquired by Mountain Rides. How the rest of the cities' sidewalks will be funded remains to be seen.

"We were trying to do more on Elm Street before the snow," Hellen said. "But the money just wasn't there. Construction has become more expensive lately."

Robrahn expects other challenges in implementing the Complete Streets plan. Those issues include: allowing for increased parking in alleys, providing funding for snow removal from new sidewalks and alleys, and addressing the issue of existing encroachments on the city rights of way between homes and streets. The encroachments have been in common use for parking, planting gardens and lawns. Some of the rights of way have very old trees.

All P&Z recommendations must be passed by the City Council before going into effect.

Four to six more advisory committee workshops will be held in January and February to establish sidewalk standards for Hailey.

All meetings will be open to the public.

For more information call the Hailey Planning Department at 788-9815.

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