After sidewalks installed, some Cedar Rapids critics admit they are better off

City officials examine sidewalk policies, regulations

  • Photo

CEDAR RAPIDS — Cedar Rapids is sticking with two contentious policies — complete streets and a sidewalk master plan — responsible for vast expansion of the sidewalk network here. But some aspects are being reexamined after vocal pushback from several neighborhoods.

This year, Cedar Rapids dedicated $1 million to sidewalks. Due for completion this year are 30 new sidewalk segments, 13 upgrades connected to road work, and 56 repaired sections — more than four miles of sidewalks in all.

“I don’t appreciate having to pay for it — it’s a payment I didn’t ask for,” said Kevin Sanborn, owner of Kevin’s Transmission and Auto Repair, 2200 16th Ave. SW, which got a sidewalk with a retaining wall this summer. “But before there was no place for them to walk, now they have a place.”

Jefferson High School students and a man in a wheelchair frequently use the sidewalk, although some still cut through the parking lot, he said.

Many favor sidewalks for providing access and connections, which prompted the 2014 policies, but feedback remains mixed. Affected neighbors complain of costs, loss of trees, the effect on neighborhood character, attracting non-residents who might be disruptive and the unsought responsibility to shovel snow in the winter.

But several people in locations where sidewalks have recently been installed — including some who resisted beforehand — say now more sidewalks probably are the right decision when looking at the big picture, even if there are some factors they still don't appreciate.

“I don’t like that I have to pay for it — $3,200, and I don’t like they replaced my nice grass with weeds,” said Linda Stauffacher, 69, who lives on Wiley Blvd. NW where a new sidewalk connects to a dirt trail at Jackson Park and Jackson Elementary. “But I am glad because the kids of Jackson have a place to walk. I am seeing more and more people go by on bikes and walking. I know in the long run it’s better.”

Filling gaps

Cedar Rapids created its sidewalk master plan in 2010 and updated it in 2014, and around the same time adopted a “complete streets” policy. The two plans play off each other, with the former creating a framework of what needs to be done and the latter codifying a mechanism to make it happen.

The sidewalk master plan identified, inventoried and prioritized gaps in the sidewalk network.

A map of the network shows the predominant holes are in a middle band between the oldest neighborhoods at the central core and newer developments on the outskirts. The city is playing catch up on those developments built decades ago when sidewalks weren’t required.

Among the highest priority are:

l 103 existing segments — or 51,436 feet — that need $4.2 million in repairs

l 284 missing longer walks totaling 242,055 feet with a price tag of $20 million

l 321 gaps of 250 feet or less between existing sidewalks or 50,000 feet costing $2 million.

Prioritization was based on pedestrian safety, access to a bus route and proximity to a “generator,” such as a school, grocery store or public service. The master plan includes no timetable for completion, and city officials did not know how much progress has been made or how long it will take.

The complete streets policy standardized that streets be accessible for “everyone, regardless of age, ability or mode of travel,” with the expectation of adding sidewalks, bike lanes or trails, pathways and bus stops. According to the policy, all new private streets — those that are part of new developments — must include sidewalks.

When significant road work or utility work occurs on public streets, generally city staff must consider adding sidewalks and document their decision and compliance with the policy. Exemptions to the policy should be approved by city council either on a case-by-case basis or by updating the policy.

After a rash of complaints, city leaders have taken a closer look at the sidewalk plans, but say they aren’t backing away. A city council subcommittee is due to review aspects of the sidewalk plan in October, said Scott Olson, a Cedar Rapids City Council member who chairs the infrastructure committee.

The committee will discuss adapting sidewalk plans to the terrain and neighborhood, exploring options to offset the cost to residents and ensuring the sidewalk plan is being executed, he said. Also, leaders want to create more delineation between the sidewalk plan and Paving for Progress, which is earmarked for street repairs.

“The mistake we made early on was providing a generic concept — a generic rendering — that didn’t fit with the neighborhood,” Olson said. “Now we are going further into the preliminary design, so you already have addressed some of the issues. The issues are vetted.”

Providing advanced designs earlier in the process and presenting neighbors with an overview of the complete streets program and how their project fits in has helped create buy-in and calm concerns, he said.

It’s not a one-size-fits-all mandate, he said. Creativity and flexibility are key.

For example, in one area where residents have been most vocal — near Cottage Grove SE and 34th Street SE — rather than cut into people’s properties requiring tree removal and retaining walls, the city is looking at narrowing the street to make room for sidewalks on the roadway.

Near Chandler Drive NW and 20th Street NW, plans for the hilly neighborhood near Jefferson have been scaled back in places to include sidewalks on just one side of the road.

“When you get into oddball terrains where there’s lots of trees and steep slopes, you can start looking at different concepts,” Olson said. “The policy doesn’t always work the same everywhere, so you have to be creative.”

Lorraine Worsfold, 80, who’s lived on G Street NE for 45 years, was among those who resisted sidewalks on Prairie Drive NE near Regis Middle School in 2014. She signed a petition that garnered 20 some signatures.

“I couldn’t think why after 50 or 60 years of no sidewalks why we’d need them,” she said. “But I was wrong. They get used a lot.”

Give us feedback

Have you found an error or omission in our reporting? Tell us here.
Do you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.