CEDAR RAPIDS — Dee Anderson was walking this week along 34th Street SE, inside a newly painted lane — what officials call an “urban shoulder.”
Like many Cedar Rapidians, she wasn’t quite sure what to make of it.
“It’s a good idea if people know what it is,” said Anderson, 63. “The city will have to do a lot with education.”
City crews in the past month have painted 6 miles of urban shoulders on four Cedar Rapids streets: 29th Street NE from Center Point Road NE to First Avenue; Cottage Grove Avenue SE from First Avenue to 34th Street SE; 34th Street SE from Terry Drive/Kegler Court SE to Cottage Grove; and Pioneer Avenue SE from 30th Street SE to 42nd Street SE.
Many people assume they are bike lanes, but that doesn’t quite capture the essence of the urban shoulder.
“An urban shoulder ‘right sizes’ the roadway, allowing it to be more easily used by multiple users, including pedestrians and cyclists,” city spokeswoman Emily Breen said in an email. “The urban shoulder has very little impact on vehicle capacity, and it can reduce vehicle speeds due to narrower lane widths, making the roadway safer for all users.”
People can walk, jog, bike and park vehicles on the urban shoulders, Breen said.
Cedar Rapids first installed an urban shoulder in 2009 along Boyson Road NE between Creekside Drive NE and C Ave NE, and installed a number of miles in 2011, including on Stoney Point Road NW, Jacolyn Drive NW, First Avenue West, Wilson Avenue SW and Rockford Road SW.
The lanes installed this month have been in the queue for several years, and more are expected in the future, Breen said.
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Urban shoulders are generally considered on streets that are 32 feet to 37 feet wide with limited parking, ones that lack sidewalks and where the route complements the trail network, she said.
Other routes under consideration for urban shoulders, but not yet scheduled, include Wilson Avenue SW from Sixth Street SW to C Street SW; Old Marion Road NE from 32nd Street NE to C Avenue NE; Boyson Road NE from the Hiawatha/Cedar Rapids city limits to Council Street NE; and Ellis Boulevard NW from E Avenue NW to O Avenue NW.
Cost is limited to paint: $1,060 per mile for both sides of the street. The cost increases to $1,600 per mile if layout is required.
As for 34th Street SE, the street has long attracted joggers, dog walkers and bikers, but it doesn’t have sidewalks, meaning people must share the roadway.
In recent years, city officials had planned to build sidewalks on 34th Street SE but backed off after residents along the tree-lined street with upper-end homes protested, charging the sidewalks would destroy the character of the street.
The urban shoulders seem like a good compromise, Anderson said.
“If not a sidewalk, I think this is a good middle ground,” Anderson said.
John Brennan, 65, who lives on 34th Street SE, said he likes the urban shoulder outside his door. The lanes are a lot cheaper and offer the same function as a sidewalk, he said.
“We walk in the morning and afternoon,” he said. “It makes you feel safer. Walkers have a place to be, and drivers know where they are supposed top be. I like them.”
Breen said urban shoulders won’t necessarily eliminate the possibility of sidewalks in the future.
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“Some of these locations are still ideal for sidewalks, and we will continue to look at areas that should be prioritized for sidewalk and can make the most overall impact for walkability,” she said. “Urban shoulders allow us to make an immediate safety improvement that does help accomplish some of those same goals.”
Breen said the sidewalk component of a bridge replacement project on 34th Street SE has been removed for now, and it will be prioritized once the city finishes updating its sidewalk master plan.
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