Local Government

Sidewalk expansion plans continue get pushback in Cedar Rapids

Water main plans calls for expanding sidewalks near Jefferson High School

A yard sign contesting plans to install sidewalks and retaining walls in a neighborhood near Jefferson High School stand
A yard sign contesting plans to install sidewalks and retaining walls in a neighborhood near Jefferson High School stands along 20th Street SW on Thursday. (B.A. Morelli/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — Careful talking sidewalks in the neighborhood around Jefferson High School. In case you miss the dozens of “Stop sidewalks/walls; Save our trees” yard signs, it’s a dirty word here.

“No,” 94-year-old Ida Pratt retorted loudly about her preference for sidewalks. “I don’t like sidewalks. We don’t need them. Nobody even walks here.”

As part of water main and pavement improvements on Chandler Street SW and 20th Street SW, sidewalks and retaining walls are slated to be installed as the roads are reassembled. The sidewalk plans have been scaled back considerably after neighborhood backlash, but some residents still have concerns about narrowing of roads, costs, loss of parking and more.

“This is not what we voted for,” said Glen Hunt, who lives on Chandler. “We voted to have streets repaired. They are being progressive at our expense.”

The work is part of Paving for Progress, which is funded through a voter-approved 1-cent local sales tax for street repairs. Hunt contends sidewalks weren’t part of the plan, and he added the area is older with smaller parcels and lacks the room for sidewalks.

City officials though say sidewalks are a key to quality of life, equity and connectivity, and they were requested through community engagement surveys. A city goal calls to add 2,600 linear feet of sidewalks per year. Other neighborhoods have also resisted.

“We have 40 percent of our city that doesn’t have sidewalks,” said Jen Winter, Cedar Rapids public works director. “We are building a community for people, and people need to get places in multiple ways.”

The Chandler and 20th Street project, which is in design by consultant Anderson Bogert of Cedar Rapids, is scheduled in two phases:

— Phase 1: Chandler from 10th Avenue SW to 18 Street SW, constructed between May 2017 to November 2017. Includes sidewalks on both sides of Chandler between 10th and 8th Avenues, and approximately 400 feet of sidewalk on the south side of Chandler from Eighth Avenue to 18th Street. — Phase 2: Chandler from 10th to the south Jefferson entrance, and 20th Street SW from March 2018 to May 2019. Installs sidewalks on one side, along the south and east, of Chandler and 20th Street.

The project will replace 6-inch water mains with 8- and 12-inch mains. Roads will be tightened from 33-feet wide to 28-feet or 30-feet with 4-foot wide sidewalks, Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant curb ramps and 18- to 30-inch tall retaining walls. The project will require the removal of about 20 trees and additional bushes,

Sue Graham, who grew up in her family home on Chandler and returned 20 years ago, has been pushing back on the sidewalks and she was rewarded as her stretch on a hillier part of Chandler was removed from sidewalk plans. In other places, sidewalks have been contained to one side of the road. She and others said the city is listening.

“The city really has come along way,” she said.

Residents have raised concerns about the affect on the slope of their driveways, removal of trees, narrower streets creating traffic collisions and less parking, among other issues. Among the modifications from earlier plans, some retaining walls have been scrapped, the road has been tightened to improve driveway slopes, some sidewalks were eliminated, others were placed closer to the curb, and the width was squeezed from 5-to-4 feet.

Cost is another big concern for neighbors, including for Pratt who is on a fixed income. Residents must split the cost of the sidewalks with the city. An average property with 60-feet of road frontage would cost $1,200.

On a drive through the neighborhood on Thursday at about 7 p.m., Kim Volesky was the lone pedestrian spotted. She was walking her dog. She said some places are busy and Jefferson students cut through her property, but she gets used to watching for traffic as she walks.

“I get it,” she said. “Some places are busy, but as a homeowner it is one more thing for me to maintain.”

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