Government

New Cedar Rapids sidewalks add connections, but rile some neighbors

Property owners and the city split costs of many sidewalk additions

Robert Nassif points out trees in his front yard that would need to be removed to put in a sidewalk in front of his hous
Robert Nassif points out trees in his front yard that would need to be removed to put in a sidewalk in front of his house in Cedar Rapids. Nassif, who lives on 34th Street SE, is opposed to the plan. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — As construction season approaches, Cedar Rapids officials have resumed efforts to extend the sidewalk network, but not everyone is on board.

The City Council approved a plan this week to close gaps in 56 sidewalk segments sprinkled across the city, mostly in residential areas, and several other sidewalk projects are slated this year in conjunction with road and bridge repairs. The city’s “complete streets” policy requires planners to add sidewalks and bike amenities when building or digging up streets for repairs or utility work, if feasible.

“We are thinking about how our infrastructure can support our quality of life,” said Emily Muhlbach, a city spokeswoman.

She said residents called for more accessibility for pedestrians, joggers, bikers and baby strollers in a recent citywide comprehensive plan review. A goal of the Blue Zones initiative, an effort to improve community health and well-being, is to add 2,600 linear feet of sidewalk per year in Cedar Rapids.

The budget for the 56 sidewalk in-fills is $420,000 and would add 7,908 linear feet, likely before summer is over. The segments were selected largely from neighborhoods built in the early 2000s with intermittent sidewalks.

When the city adds new sidewalks, the adjacent property owner in most cases picks up half of the tab, Muhlbach said. A typical project for an average home with about 100 feet of street frontage would be $1,000 to $2,000, she said.

Also, this spring, engineers are lining up plans to install 1,000 curb ramps, which make smoother movement between streets and sidewalks for those on wheels, such as wheelchairs, bikes or strollers. In the case of curb ramps, the city will foot the bill.

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Many support more sidewalks, which officials are incorporating a little at a time often as part of other projects. But others balk, saying that will destroy the look and feel of neighborhoods, encroach on people’s property, clear-cut trees, erect large retaining walls and add unnecessary costs.

One group of neighbors along 34th Street SE have pre-emptively organized as “Save Our Homes CR” to speak out against installing sidewalks as part of a bridge replacement project slated for 2018. A sidewalk would extend several hundred feet in an “L” from near Cedar Valley Christian School on Cottage Grove Avenue SE onto 34th Street SE.

Neighbors are calling it a “sidewalk to nowhere” because it doesn’t appear to tie into anything, and they are scoffing at the cost. City emails with the residents show an estimate of $2.8 million for the bridge project, not including the sidewalks.

“This will eviscerate this neighborhood, totally destroy it,” said Robert Nassif, a resident on 34th Street SE, which is lined with trees. “And why? It doesn’t go anywhere.”

City Engineer Nathan Kampman said the primary purpose of the project is to replace a small dilapidated bridge over Spoon Creek, a tributary of Indian Creek, and the city is exploring sidewalks on one or both sides of the road. The city wouldn’t be working on this stretch again for years, so it would make sense to combine it with bridge project now and eventually tie into a grander sidewalk plans along 34th Street, he said.

Many already use the street as a cut through between Mount Vernon Road and Cottage Grove, leaving pedestrians to dodge traffic.

“We are looking at the long term,” Kampman said. “In the immediate, you might not see the connections.”

Kampman stressed the designs are preliminary at this point and officials are incorporating feedback to limit negative impacts. For example, they are considering narrowing the road to minimize the amount of property they’d need for the sidewalks, and also to slow traffic.

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Scott Overland, a City Council member who represents this neighborhood, has been working with city staff and neighbors. He said he believes there’s enough time to find a reasonable solution.

“I support complete streets, but I’m not of the opinion we force it down people’s throat if it doesn’t make sense,” Overland said.

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