Mayor joins residents in fight against sidewalks

Becker says he’ll use veto to block plan for walkways on Hales Trail
Ozaukee Press staff

A group of Port Washington residents who live near Upper Lake Park told the Board of Public Works Tuesday that sidewalks are not needed in their neighborhood,  and Mayor Marty Becker said he would veto any effort to install sidewalks there.

Instead, the neighbors advocated for a pedestrian lane to be created on one side of the road, saying that would address safety concerns while keeping the character of the area. 

“I don’t approve of sidewalks on Hales Trail,” Becker said. “If you can have a pedestrian lane in the park, you can have one on Hales Trail.”

But board members said they believe sidewalks are a necessary improvement that will improve safety for pedestrians, particularly children, while encouraging people to walk.

While a pedestrian lane is better than nothing, they said, separating walkers and traffic with a curb and parkway is a better option.

“I believe that’s just intuitive,” Public Works Director Rob Vanden Noven said. “It’s simply safer to walk off the street with a curb and parkway between traffic and pedestrians. 

“I can’t imagine telling my kids, ‘Walking in the street is safer than walking on the sidewalk.’”

Although the residents said the current situation, with people walking in the road, is safe, Vanden Noven characterized it as “an accident waiting to happen.”

“Anecdotally, I have heard of many near misses,” he said.

But a group of about a half dozen area residents disagreed.

“None of us wants them,” Diane Burkhalter, 409 Briarwood, told the board. “It takes away from the greenery and woodland aesthetics.”

“We’re all of the opinion it’s not really necessary,” Robert Fechner, 909 Hales Trail, said, adding the traffic lanes could be narrowed to accommodate a wide pedestrian lane. “We think there’s a better solution.”

That solution is the pedestrian lane, which neighbors said could connect to the Upper Lake Park pedestrian walkway and ultimately be linked to the Interurban Bike Trail to form a loop.

But Ald. Mike Gasper, a road engineer who is a member of the board, said that a pedestrian lane isn’t the right solution. 

Not only does a sidewalk provide safety, he said, it also meets the requirements of the Americans With Disabilities Act, which a pedestrian lane likely wouldn’t unless a rumble strip would separate it from traffic.

“In an urban area like that, I don’t think that would be appreciated,” Gasper said. “The pedestrian lane I think overall is a bad idea up there. Sidewalks are the way to go.”

“I don’t think putting a bike lane in for pedestrians makes sense to me,” board chairman Jason Wittek said.

Ald. John Sigwart, a member of the board, questioned if sidewalks are needed on both sides of the road, something Vanden Noven said is recommended in  street design manuals.

Otherwise, he said, people who want to walk around the block have to cross streets repeatedly.

“The whole idea of safe pedestrian movement is to make it as easy as possible for pedestrians,” he said.

Sigwart said he, too, supports sidewalks in the area, noting, “It’s a pretty high speed area sometimes.”

He asked that the city get accident statistics from the police department, saying that might ease some concerns.

Tom Urban, 1002 Hales Trail, who along with Ken Jensen suggested the pedestrian lane, told the board he believes a covenant with the subdivision developer prohibits sidewalks from being installed.

Board members noted this may be a covenant between the homeowners and the developer, not the city, so it may be a moot point.

City Administrator Mark Grams said he would look to see if any covenant has been recorded.

Vanden Noven noted that the Common Council last year unanimously approved installing sidewalks on Hales Trail, Sunrise and Crestview,  precipitating the discussion.

He has not started the design work yet, Vanden Noven said, noting last year’s flood has put him behind schedule.

He estimated the cost at between $170,000 and $180,000, of which the city will pay about $35,000. The rest will be charged to residents, since it is the first time sidewalks will be installed on these streets.

Once the project has been designed and bids sought, the contract will go before the Common Council for approval, Grams said.

The sidewalks will likely be built next year, Vanden Noven said.


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