Sidewalk policy change fails to gain traction

Board’s discussion on mandatory walkways precedes showdown over Hales Trail neighborhood plan
Ozaukee Press staff

The Port Washington Board of Public Works, in what could be a precursor to a March 17 Common Council discussion on the need for sidewalks on Hales Trail and two other bluff streets, debated how the city should determine which walkways in the community get repaired and when.

The board seemed to generally agree with the current policy of repairing and installing sidewalks on both sides of the street when roads are rebuilt, but some said that instead of strictly using road condition to determine whether street work is done the condition of the sidewalk should also be considered.

Some members said the city should also create a priority list of where sidewalks need to be added and which are in poor shape with the goal of implementing a sidewalk program independent of the street reconstruction program.

The impetus for the discussion was the Common Council’s decision two years ago to install sidewalks on both sides of Hales Trail from Kaiser Drive to Upper Lake Park, on Sunrise Drive between Crestview Drive and Hales Trail, and on Crestview.

Residents, including three who appeared before the board Tuesday, have been vocal in their opposition to the installation of sidewalks, saying they would take away from the aesthetics of their neighborhood, adding they don’t need the walkways and don’t want to pay to install or maintain them.

“Do we really need all these unnecessary sidewalks? Do we really need them in every subdivision?” asked Ken Jensen, 915 Hales Tr. “I don’t think safety is an issue. It can’t be if when you get to the park there’s no sidewalk there.”

Public Works Director Rob Vanden Noven agreed that a sidewalk should replace the pedestrian path through the park, adding that it is likely to be included in the parks master plan currently being updated by the Parks and Recreation Department.

“If they had the budget, they would have done that already,” Ald. Mike Gasper, a member of both the Public Works and Parks and Recreation boards, said. 

Meaghan Hoffmann, 408 Sunrise Dr., told the council that she has never felt unsafe walking in the street in her neighborhood, even with her 3-year-old son.

The sidewalk would take up a significant portion of her front yard, Hoffmann said, and she fears too many trees would need to be cut to make room for the walkways.

Robert Fechner, 909 Hales Tr., agreed, adding, “I don’t really see the necessity of putting them on each and every street in Port Washington.”

Vanden Noven said only one tree may need to be removed for the Hales Trail sidewalk, adding that “if there’s any tree that is so important to a resident, we can weave around it.”

City Administrator Mark Grams noted that the current policy was created 25 years ago when aldermen considered installing sidewalks along streets throughout the bluff area.

“Everybody who lived up there showed up” for the public hearing, he said, and aldermen ultimately decided not to add sidewalks there.

“The council basically pushed it off to you,” Grams said, adding Hales Trail “probably needs sidewalks more than anywhere else in the city.

“Do you just hold off until Hales Trail gets reconstructed or do we feel it’s important enough that we need it right now — to me, that’s the question.”

Board members said it isn’t their place to opine on the proposed bluff sidewalks but instead discussed the city’s sidewalk policy in general.

Sidewalks, Vanden Noven said, are important for pedestrian safety and to make the city a walkable community. The current policy, he added, complies with the city’s comprehensive plan, municipal code and complete streets policy.

Ald. John Sigwart called for the discussion, saying he wants the city to look at sidewalk installation and repair separately from roadwork.

When the city looks at doing sidewalk work in conjunction with a road project, he added, the condition of the sidewalks as well as the street should be a factor in selecting which roads are rebuilt.

“I think we ought to look at sidewalks as sidewalks,” he said, not as part of the street.

Vanden Noven said the city has an inventory of which sidewalks need repairs and where it needs to be installed, adding the total cost is estimated at $500,000.

Doing the road and sidewalk repairs and installation together is the most cost effective way to do the work, he added.

Sigwart also questioned whether sidewalks are needed on both sides of the street, saying having the walkways on one side may be adequate, and on cul de sacs.

Cul de sacs often attract young families, Vanden Noven said, and they “drive tricycles and Big Wheels and they belong on the sidewalk, not on the street.”

In the case of Hales Trail, Sigwart suggested the city consider a pedestrian walk along the west side of Hales Trail instead of a sidewalk — something the residents have suggested would be acceptable to them —  but Gasper noted that this would not meet handicapped access requirements. Because of that, when the street is rebuilt the city would have to install sidewalks.

Hales Trail, Gasper added, probably needs sidewalks more than virtually any other street.

“If we’re looking completely at need, it’s probably Hales Trail that’s going to win,” he said. “People walk there a lot. I know people there don’t want sidewalk but what I hear from other people is ‘I walk there all the time and I definitely want sidewalks.’”

The board ended its almost two-hour discussion without taking any action on the issue.


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