Des Moines plans to spend $60M on sidewalks over 20 years
DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — A path of flattened grass stretches across Thorin King’s front yard on a busy stretch of East Euclid Avenue.
With no sidewalks on either side of the street, the 45-year-old father of four said neighbors walk across his yard to reach Hy-Vee and other nearby businesses.
That could soon change.
Des Moines plans to spend almost $60 million to fill in 180 miles of sidewalk gaps over the next 20 years, a dramatic increase in sidewalk construction.
The effort will focus on high-traffic areas near business centers, schools and in neighborhoods that lack sidewalks, the Des Moines Register reported.
“I don’t mind the sidewalk,” King said. “You’ve got to do it.”
Emmanuel Smith, an advocate for Disability Rights Iowa and a wheelchair user, said the current state of Des Moines’ sidewalks is frustrating for those with mobility issues.
“You can’t go about your day with any certainty that you’re going to be able to get where you’re going to go,” she said.
But not everyone is excited by the idea of new sidewalk.
“I’d rather see them spend the money fixing roads,” Beaverdale resident Kevin Smith said.
There are no sidewalks on either side of Lincoln Avenue where he lives. It’s one of the streets on a map showing potential sidewalk locations.
Smith said he likes the privacy on his street and he doesn’t want to lose his curbside hedge. And not that many people walk down the quiet street, he said.
“It doesn’t seem like it would really be worth the expense,” Smith said.
Des Moines City Council members were briefed on the program recently. It would increase city spending on sidewalk gap construction from about $250,000 annually to $1.5 million in the fiscal year beginning July 1.
That would increase to $3 million a year by 2021.
Des Moines currently spends another $1.5 million annually on an ADA program to add sloped ramps to sidewalks where they meet streets. That programs ends in 2020.
City Manager Scott Sanders said the sidewalk program would be paid for with bonds and property tax revenue.
Des Moines fills about half a mile of sidewalk gaps each year. Under the new program, that could grow to between 7 and 9 miles annually.
City Engineer Steven Naber said the city does not expect to assess property owners for the sidewalks in front of their homes, which is the current practice.
His department will develop a three-year plan to determine which streets will be the first to get sidewalks.
City Council members said they want to see sidewalks on both sides of all major thoroughfares. Streets that are reconstructed would also get new sidewalks on both sides.
Lower-traffic neighborhood streets would get a sidewalk on at least one side. Neighborhood streets with a school or a bus stop would be a priority.
The city worked with Des Moines Public Schools while developing the plan. The school district, which serves 32,000 students, does not provide bus service to students who live within a mile and a half of their school.
Some students have no other choice than to walk to school, and they need sidewalks to be safer, said Bill Good, chief operating officer for Des Moines Public Schools.
“Our families have a lot to gain from this,” he said.
While the 20-year program would fill high-priority gaps, it would not add sidewalks on all city streets.
There are 952 miles of sidewalks in Des Moines and 677 miles of roads without them.
Some of those streets were annexed into the city without sidewalks, Assistant City Manager Phil Delafield said. Others streets were installed without sidewalks in the rush to build new homes for returning GIs in the aftermath of World War II.
Beaverdale residents Jone and Gary Culp’s home on Marella Trail was built in 1929. They don’t want a sidewalk installed. The Culps have two oaks trees that sit right where a sidewalk would go.
“I would rather they go through the backyard,” Jone Culp said.
Naber said trees and other sidewalk obstacles would be considered as city staff evaluates streets.
Sidewalks can be a sensitive issue, council members told Naber. Councilman Chis Coleman said the city should be prepared for pushback, especially if it comes to putting the sidewalk on one side of the street over another.
“Everybody will say, ‘Put it on the other side,’” he said.
Information from: The Des Moines Register, http://www.desmoinesregister.com