Speeding on the Sidewalk

Dear Readers,
“A few voices” brought sidewalk construction to a halt in January. Those voices alleged that new sidewalks cause environmental damage. They also said that the council was being a bunch of doofuses . . . er, was not paying attention.
The sidewalks were to be funded by speed camera revenues. The council was under the the impression that those revenues had by law to be used for traffic safety. But, the anti-sidewalkistas smacked them upside the head, and showed them that the recently re-written law now said revenues could be used for public safety. This allows a wider range of projects.
The council’s response was to rub their heads and say, “thanks, we needed that!” and quickly put a moratorium on sidewalk construction plans around the city until they could reassess. Councilmember Josh Wright even humbly apologized at a recent meeting for not previously checking the law.
But, now the sidewalk loyalists are mobilizing, especially in wards 6 and 2 where much anticipated sidewalk projects have been in limbo for a month. Those ward’s representatives, Fred Schultz and Colleen Clay, said they’ve been hearing from constituents. Their feeling was that other wards have had their sidewalks replaced and upgraded while their wards don’t have enough sidewalks at all.

Clay joked that in return for her election endorsement she extracted Mayor Williiam’s promise to find a way to fund Ward 2 sidewalks, and now he was falling through. Her constituents, she said, want a safe route from their neighborhoods to Carroll Avenue. But, she said, just as they got to the  “pre-design” phase of that sidewalk plan, the city halted the process in response. Ward 2 residents, she said, are “pissed.”
It doesn’t help, she said, that “a few voices loudly opposed to sidewalks” in her ward have given many constituents the impression that “sidewalks are dead.” 
Clay does not dismiss the points anti-sidewalkistas make. Storm water issues are important, she said. She also acknowledged that in the case of Auburn Ave. a sidewalk may not be necessary. Residents of that “very small, very quiet street” as one described it, spoke against getting a sidewalk during the Citizen Comment time. They presented a petition with signatures from 15 of the 20 street residents.
The council agreed to put Ward 2 sidewalks on the Feb. 28 agenda.
Standard Price
The sidewalk issue was part of an overall look at how speed camera revenues should be spent. This included a discussion of ADA compliance. ADA is the Americans with Disabilities Act, which sets standards that must be met to allow wheelchair accessibility. Curb cuts, for example. The federal government says that cities have to meet those standards – or at least have a plan to meet them, and be able to show progress.
That’s where some of the speed camera revenue was going. 
How much of that revenue, the council pondered, should the council be spending yearly on ADA compliance? Bringing the city’s sidewalks up to ADA standards could cost as much as 45 million, the mayor estimated. Councilmembers differed on how much speed camera money the city should tap. Councilmember Fred Schultz was in favor of spending minimal amounts. It was a “selfish” point of view, he admitted, but he saw it as a choice between improving existing sidewalks  and building new sidewalks in his Ward where they are needed for safety. Ward 6 has fewer sidewalks than any other city ward.  Counclimember Dan Robinson was in favor of keeping the annual ADA expenditure to a minimum, also.
Councilmember Clay thought ADA was important, but wanted a balanced approach. Priority should be given to areas with poor accessibility, such as sidewalks with no curb cuts, rather than sidewalks that are almost up to standard.
Councilmember Reuben Snipper, on the other hand, said he supports ADA compliance all over the city sooner than later. Mayor Williams was concerned that spending small amounts yearly, $300,000 say, would stretch it out over 20 years. 
Capital Idea
As for other potential uses for speed camera money, the council agreed that it would be a bad idea to use that revenue to fund staff positions or ongoing budget costs. They didn’t feel comfortable that the cameras would continue to be a cash cow . . . , er, revenue source. As the mayor pointed out, hopefully the cameras’ presence would slow traffic down, reducing the revenue.
There are also capricious legislative acts to worry about. There is one proposal in the state capitol to put a cap on municipal speed camera fees. At one point it was feared the legislature would make municipalities forward speed cam funds to the state as it does with traffic ticket fees.
Capital projects are where its at! Capital projects are basically construction projects – roads, buildings, sidewalks, traffic calming, and the like. They are one-time costs that won’t require refunding the next year. Capital projects that fall under “public safety,” the council felt, are appropriate uses for those funds. The previous week councilmember Josh Wright, who could not attend the Feb. 22 meeting, suggested that buying equipment such as computers for police cars would qualify as well.
Not eligible would be the purchase of road building equipment, such as an asphalt roller, as councilmember Robinson suggested. It might qualify for “public safety” he said, because smooth roads are safer. The chorus of “Errrrr . . . ,” Ummmm . . . .,” “Uhhhhh . . .  . ,” and “Wellllll . . . .” from the rest of the council told him it was a bit of a stretch.
Fours to the Floor
It was Ward Four Night – one of a series of city council meetings with a segment dedicated to a particular city ward. Unfortunately, Ward 4 councilmember Terry Seamens was not able to attend due to a family emergency.
Ward 4 residents came to the podium Feb. 22 with typical concerns such as a Maple Avenue stop sign that motorists generally ignore, but most of the comments concerned one apartment building – 7710 Maple Avenue. This was the same group of renters who came to the council last month with complaints about their living conditions and their landlord. This time they reported “some improvements,” due, they said, to help from the city, But problems continue, they said.
One woman was worried about lax building security, and an out-of-order laundry room. Another woman said trees and shrubbery needed trimming around the drive. Overgrowth interferes with handicap access, she said. She also said that management was unresponsive to her concerns.
The president of the Ritchie Avenue citizens association said the association was carefully watching a nearby subdivision development on Geneva Ave. There are trees they want to preserve, and they have concerns about water runoff into Sligo Creek, parking, and housing density. He thanked the city for its recent help with traffic calming.
Ask A Simple Question
An Oswego Ave. resident asked how the Public Works Department renovation project was going. Now, Dear Readers, this seemed to be merely an informational question. However, this citizen cared enough about the answer to attend a city council meeting – hardly anyone’s idea of a fun evening – to get it. Consider that Oswego Ave. is right next to the renovation construction zone. Consider that some residents are not happy about the renovation expense and are waiting to pounce on any signs of escalating costs or work.
Slipping on the kid gloves, city manager Barbara Matthews reported renovations were “on schedule, sir!” She passed the kid gloves to the mayor who added that the FIRST thing done in the renovations was to build a truck entrance to Public Works on Ritchie Avenue, taking truck traffic off Oswego Ave. 
This was a big issue when the  renovations were first discussed. Oswego residents said via councilmember Seamens that the project was a non -starter unless renovations included moving the Public Works entrance. They were tired of big trucks rumbling up and down their tiny street. Moving the entrance to Ritchie Avenue (at a point that detoured vehicles around the residential portion of Ritchie, so Ritchie residents supported it too) added expense and complexity to the renovations. But, the council needed resident support – and they wanted to avoid heavy resistance promised by the neighborhood and councilmember Seamens – so the new entrance got built FIRST.
“I see a thumbs-up in the back!” said the mayor.

– Gilbert


About the Author

Gilbert is the pseudonym of a hard-bitten, hard-drinking, long-time Takoma Park resident who maintains the granolapark blog. Gilbert and William L. Brown — Granola Park's mild-mannered chief of staff, researcher, and drink pourer — have never been seen in the same place at the same time.