Sunday, March 11, 2012

Here are my comments on draft city sidewalk policy. What are your thoughts?

Sidewalks are a controversial topic. Some residents want more; some don't. Sometimes-heated exchanges have made it clear that Takoma Park could use a Policy for Sidewalk Requests and Installation, which the city council will consider at its meeting Monday evening, March 12, 2012.

The proposed policy, captured in a draft resolution, is the product of an extended discussions that have involved council members (former and present), city staff, and community members. It sets rules for a) initiating evaluation of a new sidewalk, b) discussion of the request, and c) feedback on either the design or on the sidewalk itself. (The scope of that last point is the unclear to me and is the subject of one of my comments.) Overall, the policy represents hard-won compromise.

I have several comments. I plan to bring them to the council meeting and I'll share them now. I'd also very much like to hear residents' thoughts. My first three (of four) comments are technical, aimed at making policy wording more precise. My fourth comment addresses a gap: The policy calls for up to three surveys of households. Is the final survey a referendum on design or on the sidewalk itself?

Here goes:

  1. First bullet, (2)(b): It would help to specify *which* residents may request a survey and how many residents much sign on to the request. I suggest a modification, "a minimum of two household in an affected area request that the City perform a survey of the households in the affected area and 50% of the responders provide a yes vote."
  2. A point says, "(7) The standard width of new sidewalk will be five feet." I suggest text, "(7) The width of new sidewalk shall be at least the minimum required for ADA compliance. It shall meet or exceed the current transportation industry width guidelines, 5 feet wide (1525 mm) with a planting strip of 2 feet (610 mm) on local streets and in residential and commercial areas as of March 2012, where possible." [See http://www.access-board.gov/prowac/guide/PROWGuide.htm#3_2_1]
  3. The next-to-last bullet could be more precise. I'd modify it to say "If at least 50% of the responses..."
  4. That bullet doesn't say what happens if the city doesn't receive at least 50% positive responses. Is that considered a design rejection or a sidewalk rejection?
    • If we'll consider that a design rejection, then added text would be in order, say "In the event fewer than 50% of responses are positive, the City will revise the design to account for respondents' concerns and survey the households on the side of the street where the proposed sidewalk is to be located on the revised design."
    • If we'll consider that to be sidewalk rejection, then it would be prudent to survey those "households on the side of the street where the proposed sidewalk is to be located" before getting to this point. But do we want policy that would ignore the rest of the affected area?

On one other point: Council consensus, the outcome of discussion, was to include only household residents and not property owners when surveys are called for.

Now please do share your own views on the draft sidewalk policy, via blog comments, private communications, or at Monday evening's council meeting. Thanks!

7 comments:

  1. Good points, Seth, particularly substituting ADA compliance for the specific 5-foot width. That way, policy wouldn't have to be amended if ADA were amended.

    Looks to me like the 50% approval works in two different phases: first, the idea of a sidewalk at all, and second, approval of the proposed design. In the first phase, the policy seems to indicate that rejection is rejection unless the Council votes to override. In the second phase, rejection seems to send it back to the design firm for tweaking.

    Council might want to add a provision that instates a "cooling off" period after a first-phase rejection. How long after an initial neighborhood rejection can residents reapply?

    Finally, what do you think about the construction queue being first-in/first-out? Should the Council perhaps retain the option of bumping a project up based on how it fits other city priorities?

    Anyhow, I appreciate your comments above, and the way you distributed them. Would love to see more Council members regularize a similar approach to governance.

    Thanks-
    -Todd Solomon

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    1. Todd, thanks for sharing your thoughts. Yes, I see that reapplication is not addressed. I'll plan to raise that point, and perhaps suggest text, at the council meeting. I don't see any language about first-in/first-out. I think I'd leave order unspecified.

      Seth

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  2. Seth, thank you for this posting. As it happens, Pinecrest Community Association will be presenting our set of sidewalk requests at tomorrow night's meeting.

    It seems that the assumption in the draft policy is that any new sidewalks will be constructed adjacent to existing streets, thus adding to total impervious surface. However, in the Pinecrest request, we are asking in several cases that the sidewalk be constructed over the existing paved surface, so that the street is narrowed afterwards. We are interested in this option because it would mean no net increase in impervious surface, no damage to tree roots, and minimal impact on residents.

    Going further, we are curious to know whether the City would consider, as a cost-saving measure, simply installing curb bump-outs at the ends of blocks and at intervals mid-block, and then designating a pedestrian route on the edge of the existing street surface.

    We recognize that these two types of sidewalks might not fit with the character of all Takoma Park neighborhoods. Still, our intent in proposing these alternatives for sidewalk construction is to expedite the creation of safe pedestrian routes at the lowest cost possible for taxpayers and in an environmentally friendly manner.

    Seth, it would be great if the Council could consider how these two less invasive (and likely less expensive) approaches might fit into the City sidewalk policy. Two possible questions regarding "in-street" sidewalks might be (a) how stormwater flow, and its access to storm drains, will be managed; and (b) how to ensure that City street cleaning and snow removal can be carried out successfully. A third question concerns the minimal necessary width for the vehicular portion of the right-of-way; however, several streets in Pinecrest already provide a great example of how a narrowed street, perhaps with parking on just one side, still can successfully accommodate traffic while providing a calming effect.

    Thanks again for posting the draft policy!

    Sincerely,

    Roger Schlegel
    Pinecrest Community Association

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    1. Roger, these are good points, thanks. I'll see about bringing them into the discussion.

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  3. I think that traffic mitigation alternatives (stop signs, one-way streets, street narrowing) should be envisioned as an integral part of any sidewalk proposal process. I also think that the views of homeowners immediately affected by proposed new sidewalks should have more weight than I see this proposal providing.

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  5. I don't know why residents who will have the sidewalk in front of their homes should get more say, other than political wimpiness on the Council's part -- I strongly oppose this. I cannot prevent a fire hydrant being installed in front of my house, Pepco's tree trimming, the city's removal or planting of city strip trees -- all because it is a PUBLIC right of way. Why should this issue be different? It implies that the right of way is invalid, and in fact, is not there expressly for the public good, if a property owner deems otherwise. Example, my street has sidewalks on both sides -- the only street in my neighborhood that does. Nonetheless, Chris and I have worked for (5 years? longer?) to get a sidewalk along Wildwood Drive -- my kids walk home from the bus a half mile on this road, I walk my dog, etc. Our hearing disabled neighbor testified about her inability to hear cars coming up from behind her when she picks up her two toddlers, often after dark, at daycare on Wildwood. Fortunately there was not a big fight in NHGCA, mostly everyone wants it, but I fail to see why we would even entertain allowing the public good to be trumped by property owners -- there is either a need and desire, or there is not.
    Regards,
    Donna Victoria

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