Manhattan city commissioners debated the cost versus the safety benefits of additional sidewalks Tuesday.
The commission provided feedback about a proposed bicycle and pedestrian systems plan during its first work session of 2020.
However, it didn’t have a vote on the plan, which aims to make the city more accessible for bikers and walkers.
The plan lays out improvements for trails and sidewalks in the community, including widening existing sidewalks, adding more sidewalks in parts of the city, maintaining and linking nature trails as well as installing street lighting, among other initiatives.
Commissioner Linda Morse emphasized on adding sidewalks to both sides of the streets in town and installing more lighting, especially in areas where people travel to and from work.
“I’d like to see some lighting,” Morse said.
With some areas in town only having a sidewalk on one side of the street, Morse said she hopes the city puts in sidewalks on the other side of the street.
“We’ve gotten to this position because over the years we have not required sidewalks on both sides,” Morse said. “We’ve had policies with one side, and for awhile, no sidewalks were installed at all in some developments.”
Officials said homeowners are responsible for the cost, installation and maintenance of new sidewalks in residential areas, which raised concerns for commissioner Mark Hatesohl.
“As we talk about trying to keep housing affordable, this is one of those things that sneaks up on you; adds an extra few thousand bucks on top of everybody else’s expenses for affordable housing,” Hatesohl said. “So it’s a great idea, but realize that creates challenges on the other end when we’re trying to do the things and make housing more affordable.
“We can’t keep expecting homeowners to have additional expenses because of niceties,” he continued.
Morse said it is important for all parts of the city to be treated the same and have the same amenities, such as sidewalks.
“We have a uniform policy for ... our new development and sidewalks, so that we don’t disadvantage one side of the community versus the other,” Morse said. “You know, sometimes I look at a community, and I think, ‘Wow, that’s a pretty fancy sidewalk, but it’s on one side of town, and the other side of town is begging for sidewalks.’ So I think uniformity in our policy, the way we make policy, is important.”
The plan also may add more trail signs, concrete paving along the Old Blue River Trail and hiking trails improvements.
Commissioner Wynn Butler floated the idea of implementing one-way streets in town with parking on one side and a bike lane on the other for enhanced safety.
“I know that’s a major change because it’s messing with public works and everything else on redirecting traffic,” Butler said. “But if we’re truly concerned about safety, if we want people to use them, I’d like to have some people take a look at that and see if it makes any sense.”
Officials anticipate using the Recreation & Trails quarter-cent sales tax as well as some grant funds to pay for the project. The estimated project cost is approximately $1.6 million, officials said.
Commissioner Aaron Estabrook expressed interest on maintaining safe routes to and from schools for people that commute on foot or bike.
Ron Orchard, Bike Walk MHK community organizer, encouraged the commission to look to the future of Manhattan in 20 years and figure out the gold standard for the community.
“And then, in a few months, we can get down to how are things actually paid for,” Orchard said.
Orchard said the grassroots advocacy group considers this plan very important.
“Any evolution of this infrastructure in our community is going to benefit (us), whether we’re looking at safety, quality of life,” Orchard said.
Mayor Usha Reddi voiced her support for the overall plan, and said she looks forward to having more discussions about paying for these improvements.
“As the proposal and everything that’s presented, I’m comfortable accepting and supporting the plan,” Reddi said. “As we get to the dedicated funding sources, we’ll have those discussions as we move forward.”
City administrators will use feedback from the meeting to rework the plan. The commission will vote on the plan in February.