Where does the sidewalk end?

Apparently, on North St. Paul’s 19th Avenue

The North St. Paul City Council passed a resolution to eliminate the sidewalk portion of the reconstruction planned for 19th Avenue at its May 3 meeting.

Several residents shared their concerns about the sidewalk plan at numerous city council meetings — including on May 3 when the decision was made. 

The main concern voiced by several 19th Avenue residents was the additional responsibility they would have of having to maintain the sidewalk in front of their homes — some even publically refused to take on that maintenance, such as shoveling snow.

Other’s concerns were in regards to trees that could be affected by the sidewalk’s installation and the anticipated financial burden of installation and maintenance.

The sidewalk was one component of the city’s 2016 Street and Utility Improvement Project, which includes several improvements recommended by the city’s Living Street Plan. All other components of the reconstruction on 19th Avenue remain in place, including the narrowing of the street. Scrapping the sidewalk will cut roughly $20,000 out of the overall project cost.

Only one resident at the May 3 meeting spoke in support of the sidewalk. She said she walks on the street now, but when it is narrowed, it will be even more uncomfortable. She said that the road has a lot of activity on it including school buses dropping off children and people walking to and from Silver Lake.

Residents who opposed the sidewalk also complained about the activity level of the area, though their focus was on speeding drivers. Several residents suggested adding a three-way stop sign on the corner of 19th Avenue and First Street.

City engineer Morgan Dawley explained that stop signs are often not the best way to reduce the speed of drivers because people tend to drive even faster between stop signs than they otherwise would without the signs. He said narrow streets give drivers the impression of going faster than they actually are because everything is closer, causing the driver to slow down. 

Dawley also explained that the curb and boulevard provides a physical barrier and some space between vehicles and pedestrians. He recommended that even without a sidewalk, the curb should remain where it is in the plan, which will ultimately create a narrower road. He said this is still in line with the Living Street Plan because it reduces the impermeable surfaces, and the curb location affects all of the features under the road, such as the components for water drainage.


Council reactions

Council members agreed that this was a difficult decision to make, but the vote ended 3-2, with the majority swayed by the residents’ protests.

Mayor Mike Kuehn said he doesn’t feel the city is prepared to install a sidewalk on 19th Avenue, especially if the residents won’t shovel the snow from it in winter months.

“We have a lot of other needs for our sidewalks where we could use that $22,000,” Kuehn said, citing the higher end of the estimated cost of the work.

Council member Jan Walczak, who voted for keeping the sidewalk in the plan, pointed out that this is the fifth project that has been shot down since the Living Street Plan was adopted, and advised the council to re-examine why they voted for the Living Street Plan in the first place.

Kuehn said he does feel that the city council has implemented several components of the Living Street Plan, such as improving water runoff issues, creating narrower streets and replacing trees.

Council member Tom Sonnek, who also voted for keeping the sidewalk, said that the residents who favor the sidewalk have been underrepresented. He pointed out that the Living Streets Plan was originally developed for North St. Paul by a citizen task force made up of residents who recommended sidewalks where they felt they were most needed. 

Sonnek added that although the Community Survey was not a scientific study, 66 percent of the people who filled it out last summer felt that adding sidewalks would improve neighborhood quality. He shared his belief that the majority of North St. Paul residents want sidewalks, and the city needs to make decisions for the whole, and not just one area.

“There does seem to be a lot of support for [sidewalks],” Sonnek said. “When it comes to individual projects then, those people who are specifically impacted come out and it becomes an emotional issue.”


Aundrea Kinney can be reached at 651-748-7822 or akinney@lillienews.com

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