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Wayne Houle, city engineer in Edina, remembers his first sidewalk project more than a decade ago as “a huge fight.” Attitudes are changing, he said, but there’s often diverse views on a street when a sidewalk is proposed.
“The majority of the city was developed post-World War II, when car was king,” he said. “Trying to retrofit for sidewalks is difficult to do in the existing right of way. You have the room, but you’re disturbing a lot of infrastructure.”
Often people don’t want to shovel a sidewalk. But many residents also forget that the city usually owns a 10- or 15-foot strip of the front yard next to the street. Over the years, trees, gardens and other landscaping crowd that right of way, and people don’t want them removed.
When St. Louis Park asked residents who could be affected by the pedestrian plan what they thought, one replied, “We have lived here for 50 years and have never needed a sidewalk. The lawn stretching to the street is a lovely sight.”
Wrote another, “I don’t want my taxes to go up to pay for a completely unnecessary lark, dreamed up by a bunch of local politicians trying to figure out a way to spend money. ... Save the trees, dump the concrete somewhere else, maybe your neighborhood.”
St. Louis Park ended up paring its sidewalk priority list by about 20 percent because of objections from residents or physical barriers, according to City Engineer Scott Brink.
Sidewalks as meeting places
But then there are residents like Katherine McManus and Rita DeBrobander, neighbors on Zarthan Avenue, who are campaigning for a complete sidewalk on their street to be completed sooner than 2016. Sidewalks were built when the older homes on the block were built, but their newer homes never got a walkway.
DeBrobander worries about the safety of children who detour into the street while walking to the parochial school down the block. In the winter, she said, the interrupted sidewalk means everyone simply walks in the street.
“I walk in the street and I feel very safe, but I’m quite conscious of it,” she said. “When the sidewalks are there, I use them.”
McManus, whose family moved to Zarthan a couple of years ago from another St. Louis Park house just a few blocks away, cites not only safety concerns but social reasons for a complete sidewalk.
“To me, this is a first inner-ring neighborhood of the city, and the sidewalk allows you to meet neighbors and people going by,” she said. “It helps neighbors meet neighbors.”
Mary Jane Smetanka • 612-673-7380