With three dogs and a baby, Josh Ahlberg really could use a sidewalk to stroll. This week, the Edina resident learned that he may soon have one right outside his door.
After more than a year of lobbying by Ahlberg and other Braemar Hills neighbors, the city has tentatively slated their stretch of Valley View Road for a sidewalk in 2018.
“That’s awesome news,” Ahlberg said. “It shows that if you mobilize community support and go through the chain, you can get things done.”
Ahlberg, a salesman by trade, worked to sell the city on a sidewalk for the ¾-mile stretch of Valley View. Trudging through the snow in subzero January weather, he gathered 57 signatures from neighbors in support of the sidewalk.
Then he kept up a steady stream of e-mails to city officials, laying out the reasons why a sidewalk on Valley View would fit into the city’s own stated priorities.
Ahlberg said Valley View is increasingly used as a high-speed shortcut by motorists seeking to avoid congestion and construction on nearby Highways 100 and 169. With several schools and churches in the area, children must walk on the roadside as cars speed by, often in the dark during winter.
The persistence of the neighbors made a difference, city officials said.
“Because of the efforts of Josh and others, it’s certainly been elevated in priority,” said Mark Nolan, the city’s transportation planner. “When the City Council gets a petition, it does have an impact.”
He added: “It doesn’t mean that you simply ask for it and get it. But selecting and prioritizing sidewalks to be constructed is as much an art as it is a science. And when residents get together and elevate their concern, it gets to the council. And the council makes the decisions.”
Edina is among a number of suburban cities, built in the car-centric postwar years, that are working to make themselves more hospitable to bike and pedestrian traffic.
Bloomington is requiring pedestrian-friendly plans for new construction in the Southtown shopping district. St. Louis Park is filling gaps in its sidewalk network and adding bike lanes.
Richfield has taken perhaps the biggest step, embarking on a complete rebuild of 66th Street — the city’s unofficial Main Street — that will take a lane of traffic away from cars and give it to bikes, while adding a landscaped boulevard with sidewalks.
Nolan said it’s tough to juggle sidewalk projects while staying within budget. Money for sidewalk construction comes from the city’s Pedestrian and Cyclist Safety Fund, which generates about $1.1 million a year through a small tax on the energy bills of every home and business in Edina.
To stretch its dollars, the city tries to install sidewalks on streets while they are being rebuilt. But Valley View isn’t scheduled for a rebuild any time soon, meaning the cost will be about triple what it would be otherwise, or about $450,000.
The city has built about 9 miles of sidewalks in the past three years, Nolan said.