Sidewalk committee climbing a $17M mountain with $300K annual steps: Half-century until summit

On Monday at noon, Bloomington city council’s sidewalk committee met for the second time in the last couple weeks, to sort through 62 proposed new sidewalk construction projects for 2020.

Council Sidewalk Map UpdatedThis year, the four-member group has $324,000 to allocate towards the projects, one of which, along Dunn Street, has been on the list for two decades, since 2001.

This year’s total of $324,000 reflects an increasing trend. Over the last 10 years, the council has averaged around $280,000 per year in approvals, with the last six years right around $300,000 or slightly higher.

The money comes from the city’s alternative transportation fund (ATF), which was established in 1992 as part of the same ordinance that created the residential neighborhood parking permit program.

According to the residential neighborhood parking permit ordinance, “funds received in excess of the annual cost of operating the program shall go into an Alternative Transportation Fund.” Expenditures from the fund are supposed to be for the purpose of “reducing our community’s dependence upon the automobile.”

The ordinance also says that expenditures from the fund have to be approved by the city council. So councilmembers Dave Rollo, Dorothy Granger, Chris Sturbaum and Jim Sims are serving on the four-member council committee this year.

The committee typically works with planning and transportation department staff in two or three meetings towards the end of the end to identify the projects that the council will fund for the next year. The committee’s third meeting is set for Dec. 10. A recommendation is expected to be made to the full council at at time.

It’s not just sidewalk projects that the committee can recommend. Also a part of the mix are traffic calming and crosswalk projects.

Each year, the committee tries to recommend funding for some design work and some construction work, so that one year’s expenditures feed into the next.

The vintage 2001 project proposed for Dunn Street, from SR 45/46 to Tamarack Trail, doesn’t rank high on the criteria used to evaluate projects: number of potential walkable destinations; existing pedestrian environment; access to transit; and population density. This year its total rank score makes it 50th out of 62 projects.

The length of the Dunn Street project is 2,044 feet, which makes it one of the longer projects on the list, which have a median length of 1,324 feet.

Adding up the length of all the projects on the list in 2020 comes to 91,473 feet. According to planning services manager Beth Rosenbarger, who helps give staff support to the committee, 1 mile of sidewalk costs about $1 million—that’s just a rough ballpark estimate.

Applied to this year’s list, a ballpark estimate of the total cost would work out to $17.32 million. (91,473 feet is 17.32 miles.) If all the projects were built based on currently available funding from ATF, and costs and revenue remained constant, it would take just a little over 50 years to finish the list.

During council committee meetings, both Rollo and Sturbaum mentioned in passing the idea that it would probably require issuing a bond, in order to complete a substantial amount of the projects in a relatively short time frame.

Making the picture even a bit bleaker, the project list is just a subset of all the places in the city that lack a sidewalk, where one is needed, according to Rosenbarger,

On the positive side, not all the new sidewalks built in the city rely just on the council committee’s ATF allocation. Since 2007, the city’s utilities department has put around $750,000 into city council sidewalk projects, based on the committee meeting’s information packet.

Also on the positive side, some sidewalks get built in Bloomington without any funding from the city council’s sidewalk committee. Some sidewalks, like the one planned along Rose Hill cemetery, on the east side of Adams Street, from Patterson Drive to Kirkwood Avenue, are planning and transportation department projects. The Adams Street sidewalk is scheduled for construction in 2020.

That’s not to say the council committee does not try to spot connections between other city projects and the projects on its list. At both council committee meetings, Sturbaum has advocated for continuing the sidewalk connectivity of the Adams Street project northward, past Kirkwood, but on the west side of the street.

Neil Kopper, who also gives staff support to the council’s committee, said that the continuation northward on Adams Street couldn’t be incorporated into the same project—it’s planned for construction next season.

But the continuation northward on Adams from Kirkwood is one of the projects for which the committee wants staff to develop some cost estimates in time for the next meeting on Dec. 10.

Also short-listed by  the committee are traffic calming or crosswalk options for: 8th Street & Rogers Street; Moores Pike & Smith Road; and Arden Drive & High Street.

Funded for design previously, and likely to get strong consideration by the committee for construction funding in 2020, is a sidewalk from Maxwell Street from Miller Drive, north of Short Street. The construction cost is estimated at $115,000.

Also funded for design previously is a project on West 14th Street, from Madison to Woodburn. It’s estimated to cost around $156,000 to construct. Complicating the decision for the council’s committee is a grant application for a federal Community Development Block Grant, which the city might win to pay for the project. But that grant application outcome won’t be known until February 2020.

Not a part of the city council sidewalk committee’s purview is the repair of existing sidewalks. The maintenance of city sidewalks is the responsibility of adjoining property owners.

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Looking east on 3rd Street just beyond Walker Street on Nov. 11, 2019. The sidewalk-less 240-foot stretch is on the list of possible projects on the city council sidewalk committee’s project list. But it ranks just 30th on the list. (Dave Askins/Beacon)
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Looking south along Adams Street near Kirkwood Avenue, the path from the bus stop currently leads to a bicycle lane. The stretch is not on the city council sidewalk committee’s list of projects. But a sidewalk is supposed to be built  there in 2020 by the city’s planning and transportation department. (Dave Askins/Beacon)
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Looking north along the east side of Adams Street towards Kirkwood Avenue. There’s no sidewalk, but people walk there, as the footprints in the snow illustrate in this photo taken Nov. 11, 2019. A sidewalk is supposed to be built  there in 2020 by the city’s planning and transportation department. (Dave Askins/Beacon)

One thought on “Sidewalk committee climbing a $17M mountain with $300K annual steps: Half-century until summit

  1. I’m curious about 2 things. What is the cost difference between sidewalks and multi-use paths? MUPs seem to be the preferred choice. Have any studies been done that reflect actual pedestrian use and needs? When the City allowed bicycles to use sidewalks, dire forecasts were predicted, and none were born out. The realities seem to indicate that 1. bikes on streets with no access to sidewalks or paths create a hazard for both bikes and cars, and 2. few pedestrians actually use sidewalks outside of the downtown area.

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