Vote on Hawthorne-Weatherstone greenway put off for a month by Bloomington bike, ped commission

Around 5:30 p.m. on Monday, about two dozen members of the public crammed into the McCloskey conference room at city hall.

They were there to hear the deliberations of the city’s bicycle and pedestrian safety commission (BPSC) on the Hawthorne-Weatherstone greenway project. Most were also there to weigh in with their own thoughts.

On Monday, the BPSC decided to put off their vote on the project, until their next monthly meeting, on Sept. 11.

The Hawthorne-Weatherstone greenway project would install speed humps and bump outs at locations on Weatherstone Lane heading north from Hillside.  Along the stretch of Weatherstone where it bends to the east, the project would build a non-motorized path connection up to Hawthorne, where there’s no connection of any kind. From the Hawthorne dead-end up to 3rd Street, the greenway project would install additional speed humps and bump outs.

The ballpark cost of the project, confirmed at Monday’s meeting by senior project engineer Neil Kopper, is around $350,000. The cost was cited by several people at the public mic as an amount that should be spent instead on higher priority projects.

Commissioners decided to listen to public comment until around 7:30 p.m. but to leave a vote until their next monthly meeting, on Sept. 11.

That was a half hour longer than BPSC meetings are supposed to last. To go past 7 p.m. requires a unanimous vote by commissioners.

Opposition to the Hawthorne-Weatherstone greenway project has been strong among those who live along the corridor, since at least the first neighborhood engagement meeting, which took place over a year ago in late March 2022. On Monday, there were just a couple of voices of support.

The long timeline stems from an effort by city councilmember Dave Rollo, to put the question of the Hawthorne-Weatherstone greenway, and other similar projects, in front of the city council for an ultimate decision.

On Nov. 16, 2022 Rollo introduced Ord 22-35, which would have amended the city’s Traffic Calming and Greenways Program, to include a city council vote on all neighborhood greenway projects.

But at the council’s Dec. 7, 2022 meeting, the council amended the meeting agenda to remove Ord 22-35, which would have been up for a final vote that night. On that occasion, the council essentially gave a higher priority to a different agenda item—one involving the issuance of bonds to finance the Showers West project.

Earlier this year, on April 19, Rollo brought back a similar proposal, in the form of Ord 23-08. But Ord 23-08 failed on a 4–5 vote, which was taken on May 10 of this year.

That left the Traffic Calming and Greenways Program (TCGP) intact, which gives the BPSC the ultimate decision on neighborhood greenways.

At Monday’s BPSC meeting, former city councilmember Chris Sturbaum alluded to the narrow margin of that failed city council vote earlier this year. He told BSPC members that they had been put in an awkward political position “by one vote at council.”

Two other former city councilmembers also spoke at the meeting—Jeff Richardson and Andy Ruff—along with former city clerk Regina Moore.

Moore told the BPSC that a higher priority than the Hawthorne-Weatherstone greenway should be improving the safety of the intersection at Atwater Avenue and 1st Street Hawthorne Drive.

Both former councilmembers were skeptical of the project. Richardson noted that Hawthorne is not that busy a street. But his concern is that construction of the greenway could lead to more traffic than desired. Encouraging more pedestrians and bicyclists to use the corridor is its whole purpose, he said.

Richardson stressed the importance of safety. The outcome of the 7-Line project, Richardson said, had been that some safety issues emerged that had not necessarily been anticipated. Richardson called for a “pause” on the Hawthorne-Weatherstone project.

Ruff is a former councilmember who is almost certain to return as one of the at-large members of the council in 2024—he is one of three unchallenged Democrats on the November ballot. Also attending Monday’s meeting, but not speaking, was unchallenged Democratic Party nominee for the District 6 city council seat, Sydney Zulich.

Ruff echoed a basic sentiment that several speakers had expressed earlier—that the corridor was already quiet and safe. Ruff described raising his kids in Elm Heights: “We rode our bikes everywhere,” he said. He added, “Sometimes we had trouble deciding which safe street to ride on, because there are many choices when you’re in that area of town.”

Countering the idea that the corridor is fine as it is was Stephanie Lotven: “Until you’ve been in a situation where even on a slow street, your kid almost gets hit by a car, you don’t know how scary a quiet street can really be.” Lotven pointed to a nearby neighborhood greenway that was already constructed.

Lotven told the BPSC she bicycles with her kids to and from their school by using the Allen Street greenway—which runs between Walnut and Henderson. It means cycling farther, Lotven said, but they are willing to do it because “Allen is safer.”

The speed humps, which were a point of criticism for many speakers, were a highlight of Lotven’s remarks. Her kids love the speed humps, she reported: “As a family, we specifically go over them, and all say Da-doomp!”

Picking up on Lotven’s comments was Stephanie Hatton, who pointed to them in the spirit of trying to work together—Hatton was calling for the BPSC to reject the project. Hatton said, “I hear my neighbor, Stephanie [Lotven] say that she would appreciate some added infrastructure here. I have to respect that.” Hatton added, “I hope we all can come together in the middle and work together—because so far we have not.”

The BPSC’s actual authority when it comes to neighborhood greenway projects is more like a veto than an approval. Under the TCGP, unless the bicycle and pedestrian safety commission acts with a majority of 75-percent on the seven-member group “to send the project back to the city staff for further refinement,” then “by default” the project can proceed.

That means six out of seven BPSC members have to vote against a neighborhood greenway project, in order to stop it.

BPSC member Mitch Rice asked about the construction of the new connection: “Why are we going through the woods at Hawthorne as opposed to just going around them?”

Bloomington’s bicycle and safety coordinator Hank Duncan responded by saying, “ For those who do bike and walk for their primary mode of transportation, that distance matters. And I think especially for pedestrians, it provides a much more direct route to get from point A to point B.”

During deliberations on the question of whether to extend the meeting time to hear additional public comment, Rice said, “I would vote against it right now—because I want the people to be heard. And I don’t feel that the concerns that I brought up, and that a number of these people have brought up, have been adequately heard or addressed.”

For BPSC member Pauly Tarricone, the connection between Weatherstone and Hawthorne, across the dead end, seemed like the part of the project he most supported. He asked if there’s a way for the BPSC to vote to approve just a part of the project. Tarricone wondered if a compromise could be found in just approving the connection and putting aside the speed bumps and bumpouts.

Tarricone wanted to know why the Hawthorne-Weatherstone greenway was given a priority ahead of some of the city’s higher-risk corridors—given the relatively low number of crashes along Hawthorne-Weatherstone. Duncan responded by saying, “What makes a neighborhood greenway a neighborhood greenway is that it’s already relatively low volume, low speed.” He continued, saying, “We want to make this simply a more conducive area for pedestrians, cyclists, motor vehiclists, to share the space.”

The Hawthorne-Weatherstone corridor was a priority, Duncan said, because of its location. The corridor provides “a great connection between [Indiana University’s] campus and the south side of Bloomington,” Duncan said.

He added, “It’s very centrally located within the city. So folks from so many different neighborhoods can use it as a bike-ped corridor to traverse the city.”

Late in the meeting, BPSC member Paul Ash said, “I’m ready to reject the project and just go back to Point A.”

The one applause line of the night came from senior project engineer Neil Kopper, who said about the “wayfinding ribbon” that was indicated on the diagrams: “We are not planning for that to be part of the project implementation at this time.”

But Kopper indicated that the reason involved cost, as opposed to a decision that it was not a good idea. He said the wayfinding ribbon was a concept that “may be something we come back to later.”

The BPSC’s decision on the project, which would require six votes to send it back to staff for revision, should come at its next monthly meeting, on Sept. 11.

2 thoughts on “Vote on Hawthorne-Weatherstone greenway put off for a month by Bloomington bike, ped commission

  1. “Moore told the BPSC that a higher priority than the Hawthorne-Weatherstone greenway should be improving the safety of the intersection at Atwater Avenue and 1st Street.“

    Where does Atwater intersect with 1st?

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