I arrived at last night's Common Council meeting fresh from a day at Great America with the family -- though "fresh" is not a word I could have used to describe my ragged physical state. My daughter was a bit disappointed that we had to shorten our day at the park so I could make it to a meeting, but, as I told her, Woody Allen once said that eighty percent of success is showing up, even if you show up smelling like a theme park. ("OK, Dad. But, who's Woody Allen?")
The council chamber was filled to overflow with Franklin residents who live near Puetz Road, which had been mentioned as a candidate for widening using STP (Surface Transportation Program) funds. Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed and Puetz will be left as is for the time being.
The long line of speakers during Citizen Comment Period gave me a chance to have a conversation with the landlord mentioned in yesterday's post right after he made his remarks regarding sidewalks on 51st Street.
To recap: This individual, who has a rental property at the corner of 51st and Drexel, took a petition up 51st Street for signatures against sidewalks. His argument was centered on winter maintenance: Why should he and other homeowners have to shovel sidewalks? They don't want sidewalks, he claimed.
In talking to this gentleman, I learned, first of all, that he does not have a waxed handlebar mustache like a silent movie villain. In fact, he seemed entirely reasonable and listened patiently as I made my case. He was willing to compromise, though at that point his notion of compromise was a widened bike lane or expanded road shoulder. I explained to him why that was unacceptable, but also how north-south and east-west arterial routes should be treated as infrastructure by the city -- a public conveyance, just like streets -- opening up the possibility of having the city clear the walkway.
Far from being a struggle to get the first segment of 51st Street sidewalk installed, however, the Common Council was unanimous in their support for the effort to make the road traversable by bike and foot. The first segment is paid for by Community Development Block Grant funds; the Council took a closer look at other projects earmarked for CDB funds.
Alderman Kristen Wilhelm suggested using CDG funds to create another extension of the 51st Street sidewalk -- not the entire length of the street, which would be too costly, but further north nonetheless. The Department of Administration's Mark Luberda noted that it would be difficult to get that funded since the sidewalk would not terminate anywhere specific, and the grant requires a destination or official commitment to completion.
Alderman Wilhelm (a member of the Trails Committee) noted that we could possibly extend the sidewalk further to Minnesota Ave., which then allows access to Pleasant View Elementary (located to the east). Turns out the length of that segment would be nearly the same as the initial segment planned for this summer. Voila!
Alderman Tim Solomon (another member of the Trails Committee) voiced his contention that the 51st Street sidewalk is absolutely vital, and further moved for an amendment to scratch certain CDG projects (city hall sound system and fire alarm upgrades). Instead, he said, let's make additional extension of the 51st Street project the top priority with CDG funds, both this year's and next if necessary.
The motion and amendment passed unanimously -- and the 51st Street sidewalk segment project is not only securely in place but actually extended farther north to allow it to access Pleasant View Elementary. (Click the small photo at right to enlarge map.)
Terrific news - the finish line at Rawson Ave. is in sight. And, equally important, the Council demonstrated a unified commitment to taking the actions needed to make Franklin a truly connected community. It won't happen all at once, but these first steps will go a long, long way toward making Franklin hospitable to walking, biking, and the enhanced sense of sociability that comes from being "out and about."
And, best of all, my daughter said the result was worth her having to skip the Superman Ride at Great America.