2014 sidewalk plan modified; next up, 2015 plan

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Marcia Nelesen
Wednesday, November 27, 2013

JANESVILLE--Are sidewalks good public policy supported by the silent majority?

Or did Janesville City Council members who voted against installing sidewalks on the 2014 sidewalk plan Monday simply listen to the people who showed up at council chambers to protest the sidewalks.

At Monday’s meeting, sidewalk supporter and council President Kathy Voskuil acknowledged that residents in attendance all spoke out against sidewalks. But Voskuil argued that a small group doesn’t necessarily reflect the opinions of an entire community.

“We’re also a town of 60,000 people, and there are a lot of people out there who support sidewalks,” Voskuil said.

“I haven’t seen any of them,” Councilman Brian Fitzgerald argued. “I received a single letter.”

The council eventually approved much of the 2014 plan but deleted significant portions. City staff Tuesday had still not figured out total miles that remain in the program.

A former council had approved a multi-year plan to close gaps and increase safety in the pedestrian system and hopefully put the sidewalk controversy behind the city.

Sidewalks are controversial because some residents are required to pay to install them and maintain them and other residents are not required to have sidewalks.

Meanwhile, Janesville Public Works Director Carl Weber said Tuesday the 2015 sidewalk plan will continue unless otherwise directed by the council, since the council simply modified the 2014 plan.

But nothing is forever when it comes to sidewalks.

“I can’t predict the future,” acting City Manager Jay Winzenz said. “There’s an election between now and then.”

At Monday’s meeting, Councilman Douglas Marklein made a motion to can the 2014 program, but that failed on a 4-3 vote. Voting for the plan were council members Sam Liebert, Matt Kealy, Jim Farrell and Voskuil. Voting against were Marklein, Fitzgerald and DuWayne Severson.

Then, Marklein went through some of the 37 segments on the program, suggesting eliminating or changing 11 because of the character of the neighborhoods. In all, eight segments were deleted and two modified.

Voskuil and Kealy consistently voted in favor of sidewalks while Fitzgerald, Marklein and Severson consistently voted against them.

Dartmouth Drive, for example, was removed from the program. Residents there were especially vocal in protesting sidewalks.

Only one segment suggested for removal by Marklein—a block the city owns along Johnson Street in the Fourth Ward Park—remains on the program.

Kealy noted the council was requiring residents to build sidewalks but now would exempt one of its own.

 “I vocally, strongly disagree with that,” Kealy said. “It’s a park. I think we owe it to the plan to put it on our own property.”

In another instance, Kealy noted a family that includes visually handicapped members lives on a street that was later removed from the program.

After the vote, Voskuil said she was “extremely disappointed.” She noted a task force the council created had unanimously recommended the sidewalks on the 2014 and 2015 plan.

She said council members who voted against the sidewalks had supported the task force decisions but now “changed their minds completely.”

Liebert served on the task force but in retrospect said the west side was not adequately represented in the discussion.

 “I heard it over and over, ‘Where was my voice?’” he said, noting about five or six council members live within a mile of each other on the east side. “It’s not a representative government.”

Farrell defended his votes, saying that while he suggested establishing the task force, he inherited the multi-year program.

The task force’s recommendations were just that, he said.

Marklein said he supported the task force but believes they made mistakes.

Fitzgerald said he might support sidewalks in the future. But now, with Janesville still recovering from the poor economy, is not a good time to install them, he said.

Fitzgerald likened the sidewalk plan to Obamacare: very few people need it, want it or can afford it, he said.

“Yet, the council wants to (shove) it down your throat and force you to pay for it,” he said.


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