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Janesville City Council backs sidewalks

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MARCIA A. NELESEN
July 13, 2010
— The Janesville City Council on Monday unanimously backed a former council’s plan to build up to nine miles of planned but unfunded sidewalk a year, beginning with next year.

Granted, it was probably an easier vote facing two residents with white canes who spoke in favor of sidewalks, rather than a council chamber filled with angry residents being asked to pay for sidewalks.


The real test will come at next year’s annual sidewalk public hearing.


For now, the 2008 Pedestrian Transportation Corridor Plan is back on track.


The sidewalk issue in Janesville is messy because some people are forced to have them and others aren’t. The problems began in the mid-’50s and ’60s, when residents in at least two wealthy subdivisions asked the council for exceptions.


Pandora was out of the box. Now, it will take a council with “chutzpah,” as councilman Frank Perrotto said, or “balls,” as councilman Yuri Rashkin said, to put her back in.


In 2008, the council hoped to stop the controversy with the pedestrian plan.


But the council for the next two years delayed implementing the plan because of the economy.


In April, staff requested 1.5 miles of sidewalk asked for by people mostly for school safety. After more than an hour of public testimony, the council denied most of the sidewalks.


Manager Eric Levitt said that made him unsure of the council’s commitment to the corridor program and asked staff to come up with an alternative recommendation. Staff recommended that only property owners living on the route request sidewalks.


Councilmember Russ Steeber said that would mean none of the planned sidewalks ever would be built.


He and councilman George Brunner made impassioned pleas to keep the pedestrian plan. The two and councilmember Bill Truman were members of the 2008 council.


“The only way we ever get over this and move forward is to take and devise a plan … and get it done in a certain number of years,” Steeber said.


“We’ve created this ourselves,’” Steeber said. “This has been going on close to 50 years. In 2008, I’m happy to say, I was part of something I thought was part of the solution to take and move forward … and get rid of this controversy so future council members (aren’t) subjected to the annual sidewalk meeting which causes so many controversies and is so hurtful.


“Year after year, council have succumbed to the pressure of people coming in and taken the easy way out.”


Councilman Tom McDonald said he wasn’t on the council when it passed the pedestrian plan but has recently studied the process that led to it. He said he realized the council did a lot of work and had numerous discussions and hearings.


“They came up with a plan, a solid plan,” McDonald said.


Perrotto acknowledged that councils have caused the problems by their wavering on sidewalks.


Mike Payne, engineering manager, said he doubted whether staff could build nine miles in one year. Building sidewalk in existing areas is problematic because of grade issues and landscaping that people put in the middle of the right-of-way. He thought staff could build three miles a year.


Steeber said that would take 21 years to fill the sidewalk gaps. A compromise of between five to nine miles was reached. Staff will choose sidewalk from each of nine zoned areas in the city, possibly based on safety criteria, and return to the council sometime in fall.


Council members asked that residents get as much notice as possible so they could save for sidewalks even several years.


Levitt recommended that the council wait to see if the first year is successful.


“We’re going to create a lot of chaos for nothing if the first year is not successful,” Levitt said.



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