When I cover governmental meetings, in addition to following what’s going on, I sometimes play the game What Would Steve Do?
WWSD simply is figuring out how I’d vote on a subject. (No, I am not running for any office.) Many times WWSD happens in advance of the meeting, and sometimes it happens after a vote when I disagree with the majority. You’ve read some examples of WWSD.
WWSD was difficult to play April 23 during the Platteville Common Council meeting discussing the requested sidewalk waiver for the 555 Ellen St. retail project. The sidewalk waiver — favored by the Plan Commission, but opposed by the Safe Routes Committee — was denied 5–2, the two being at-large Alds. Dick Bonin and Michael Denn.
The majority opinion as expressed at the meeting was on the side of denying the waiver from Municipal Code 4.13(i), which refers to which streets are required to have sidewalks. Safe Routes Committee members and others pointed out that people in the neighborhood use the existing sidewalks on the west sides of Ellen Street and Virgin Avenue. They also claimed that the Common Council has approved too many waivers of the municipal code sidewalk requirements. That’s a statement someone who hasn’t been here one year yet can’t really evaluate.
The best reason for sidewalks is the mobility they give people who don’t have cars, most importantly including children. As someone with a child at Westview Elementary School, I find sidewalks on one, but not the other, side of Lancaster Street to be annoying at least, and the fact that walking the entire length of Lancaster Street requires crossing Lancaster Street (with no pedestrian crosswalk) potentially dangerous. Sometimes traffic stops for pedestrians waiting at Lancaster Street and West Madison Street, and sometimes it doesn’t. (And in the case of tractor–trailers, it’s probably not reasonable to expect them to hit the brakes for pedestrians.)
The property owner will have to build the sidewalks. The owner may be able to recoup the cost of the sidewalks through the rent charged to the building’s tenants, but rent is often set by the local real estate market more than whatever the landlord wants to charge based on construction and operational costs. Comments that sidewalks are relatively small portions of a construction bill are best made by the people actually footing the bill for those sidewalks. (Which I guess is the rejoinder to my previous point about sidewalks not being on both sides of Lancaster Street.) Platteville has enough problems with being perceived as a difficult place to do business, whether or not that perception is based on reality.
Denn described the sidewalks on Virgin Avenue and Ellen Street as “sidewalks to nowhere.” At the moment, that’s a correct statement, given that the sidewalks stop on the north edge of the property. After the sidewalks are built, they won’t be to “nowhere,” but they will dead-end at Business 151, connecting to no cross-sidewalk. And given the slope of Ellen Street and Virgin Avenue from the north edge of 555 Ellen to Business 151, that’s going to be an interesting engineering project.
The meeting also brought up what will be one of Platteville’s biggest road reconstruction projects, at some future date. Contrary to what some apparently believe, Business 151 is not a state highway. Business 151 is simply the old U.S. 151 (or, if you will, the middle-aged 151, or the second iteration of 151, the first being the downtown routing) before the 151 bypass opened in 2005. Business 151 is a county highway only west of South Chestnut Street, where it is Grant County D, and east of 151/Business 151 exit 21, where it is County XX to Belmont. In Platteville, Business 151 is now a city street, the same as in Mineral Point, and for that matter Mount Horeb, Verona, Sun Prairie, Columbus and Waupun.
(Side note: Business 151 really needs a better, more marketing-friendly name. Some maps call it Dubuque Road, but I have yet to see a Dubuque Road street sign. I have a name idea, but I’m going to hold off on it until we see if certain news happens in mid-June.)
Even though Business 151 doesn’t have the through traffic the bypass now takes, Business 151 does have substantial local traffic, particularly with such large retail operations as Walmart, Menards, all three Platteville car dealers, Aldi and several restaurants. Business 151 has no sidewalks, though it does have the Rountree Branch trail on the south side of West Business 151 that serves as a sidewalk. East Business 151 has no such walking path (other than walking through business parking lots), and that’s particularly an issue given the reported increase in pedestrian traffic between Walmart and Kmart. (Which, you’ll note, are on opposite sides of the road.)
The safest places to cross Business 151 are at the intersections with stoplights — Water Street, East Mineral Street/Eastside Road, Keystone Parkway/Insight Drive, and Commercial Drive/Vision Drive. “Safest” is a relative term, though, because there are as many pedestrian crosswalks as sidewalks (other than the path that runs along Eastside Road) in those areas — that is, none. (Not that I want more stoplights on Business 151, or any road. I hate stoplights almost as much as I hate four-way stop signs. I may be one of the few people in Platteville who likes roundabouts because I don’t have to stop in them.)
For fully mobile adults with cars or walking by ourselves, the Business 151 sidewalk issue may not be a big deal. For children, or parents with children, or people in wheelchairs or scooters, or for those who would prefer to walk or bike rather than drive to a Business 151 business, this is a big deal. Dealing with it is not going be inexpensive, but the cost will probably be borne entirely by the City of Platteville, just like improving Business 151 will be.