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Etc.: Sidewalking
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I must walk a lot, because I’ve had people comment that they’ve seen me walking.

So the subject that seemed to take up the largest part of the June 23 Platteville Common Council meeting, perhaps ironically in the Information and Discussion (as in: no action yet) section of the agenda, should be of my interest.

The discussion was over whether a sidewalk waiver for the new McDonald’s restaurant south of Walmart should be withdrawn. The owners of the Sherwin–Williams paint store one building to the west sought a sidewalk waiver, but were denied.

It’s an interesting subject, because it’s a subject without easy or inexpensive answers. There are sidewalks connecting nearly all of the commercial buildings north of Business 151 and east of Keystone Parkway, but those sidewalks end a block west of Keystone on Progressive Parkway, east of (but not connecting to) Millennium Drive. There are no sidewalks on Business 151 east of Mineral Street, which means you have to walk somewhere between the road and the ditch to get there, or to get to any business before there, such as Aldi.

It is also, however, a challenge to figure out where sidewalks should go to get to that area. There are sidewalks on East Mineral Street. There is the recreation trail that crosses East Mineral Street at the quarry, and that has a connection north of Menards. It is, however, some distance from the trail to Walmart, Menards and other retail on the north side of Business 151. There are no pedestrian crossings worthy of the name to get from one side to the other side of Business 151. Yes, you can cross at the lights at East Mineral Street and East Side Road, or at the lights at Commercial Drive and Vision Drive, if you can get across in time and you don’t have to deal with traffic turning left. If you have limited mobility, I wouldn’t risk it.

Developer Jim Schneller said he wasn’t opposed to sidewalks, but said he was opposed to mandating sidewalks without a plan for sidewalks. Ald. Amy Seeboth-Wilson said the ordinance requiring sidewalks in new developments should be sufficient. But that’s really not a good rationale to saddle a property owner not only with the cost of installing a sidewalk, but maintaining — as in removing snow — that sidewalk as long as the property owner owns that property.

(It is, by the way, a remarkably arrogant statement to assert that sidewalks are just the cost of doing business. The cost of every product or service you buy is made up of all the costs involved in making that product or delivering that service, including the costs of operating the building and property. When you go to the future McDonald’s for a Big Mac, or to the future Sherwin–Williams for a can of paint, you will be paying for the costs of the building that produces the Big Mac or sells the paint. And I’ve already heard one developer wonder if the city’s attitude toward new development, which has been pretty favorable for at least several years, is not heading in the opposite direction now.)

Seeboth-Wilson said it was inconsistent for the city to grant sidewalk waivers for some properties and not others. If Seeboth-Wilson wants to see inconsistency in sidewalks, there are better examples in Platteville, where sidewalks have been in place for years, or not. It’s hard for me to believe there haven’t been a flood of car–pedestrian accidents at the intersection of North Chestnut Street and West Adams Street during the times of year when (1) kids are walking to school and (2) the rising sun blinds drivers as they head toward a crosswalk. But you really have to cross at Adams, because if you stay on the south-side sidewalk, you have to cross where Adams becomes Lancaster Street, where there is no crosswalk. Then there’s the crosswalk just north of Madison Street, which is a poor place for a crosswalk except for any other place for a crosswalk between Adams Street and Camp Street.

The reason why the city needs to think hard about sidewalks on Business 151 is because the city needs to think hard about the future of the entire length of Business 151, which lacks sidewalks and crosswalks anywhere along its length. A decade ago Business 151 was the road that connected Dubuque and Madison. Now it’s essentially an urban street, which means when it comes time to redo Business 151, it will become Platteville’s most expensive street project, even if it’s done in chunks. Everywhere you put in a crosswalk at intersections with stoplights, the stoplights must be timed with the pedestrian Walk/Don’t Walk lights, which delays vehicle traffic, which causes congestion. 

At a minimum a connection from East Mineral Street to the Progressive Parkway area would be helpful, though not for all Business 151 businesses that might get pedestrian traffic. The bigger issue is the city’s figuring out a sidewalk plan for the entire area, not just one restaurant, one paint store, and their potential future neighbors.