Theis Street residents tell board that paring width, installing sidewalk will endanger safety of students, parents
About 20 people who live near Lincoln Elementary School in Port Washington told the Board of Public Works Tuesday that a city proposal to narrow Theis street and lane and install sidewalk where there currently is none would endanger the safety of students and parents.
“Why do you all the sudden want to narrow the streets?” asked Fred Schaefer, 209 Theis St. “It’s a beautiful street. The vast majority of property owners feel the street should be kept the same. We are just fine.”
The city had proposed narrowing Theis Street, which is currently 36 feet, and Theis Lane, which is 38 feet, to 30 feet.
Narrowing Theis street and lane would slow traffic in an area where vehicles already travel at a snail’s pace, residents argued, and installing sidewalk on the south side of Theis Street and east side of Theis Lane would force children to cross the street to the school in an area where traffic is congested, causing an unsafe situation.
“If we didn’t have a school on James Drive, I wouldn’t mind you narrowing the street,” one man said. “But we have a school. You have to consider that.”
But Rob Vanden Noven, the city’s director of public works, argued that narrowing the road will slow traffic, making for a safer situation and allowing drivers to react if youngsters dart out or walk in the roadway — something they do now because there isn’t sidewalk on both sides.
“We’re around a school. It’s a place where we want traffic to move slowly,” he said, noting most of the traffic is heading west with parents who are dropping off and picking up students largely waiting in line in the parking lane. “It just seems to me to be the safest design.”
But Carol Jushka, 233 W. Theis St., said that installing sidewalks on both sides of the road would require two crosswalks at the intersection of Theis street and lane, both of them in an area where traffic is congested as parents pick up and drop off youngsters.
The current situation, where the sidewalk on the north side leads students directly to the school without crossing the street, is safer, Jushka said.
“You’re creating a traffic situation that isn’t there now,” she said.
Few people walk on the existing sidewalk outside of school hours and few students walk to school, residents said, proof that additional sidewalk isn’t necessary.
Residents also said that slowing traffic isn’t required, noting that it already moves slowly.
Gloria Spudowski, 227 Theis St., said that because the traffic moves so slowly when parents drop off and pick up students, it is difficult for residents to access their driveways.
“We have to adjust our schedules to accommodate the school traffic or sit and wait for 45 minutes or so to pull into our driveways, sitting there in our cars yards from our homes we can’t get to,” she said in a written comment to the board.
“What you are proposing will make the problem even worse for us.”
A narrower street will also make it more difficult for emergency vehicles to get through when needed, said James Reisimer Sr., 214 Theis St.
“If you narrow that street six feet and there’s cars parked on both sides of the street, it’s not going to work,” he said. “If my house would be on fire, it’s going to be tough to get a fire truck there.
“I’m looking out not just for the safety of the children, but my neighbors, too.”
Board Chairman Craig Czarnecki asked if parking restrictions might make the situation better, but the residents said they would just make it more difficult for them to park on the street outside their homes.
Board member Jason Wittek said sidewalk is important, especially near a school. Even without a school, he added, sidewalk is used by many people from throughout the community.
The city has a policy of adding sidewalk in places where there currently is none when streets are reconstructed, Vanden Noven noted, saying it benefits the community as a whole.
Czarnecki, a city police officer, noted that crosswalks stop people from crossing in midblock, which would improve safety.
He also noted that when the city has narrowed other streets and added sidewalk, similar arguments have been made opposing the changes. But after the work is done, Czarnecki said, there have been few problems or complaints.
That’s true not just in places like downtown, where Franklin Street was narrowed, but near schools such as St. Mary’s, where several adjoining roads were narrowed and sidewalk placed, board members said.
Ultimately, the board decided to compromise, deciding to narrow the street and lane to 32 feet and delaying a decision on the sidewalk issue, directing Vanden Noven to meet with officials from the Port Washington-Saukville School District to get their input into the situation.
Even if the sidewalk isn’t built immediately, Vanden Noven said, the street will be designed to accommodate it at a future date.