PRESS EDITORIAL: The right to walk safely

For something so common, mundane and benign, sidewalks sure cause a lot of stress.

Over the years, the pages of this newspaper have recorded disputes over sidewalks between municipal officials and residents in every community in Ozaukee County.

In most cases, the genesis of these fights is the archaic and manifestly unfair practice of making homeowners pay for the construction of sidewalks across their properties. Sidewalks are the equivalent of streets as essential public infrastructure and should be paid for in the same way—with revenue from taxes levied on all of the community’s property owners.

Looming sidewalk assessments, however, are not the only issue in the current conflict involving homeowners who are protesting the City of Port Washington’s plan to install sidewalks along Hales Trail.

The residents argue that the traditional curb-parkway-concrete sidewalks the city is proposing are aesthetically incompatible with their neighborhood adjacent to Upper Lake Park and that a designated pedestrian lane on the street would be a suitable alternative.  

We’re not taking sides with either the city officials who, with one exception, seem dead-set on putting old-school concrete sidewalks on both sides of Hales Trail or with the residents who are lobbying for a pedestrian accommodation that is more in keeping with the character of their neighborhood. Rather, we are standing with—or let’s say walking with—walkers.

A pedestrian walkway along Hales Trail, in whatever form it takes, is decades overdue. It is indefensible that people who choose to walk in this part of the city have to walk in the street close to motor vehicles. This is an area that invites walking with its proximity to the park and the Ozaukee Interurban Trail, and walkers are numerous. The need to separate pedestrians from vehicles is so obvious that it’s surprising the Hales Trail residents themselves didn’t advocate for a pedestrian lane long before today’s controversy developed.

 Members of the Public Works Board and the public works director made it clear last week that they want to install the cookie-cutter, one-size-fits-all concrete sidewalks that have been the norm in Port Washington residential neighborhoods for more than a century because this is the safer alternative. With a pedestrian walkway separated from traffic by a curb and a grassy parkway, it’s hard to argue with that.

But the residents contend such sidewalks are out of place in a neighborhood that was a semi-rural area when it was developed—hence the road named after real estate investor Guy Hales is called a trail rather than a street—and retains some of that character.

The pedestrian lane they favor would be prominently marked and wide enough to require narrowed vehicle lanes, a side benefit that could have a calming effect on traffic. An argument on behalf of this alternative comes from the aforementioned exception to the city officials who favor standard sidewalks—Mayor Marty Becker.

Becker has vowed to veto funding for the sidewalks if it is approved by the Common Council, and he cites a fact that must be inconvenient if not uncomfortable for sidewalk advocates to acknowledge when he points out that the road through Upper Lake Park that connects directly with Hales Trail has a designated pedestrian lane instead of sidewalks.

 That road is heavily traveled by pedestrians and bicycle riders and both vehicular through-traffic and the sightseer variety. The park it loops though is one of the city’s most popular attractions and the home of Possibility Playground. Yet a pedestrian lane suffices.

 Someone will surely ask the question: If the city insists on sidewalks on privately-owned property along Hales Trail, will it hold itself to the same standard for the roadside land it owns in the park?

However it goes, city officials should get this sorted out sooner rather than later. There’s talk of accomplishing something next year. The safety and convenience of walkers deserve a more urgent priority than that. Having to walk in the street to enjoy this beautiful city is not acceptable.

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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

125 E. Main St.
Port Washington, WI 53074
(262) 284-3494
 

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