Sidewalks, safety and good governance
I wanted to understand why Mayor Frank Tower voted the way he did to order sidewalks for River Mill Road so I sent him an e-mail last week. In case you missed it, he cast the decisive vote on the issue.
The way I see it, there were three plausible explanations for his vote:
A) A concern for making the Wiouwash Trail safer and more inviting.
B) A belief that River Mill was a case of city ordinances being applied inconsistently.
C) A desire to try to get Paul Esslinger "inside the tent" and maybe to pick up a chit that could be used at a later date. (No specific quid pro quo, mind you, and therefore no illegal logrolling.)
Here's what Frank said in response to my question:
I believe, similar to Tony, that sidewalks and curb and gutter are part of what city streets need to have to be used by everyone. My decision to vote to make the sidewalks part of the 2007 project list was driven by the connection to the trail system. As I expressed at the meeting, I would have also voted for them to be installed in 2008; however, Bryan's suggestion would have potentially put their installation out to 2010.
Before I go on, let me explain that the photo at the top of the post is a picture of where the Wiouwash Trail crosses Congress, just south of the River Mill Road neighborhood.
Take note of three things: 1) There are sidewalks and 2) There is a lot of high-speed traffic and 3) There is no traffic signal or speed bump or other control available to slow the traffic down.
Many of us who live in the area and who use the trail on a regular basis think that this intersection is an accident waiting to happen. A couple of us have even asked the city to do something about it.
The answer so far: fuhgedaboudit!
Instead the Common Council decided to give us sidewalks in our neighborhood, where there is virtually no traffic.
Council Member Bryan Bain had tried get the Council to focus on the true safety issue on the trail, this intersection, but as Mayor Tower's e-mail explains, it would be more important to put sidewalks where there is no safey issue right away rather than to take the time to address the existing safety issue, which is complicated by the fact that this is a busy thoroughfare and pretty close to one of the Fox River bridges.
So I sent a followup e-mail,asking him about the unaddressed safety issues, specifically parts of the trail that have no sidewalk or that have sidewalk on just one side of the street. If safety was the priority, then I wanted to know when these other parts of the trail would get some attention.
His response struck me as lukewarm:
I'm going to work with the council and staff, per Bryan and Jess's thoughts during the meeting, to do what we can to get them addressed in the 2008 program.
Note that there is no commitment to addressing the issue, just a "do what we can" kind of kiss off.
I was watching the replay of the Council discussion on OCAT over the weekend, and I really got a kick out of seeing Bob Cornell take the microphone. As you may recall, Bob ran for Council earlier this year and didn't make the cut.
But he wanted to remind those who were elected that all of the candidates were singing the same tune during the campaign--about how important it is to listen to citizens and allow them to have some input. He said this as a majority of the Council was making it clear that they had no intention of paying any heed to the citizens who had just come before them.
One citizen suggestion was to stripe a bike/pedestrian lane through the neighborhood. Another was to put sidewalk on just one side of the street. A third was to take some time to think this issue through.
But the "rich folk" of River Mill got the same answer as before: fuhgedaboudit!
Make no mistake, sidewalks will not be a deciding issue in any future elections. I think most of the people on River Mill Road vote, but there aren't that many of us.
But what will be a deciding issue is how our elected officials go about making decisions and communicating their reasoning with citizens.
If the Council members who said they were concerned about safety on the Wiouwash Trail are truly concerned about safety on the Wiouwash Trail they can do something about it by doing something about the intersection of Congress and Arboretum. Heck, if they actually did something about that crossing, I think most River Mill residents would forget about the sidewalks.
Another test of the good intentions and attention to detail of the Council members will come when the Council votes to approve the minutes of last week's meeting. There's a glaring factual error (kind of revisionist history) in the official copy of the sidewalk ordinance that was mailed out to residents/taxpayers/voters who live on River Mill Road.
Will any member of the Council catch the mistake? Will anyone bother to fix it?