*Correction- The project would narrow the road to 11 feet from 12 feet. An earlier version of the story incorrectly stated this information.
COLUMBIA — Almost everyone agrees that something needs to be done to improve pedestrian access along Clark Lane between Woodland Springs Court and McKee Street. The problem is, that's about all everyone agrees on.
At its Oct. 7 meeting, the Columbia City Council gave approval to continue planning a project that would provide temporary asphalt walkways on both sides of the street, but many residents want a permanent sidewalk, and they want it soon.
Victor Chapman, a Clark Lane resident who has been advocating for a sidewalk, said he once saw a mother and daughter almost get hit by a car while they were walking along the street.
"We've got to get sidewalks out here," Chapman said. "We need them."
What's been decided
In September, the council approved six projects as recipients of GetAbout funding, all of them meant to improve availability of nonmotorized transportation. Two of the projects involved building sidewalks along Clark Lane, in alternating segments on the east and west sides of the road.
Since then, Third Ward Councilman Karl Skala determined that construction of the Clark Lane project can't be completed for two or three years because of funding, planning and jurisdictional issues. Because he was expecting a solution sooner, he jumped on board a proposal by city staff to install asphalt shoulders along the road that could be used as walkways.
Installing the shoulders would involve adding an extra five feet of asphalt on both sides of the road and narrowing the road from 12 feet to 11 feet, making the walkways six feet wide. The project would cost $400,000 and could be started in the spring, with completion planned for summer 2014.
At their Oct. 7 meeting, council members voted 6-1 to move forward on the asphalt shoulder project. The council has not yet allocated funding or given final approval for construction.
The argument for the walkway
Skala said that the status quo isn't safe for pedestrians, and he doesn't want to wait for the sidewalk to be constructed. He sees the asphalt shoulder proposal as a stopgap solution.
"There are people walking in a ditch, essentially, right next to the road," Skala said. "It's very dangerous and has been for a long time."
The asphalt shoulder would provide a walkway two years ahead of when the sidewalk would be ready, Skala said. If the asphalt shoulder is built, the city would still proceed on the sidewalk proposal in two or three years.
The shoulder would cost the city more money up-front, Skala said, but the city would end up paying the same amount because it plans to reconstruct the road anyway.
"The road will be improved," Skala said. "It will be improved completely. But this, as far as I’m concerned, is a public safety necessity. Frankly, I’m at a loss to see why there are folks who don’t see this as an improvement."
Concerns over the asphalt shoulder
Many people who live near Clark Lane don't share Skala's enthusiasm for the asphalt shoulders project. Petitioners collected more than 500 signatures from residents against the proposal, many of whom want a sidewalk immediately.
Mary Hussmann, a spokesperson for Grass Roots Organizing, a community organization, helped organize the opposition to the asphalt shoulder proposal. She said she believes that the city is capable of installing sidewalks next year.
"We keep getting all kinds of mixed messages as to why we can't put in a sidewalk now," Hussmann said. "I guess we don't really believe that this can't be done if they really wanted it and had the political will to do it."
Hussmann has concerns about how close pedestrians would be to traffic if they used the shoulder. The road is dangerous enough already, she said, and narrowing it will likely increase the number of accidents, especially with pedestrians added to the mix.
Fourth Ward Councilman Ian Thomas, who cast the only dissenting vote against the project, called the asphalt shoulders proposal "inadequate." He also questioned why a sidewalk couldn't be installed within a year.
Proponents of the asphalt shoulders plan said it's better than nothing, but Hussmann said their argument misses the point.
"To say 'you take this or you get nothing,' I just think is the wrong approach," she said. "It's not fair to the people out here who have not in any way come up with this asphalt extension and narrowing-of-the-road idea."
Thomas has made a request for city staff to outline why the city is able to construct asphalt shoulders now but not a sidewalk. He expects to have that report back before the council votes on the issue. The council is expected to take action on the asphalt shoulders proposal in the next two months, Skala said.
Whatever the council decides, Hussmann hopes that members will listen to their constituents.
"We know this is complicated, but the city has dealt with complicated issues before," Hussmann said. "We expect them to represent the people, acknowledge our concerns and come up with a solution we can all agree on."
Supervising editor is Richard Webner.