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Hopkins Council Leans Toward Downsizing Sidewalk Project

Cost, lack of a master plan create greater scrutiny.

After a dismal reaction to an alternative, Hopkins city council members are back to a revised version of their original plan—a smaller sidewalk on 14th Avenue.

At a work session this week, council appeared to form a consensus around a new plan that would just patch in gaps between sidewalk sections on the west side of 14th Avenue. The east side would have just enough sidewalk to connect to the nearby regional trail.

That plan follows neighborhood opposition to  instead—an idea that only arose because of of a more-extensive 14th Avenue sidewalk project.

People representing seven properties attended a neighborhood meeting to discuss the Fourth Street proposal—of those, just one family wanted a sidewalk.

“It was pretty soundly beaten down,” summed up.

Councilman Bruce Rowan objected to Bradford’s use of “beaten down”—after all, he noted, just seven of 18 total properties were represented at the meeting. That objection aside, sidewalks often face stiff criticism. Owners dislike the perceived loss of yard space—although the city actually owns the easement where sidewalks are built—and the possibility of walkers passing near their homes.

Then there’s the money. Councilman Rick Brausen, noting he’d voted in favor of every other sidewalk in the past, said tough economic times mean the city must look more closely at where it needs sidewalks.

Hopkins is the third most walkable community in Minnesota, behind only Minneapolis and St. Paul, according to Walk Score. City leaders are justly proud of what this brings to Hopkins, even incorporating walkability into its marketing campaign. With such a solid ranking, Brausen said council should consider how many more walkways the city really needs when budgets are so tight.

“We’ve put sprinkles on the ice cream every single time (with past projects),” he said.

Complicating matters, sidewalks have tended to be paired with street projects for efficiency reasons. Yet street needs and sidewalk needs don’t always align. Improving the Blake Road corridor, for example, is one of the city’s top priorities, and residents there actually want to extend the sidewalk system. It could be worthwhile, Brausen said, to forgo sidewalks connected to a street project elsewhere in order to beef up Blake Road walkways.

To make these decisions, though, the community needs a master sidewalk plan to prioritize where walkways are needed. Such a plan would need input from a variety of residents.

While council and staff agree on the need for such a plan, the plan by itself doesn’t guarantee smooth sailing. Planning meetings tend to draw people who support sidewalks, Brausen said, while hearings prior to construction tend to be attended by people against sidewalks.

Also, while a community as a whole might decide it wants a sidewalk, a master plan also doesn’t mean neighbors near the sidewalks will be any happier. A plan would, however, give council members something to point to when the inevitable objections arise over a specific project. The city could note that a variety of groups shared their thoughts and contributed to the process. It would also let homeowners know what’s coming, so they can plan pricey property upgrades accordingly.

For now, though, council appears set to proceed with the more modest sidewalk—a process that has several steps to go before work starts. Council must still approve plans, bids and the project.

The council plans to accept bids April 5. Construction is scheduled to take place May through October.

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