Submitted by Kerry Kimbrough [Email address: kkimbrough #AT# - replace #AT# with @ ]

On Saturday morning, October 15, around 120 citizens concerned about Shoal Creek Boulevard met with city staff to sort out the issues and come up with options. Starting with 10 different choices for the basic restriping plan, attendees broke into small groups to hash out the pros and cons and to make their tweaks. After group presentations and general discussion, attendees voted on a total of 23 different variations. The vote tallied each person’s top 5 choices. The result is a short list of the design alternatives that found the most favor.

When the short list is officially published, it may contain 3-6 choices. But all of them are variations on two basic designs. One is the city staff’s proposal (design #2). The other (design #3) is the same as what exists today, minus the curb islands. Other top variants added double white stripes between car lanes and bike lanes or shifted some space from car lanes to bike/pedestrian lanes.

Perhaps the central controversy since 2000 has been on-street parking. Will it be on both sides or one side only? In this meeting, the few who spoke up for parking on both sides were more restrained. Nevertheless, this issue continues to be pivotal.  Design #2 proposes parking on the east side only, but design #3 includes parking on both sides. Since voters also identified what sort of stake they held, the results show how different types of stakeholders voted. Those who identified themselves as residents on SCB or in the surrounding neighborhoods preferred design #3 or variations thereof. For those who identified themselves as cyclists, the top choice was design #2 or one of its variations.

Overall, the design with the most votes was #2. Since neighbors seem to have outnumbered non-resident cyclist representatives (based on my quick eyeball count), it’s apparent that several neighbors ranked this choice high. It’s certainly true that many neighbors enjoy cycling on SCB and want it to be a better, safer experience. It may also be that the experience of the dreaded curb islands has made some neighbors rethink where the space needs to go.

So now what? The next step is the so-called “Official Ballot”, in which all stakeholders will get a chance to vote on the short list alternatives. You can expect to see these ballots delivered to your door or your email inbox soon. Then the results of the Official Ballot will go back to City Council as input for their final decision. The issue first returns to the
Council’s subcommittee on Land Use and Transportation for their recommendation. Then, at a meeting of the full Council (current target is in December), the final decision will be made.

The question of sidewalks for SCB was set aside as a separate topic and was not directly addressed by the voting or the short list. Nevertheless, people talked about sidewalks frequently and fervently. Within the first 5 minutes of the meeting, hackles were raised when one neighbor reminded Sondra Creighton (Directory of Public Works) that city staff has promised sidewalks before but nothing came of it. Another neighbor pointed out that the AASHTO guidelines that govern what city engineers will accept also call for sidewalks on neighborhood collectors like SCB. Throughout the discussion, more than a few people said “We need sidewalks, no matter what”. This line never failed to draw a big round of applause.

City staff has definitely heard the message. Sondra Creighton reiterated what she has already said in prior City Council meetings:  money for SCB sidewalks will be available in the FY 2006 budget. But she didn’t say it’s a done deal, because she can’t. This expenditure will have to go through the FY 2006 budget process along with everything else. After the meeting, Creighton told me that the best case scenario would be that staff starts up the design process next spring, has a design ready for bids in August, and gets the go-ahead when the Council approves the budget in October. If approved, construction could begin soon afterward. The design process will be messy because it must address sticky issues about exactly where concrete is poured. On the one hand, Creighton’s staff had a good experience recently on Mesa Drive, where they worked with neighbors to meander the sidewalks enough to save trees, etc. On the other hand, there is much dickering to do, especially on the east side, where slopes are generally
steeper. A sidewalk on the west side only will probably present fewer complications and require fewer dollars, so this may be where we land.