Being pedestrian-friendly may create a friendly competition for scarce city dollars.
The city's Public Works Department is proposing a nearly $210,000 plan to improve sidewalks in east Lawrence and North Lawrence, but the department is asking city commissioners to fund the project with federal grant money that normally is used for the homeless, neighborhood associations and affordable housing projects.
City commissioners are expressing an interest in the program, but also are raising questions about whether it is the best use of the federal Community Development Block Grant funds that the city receives each year.
"There are an awful lot of uses for those CDBG funds already," Mayor Sue Hack said.
Hack and fellow Commissioner Boog Highberger, though, said they'll consider adding sidewalk repairs to the list. A 2006 city report found that more than 50 miles of city sidewalks are either in poor or critical condition.
"Obviously, sidewalk replacement is crucial, if we're going to build a pedestrian-friendly city," Highberger said.
The proposed program would address both gaps in the city's sidewalk system and repairs to existing sidewalks that represent tripping hazards. Here's a look at the major improvements proposed:
¢ New sidewalk on the south side of 15th Street, between Haskell Avenue and Harper Street. The area lacks a continuous sidewalk. City engineers said the sidewalk would aid pedestrians wanting to go to the East Lawrence Recreation Center, 1245 E. 15th St., Kennedy School, 1605 Davis Road, and nearby shopping areas. Estimated cost: $49,000.
¢ New sidewalk on the west side of Haskell Avenue between 15th and 23rd streets. The new sidewalk would serve bus stops in the area and make it easier for people to walk to the Independence Inc. facility and the Health Care Access clinic near 23rd Street. Estimated cost: $84,000.
¢ New sidewalk on the east side of North Seventh Street in North Lawrence. The improvements would close a gap in the sidewalk system near Lyon Park. Estimated cost: $24,500.
¢ Various small sidewalk repairs in the east Lawrence and Pinckney neighborhoods. City engineers have picked about 10 locations in need of repair. The majority are either in the area along 12th Street between Connecticut Street and Haskell Avenue or along Fourth Street between Maine Street and the Kansas River. Estimated cost: $50,000.
Typically, the small repairs in front of people's homes would be the responsibility of homeowners. But Chuck Soules, director of public works for the city, said low-income residents often have a hard time paying for the repairs, even when the city orders them to do so.
"One guy told me that he had a leaky roof, the car was in the shop, he couldn't get to work and he couldn't buy groceries," Soules said. "Spending $1,000 to fix his sidewalk was the furthest thing from his mind."
Commissioners, though, said they wanted to have more discussion about using public funds to fix sidewalks in front of people's homes. They said they wanted to be careful not to create a precedent that the city start paying for all sidewalk repairs.
"We would need to get a clear policy in place," Highberger said.
Federal regulations require that the CDBG funding be spent on areas that are designated as low-income. Soules said that worked out well for a sidewalk program, because many of the city's worst sidewalks were in old areas of town that also were designated as low-income areas.
The city receives anywhere from about $850,000 to $1.1 million a year in CDBG funding. It won't know how much money it will receive for 2008 until later this year. But already, the city has about $1 million worth of requests for the money.
The money traditionally has been a major source of funding for social service and housing providers in the community. The Lawrence Community Shelter, the Salvation Army, Independence Inc., Tenants to Homeowners, Van Go Mobile Arts and Health Care Access are all seeking funding through the grant program this year.
A city advisory board will review the funding requests and make a recommendation to city commissioners in April.