Caution: Sidewalk fight ahead on Duluth's Glenwood Street

A sidewalk scrape will take center stage at the Duluth City Council tonight. The discussion will focus on the best design for six blocks of walkway stretching west of Snively Road on Glenwood Street. While the project is relatively small in the g...

Working the concrete
Chad Gardner of Mora, Minn., uses a finish jointer to create expansion joints in fresh concrete while building sidewalks at 36th Avenue East in Duluth on Friday. Sidewalks and the role of neighborhoods in determining their design were a point of discussion Monday night when the Duluth City Council reconsidered improvements to upper Glenwood Street. (Clint Austin /

A sidewalk scrape will take center stage at the Duluth City Council tonight.

The discussion will focus on the best design for six blocks of walkway stretching west of Snively Road on Glenwood Street. While the project is relatively small in the grand scheme of city road improvements, it has stirred debate about how Duluth should approach the design of its pedestrian transportation network and who should call the shots.

Irene Thomson, 89, has lived her entire life in the same Morley Heights neighborhood and said she sees no need for a sidewalk in front of her home on upper Glenwood Street.

But if one must be installed, Thomson believes it should be kept tight to the curb on the south side of the road. She's one of about 25 homeowners to sign a petition in support of this plan.

"I hope we, the people, have some say here," Thomson said, adding such a design offers the least costly and least obtrusive solution.


But building the sidewalk hard up against the side of the road with no intervening green space or boulevard would obligate city crews to keep the walkway clear of snow and ice, said Kelly Fleissner, maintenance operation manager. Such sidewalks add to the city's workload and operating expenses at a time when its budget already is strained.

"When you have a boulevard, you have a place to store snow from city plows, and you also have a place to plant boulevard trees that lots of people like," he said.

A boulevard design also shifts the burden for clearing a sidewalk to the abutting property owner.

Laura Johnson, who has lived nearly 20 years in her Glenwood Street home, said she and her neighbors weren't fans of a sidewalk but were willing to accept a street-side design in the spirit of compromise.

Initially, the council passed a resolution agreeing to adopt residents' preferred sidewalk design against the recommendations of city administration on Aug. 29. But Councilor Jeff Anderson has asked that the matter be reconsidered at tonight's City Council meeting, as he has had a change of heart since supporting the change.

"I realized after the fact that I had screwed up," Anderson said. "I now recognize the importance of boulevards. It's a design that's better for neighborhoods and for public safety because it keeps people further from the flow of traffic."

Anderson said that he realized his vote was inconsistent with his support for the "complete streets policy" unanimously adopted by the City Council a couple of years ago.

Councilor Tony Cuneo, who has been a strong and vocal advocate for "complete streets," explained: "One of the things the council asked the administration to do is to improve planning so the city's transportation network works better for all users."


He said that means considering the needs not just of motorists, but also of others who walk, use wheelchairs and ride bikes.

First District Councilor Todd Fedora said he's disappointed that the council is reconsidering its decision to abide by his constituents' wishes on Glenwood.

"We need to take residents' wishes into consideration and try to find compromise," he said.

Otherwise, Fedora suggested the city's planning meetings with residents would serve little purpose.

"If we're going to have neighborhood meetings with no opportunity for meaningful public input, what's the use of having neighborhood meetings?" he asked.

But David Montgomery, chief administrative officer for the city of Duluth, contends city staff members have repeatedly modified street designs to address the concerns of residents on other parts of Glenwood Street, Anderson Road and Ivanhoe Street.

"It's a process where we're never going to satisfy everyone," he said.

The city must strike a balance, according to Cuneo, who said: "There has to be weight given to the fact that our transportation network is designed for every citizen of Duluth. It needs to work for everyone. And it needs to work not just for current residents but for the next generation."


Anderson said the city needs to balance a variety of important interests and can't build a cohesive transportation network on a block-by-block basis, taking its lead entirely from residents. He said that's why abutting property owners pay only a portion of the cost of road improvements through assessments.

Still, Johnson said she is disheartened by the renewed push for a boulevard sidewalk in her neighborhood.

"They're trying to shove something down our throats that we don't want," she said, suggesting the cost of the road improvements proposed by her neighborhood would be significantly less costly.

"All we want to do is save the city some money here," Thomson said.

Peter Passi covers city government for the Duluth News Tribune. He joined the paper in April 2000, initially as a business reporter but has worked a number of beats through the years.
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