Sidewalks battle for hearts and minds of Edina

Sidewalks? Well now you’ve just gone too far, Edina!

The Star Tribune’s John Reinan says the new battleground in the fight between suburbanites and people who walk is the sidewalk.

Like several suburbs, Edina is waking up to the fact that there’s more to the way people live than sitting behind the wheel of a car. So it’s proposing more sidewalks in town to be a friendlier place to bikers and walkers.

That’s meeting with significant unfriendliness.

“We know that millennials are looking for this kind of living circumstance,” Mayor Jim Hovland said. “In survey after survey, all across the nation, the millennials say they want these things.

Ah, millennials. Well, then.

“We have a beautiful, natural neighborhood and now they want to citify it, make it like Minneapolis,” said Grace McNeill, who has lived for 41 years in the Highlands neighborhood.

“We’re really up in arms about it,” said Robert Tengdin, a Highlands resident for 51 years. A neighborhood survey a few years ago showed that more than 90 percent of residents were against sidewalks, Tengdin noted: “What part of 90 percent can’t they read? We don’t want sidewalks.”

Residents expressed a range of concerns, from shoveling to liability issues to construction hassles and potential loss of trees. But time and again, they came back to this: Edina has always been a city largely without sidewalks, and they want to keep it that way.

“I grew up in Edina, and we have always loved it as it is,” said resident Ann Compton. “The council wasn’t always trying to push things on us. It’s like they’re trying to cram it down our throats.”

  • jon

    “Residents expressed a range of concerns, from shoveling to liability issues to construction hassles and potential loss of trees.”

    All insurmountable obstacles.
    These are the reasons why you don’t find sidewalks in other suburbs or major cities, or rural areas, they are clearly unreasonable to build due to the complexity of a slab of concrete sitting atop the ground.

    Maybe next time the city council will propose something reasonable like keeping everything the same forever.

  • Robert Moffitt

    The street I live on has no sidewalks, and that’s a shame, because Mrs. Lungs and I like walking in our neighborhood. That said, if they were to add them now, I would lose a nice tree that shades the front yard and a flower garden I’m rather proud of. In the newer part of town (just blocks away), they did it right — sidewalks on both sides, separate bike/running/walking trails; naturalized runoff ponds.

    • In Woodbury, the toniest development has sidewalks. In fact it was the selling point to the rich people. Of course, this was the same neighborhood that got up in arms when a home for Alzheimer’s seniors was going to move in, so it’s kind of a shame they aren’t made to walk in the street.

      • If the people don’t want sidewalks – why should they be made to have sidewalks? Does Edina have a problem getting people to live there? Not that I’m aware of.

        • Kassie

          You elect officials who make those decisions for you. If you don’t like their decisions, you elect other officials. While individual home owners may be mad, elected officials have more insight into what is best for a community. It may not be always true, but that’s what we elect them hoping they can do.

          • I suspect whether or not the city puts a sidewalk in front of your house wasn’t a big issue in the Edina mayoral election. cities often have homeowners pay for these things too. Look, I’m pro-sidewalk, but I’m also open to the possibility that when 90% of a neighborhood says they don’t want a sidewalk, they may know best.

          • Kassie

            Sure, but that’s how it goes, right? We can’t predict what the big issue will become. We elect people with similar views as our own in hopes that they will represent us on known and unknown issues. When the Vikings Stadium deal came through it wasn’t an issue in the previous election and most Minneapolis residents were against it, but it happened anyhow. As for the 90% not wanting them, sometimes politicians have to go against the majority and do what they believe is right. The armed forces didn’t want to allow gays, but here we are a few years later and no one seems to mind too much.

          • Well sure I’m not saying light your pitchfork and storm Edina City Hall. If the city decides to take people’s property and put in sidewalks, so be it. I’m just saying someone asked the people their opinion as if it mattered – and so perhaps that should be respected. Also the self-righteous mockery of this as an issue on Twitter is so predictably irritating.

          • Wait! I’m supposed to light my pitchfork. I’ve been doing it wrong all these years. :*)

            But yes, in my neck of the woods, the homeowner gets assessed for 1/3 of the cost of street improvements. They’ve got skin in the game.

          • In Edina they have self-lighting pitchforks. Far more effective for protests.

          • John O.

            And two assistants to light the pitchfork for the homeowner!

          • Melissa

            I don’t think the City is “taking” anyone’s property for sidewalks. I believe they’re putting sidewalks within the existing right-of-way, which is owned by the City.

          • You’re right, Melissa. And certainly this sounds reasonable: “Mark Nolan, Edina’s transportation planner, explained the long-range strategy, which would create sidewalks 5 feet wide set off from the road by a 5-foot boulevard. The city owns the roadside right of way, he said, so no private land would be taken. Residents won’t pay a separate assessment on the sidewalks in front of their homes — and in some cases, the city might even take the responsibility for clearing them.”

          • Michele

            Even if they don’t pay a separate assessment, property taxes are the most likely source of funding. As Bob said these folks do have skin in the game.

            On another point, Edina is slowly building more higher density, mixed use projects, but mostly along high traffic streets. Most of these people live in neighborhoods where the average lot size is at least 10k sq ft and up to 1/4 mile. People don’t walk in these nieghborhoods like that because there isn’t anywhere to conveniently walk–no corner grocery stores, no coffee shops, nothing. They drive because the neighborhoods were designed and built for cars, and. Given the nature of these Edina neighborhoods (income demographics, property value, resident/buyer expectations etc) zoning changes that would enable corner businesses or multifamily housing are pretty unlikely anytime soon. As great as sidewalks seem to the rest of use, there is simply no reason for sidewalks in these neighborhoods.

            These folks are getting shafted. They’ll be forced to pay property taxes for “enhancements” that have no material benefit for them. That’s a shame. None of us would appreciate it if our city told us they were installing automatic sprinkler systems because such systems are the next new thing and then assessing us or raising our taxes. I like living in a neighborhood with sidewalks, but the one-size theory of urban planning is a bust.

          • Melissa

            I would have to disagree, Michele – most of my neighbors walk or bike in my Edina neighborhood. Maybe it’s not to the corner store, but I run to the Lakes, we walk and bike to Pizzeria Lola, 50th & France, neighborhood parks… The proposed plan isn’t putting sidewalks on all streets – it’s adding sidewalks to heavily traveled streets and routes to schools and parks.

          • Michele

            Melissa..I know your area because I live near there (Linden Hills) and walk to many of the same places. Sidewalks in your particular area make some sense but as you go further south and west where the neighborhoods were developed in the 1950’s and 1960’s it doesn’t really make much sense.

            There needs to be real benefit to residents to go ahead with these types of changes and sidewalks fit some neighborhoods better than others.

          • annie

            People walk to walk. Walking a dog, walking for exercise, etc…people don’t need a place to go, specifically.

          • Michele

            These neighborhoods aren’t high traffic. Most people are fine walking in the street because cars are few and far between.

            Also walking drops off dramatically for about 6 months a year–starting about a week ago and lasting until about May.

          • Highlands Mama

            Not true. My kids walk to Highlands School every day. Cars go careening down Mirror Lakes Drive. Cars come off Vernon on to Ayrshire going 30-40 miles per hour. We need sidewalks so our neighbors don’t mow our kids down – especially in the winter when snow is piled up high along the road. There is a SCHOOL and a PARK in this neighborhood. I cannot understand the opposition one bit.

          • chris

            Has that 90% quote been verified by anyone? It’s just something one guy said, and it’s only one neighborhood. Someone else in the article said a majority of people in Edina do want sidewalks.

          • Edina Mama

            The 90% is BS.

          • jon

            When I hear that 90% of a neighborhood agrees on something I assume there was some major polling error.

          • J-dawg

            Neighborhoods balk at paying for curb-and-gutter street improvements too. You’d be pretty hard-pressed to say all those residents know “best” about stormwater management and water quality when they’re all oversalting in the winter and overfertilizing in the summer.

        • Tim

          The issue isn’t whether they have a problem now so much as if they will in the future. What makes a neighborhood desirable changes over time, and I get the impression from the article that a lot of these residents won’t be in these houses 10-15 years from now, based on what I’m inferring on their ages from how long they’ve lived there.
          Per the 2010 Census, about half the population of Edina is 45 or older. One way or another, Edina is going to look very different in the coming decades. An aging population is going to be an issue in a lot of places, of course, but it’s going to hit Edina especially hard.
          I’m not sure where I fall on this, personally. I don’t understand not liking sidewalks, but at the same time, if the opposition is this strong, maybe the city shouldn’t force the issue and instead should spend the money in neighborhoods that are more willing to receive the improvements.

          • Michele

            Most of the people seriously shopping for Edina real estate are looking for large properties (big lots, big houses), high quality school system, and good/convenient commute to downtown Mpls and western suburbs. They have money to pay. They’re not looking really looking for high density and a corner grocery store. Those options exist in sw minneapolis and but they prefer Edina. As someone said earlier, Edina homes are already in demand, they don’t need to re-jigger the formula.

          • Edina Mama

            Yes, please, let’s never change anything! Let people walk their dogs in the streets. Let kids walk in the middle of the street to school. Edina is already perfect in every way, thank goodness.

  • Kassie

    I’m hoping the City of St. Paul sees this and finally puts sidewalks in on the East Side and Highland Park.

  • Annie

    Bob, to clarify, bikers are to ride in the rode, not on sidewalks. By saying that Edina wants sidewalks for bikers is not helping educate folks that bikers have a right to share the roadway. Just FYI.

    • Melissa

      Annie, Edina passed an ordinance this year allowing biking on the sidewalks.

      • John Peschken

        Good for them. I am an older dude who likes to bike for exercise and short errands. I never feel safe on the streets. I have a “right” to share the roadway, but I don’t want to.
        Fortunately, Maple Grove where I live built in a decent system of arterial bike paths 30 years ago as they built up. It’s not in front of your house, but usually nearby. This limits the need to ride on roads to mostly residential environments.

        • Kassie

          I hear you when you say you don’t feel safe riding in the streets, but you are actually less safe on the sidewalk. Doubly if you ride against traffic on the sidewalk. No one is looking for a “fast” moving bike on a sidewalk when they make a turn or back out of a driveway. A pedestrian would be within a few feet, but a bicyclist could be 10 feet or more away.

          • Same here. Woodbury has fabulous bike paths that double as sidewalks. “On your left” seems to work fine. I haven’t heard of any bike/pedestians calamities in 20+ years here.

          • Kassie

            I don’t think someone getting hit by a car and not dying is something that is regularly reported, so it wouldn’t be something you hear about.

          • Jerry

            I think it depends on your biking style. If your biking style is car-like, you should bike on the road. If it is pedestrian like, the sidewalk is probably ok, especially in residential areas.

          • Kassie

            Sure, if you are going as slow as someone walking, you can use the sidewalk. Like if you are five years old. But to be riding that slow, an adult would have to really try. As soon as your speed is 5+MPH, you are putting yourself at risk. Drivers do not expect and do not look for fast moving bicycles on sidewalks when turning.

          • Jerry

            It does no good to make people who uncomfortable riding in the street to ride in the street. They will end up not riding at all. Again, you ride differently on the sidewalk. You ride heads up. You pause at all intersections. You look out for cars, not expecting them to look out for you. If your bike commuting or trying to put serious miles on your bike, don’t do it.

          • Kassie

            Bah! It does do good to have people who are uncomfortable riding in the street make them do so. Because it is safer.

            And maybe YOU ride heads up and pause at intersections when riding on the sidewalk, but you know as well as I do, that is not the normal case.

          • annie

            Kassie, I agree fully. It IS a lot more dangerous to ride on a sidewalk for the reasons your specified. A bike lane that “doubles as a sidewalk” is different than a sidewalk. And Bob, the on your left works fine with walkers (sometimes…not always, especially if the walkers have dogs on stretch leashes OR have headphones in, or Pavlovian style just stop and stare when you alert them to your passing), it does not work with cars. Cars + bikes + sidewalks = bad news. Cars pull past crosswalks to make turns, which is when it is very bad news for bikers. Anyway, I digress. This is about sidewalks in Edina.

      • Annie

        Thanks for letting me know. Just because they are allowed there doesn’t necessarily mean that that is where they should be. But again, thanks for letting me know.

  • Paul Weimer

    I never considered the idea that a community would be *hostile* to the idea of having sidewalks in the community

    • Edina Mama

      I know. I find it almost unfathomable. It’s mostly the older residents here – the ones who don’t walk anywhere because they are part of the car culture, the ones who don’t want any change ever, or the older and younger ones who are convinced that somehow secretly they’re going to have to pay for it. Every parent in the Highlands neighborhood wants sidewalks. Every single one.

  • BJ

    My old boss lives in Edina and had talked about sidewalks as if they would take away his right to breathe. He felt almost as strong about putting in curbs on the road.

  • Melissa

    I read and commented on Edina’s sidewalk plans (there’s an online forum). It seemed to me that the majority of the people were in favor of the proposed sidewalks.

    • jon

      online forum? sounds like something millennials would use…

      • Melissa

        Ha! Whippersnappers. Maybe I’m the outlier.

  • Veronica

    I live in a similar first-tier suburb, where we don’t have any sidewalks now, either…and I joked last year I was going to run for mayor solely on a platform of putting in sidewalks. It would have been kind of fun to see what people would say.

  • Katie

    I’ve lived in Edina for 4 years and would LOVE sidewalks. I have a serious concern that I, or one of my dogs, will get hit by an elderly driver on a side street, especially on these dark winer nights. I’d feel much safer walking my dogs in the evening with sidewalks. Don’t be so afraid of change people!

    • Elise L.

      I feel the same. I worry when I run in this neighborhood, I worry when I walk the dog, I worried about my kids walking to school (in fact, I did not let them walk to school once the snow starts to pile up because of the number of cars). Anyone in Highlands who says there are few cars on the road here is delusional. It’s a veritable freeway on Mirror Lakes and Ayrshire, especially in the morning and around 5pm. I would have supported them even when they required assessments.

      • Marie

        Katie and Elise – I know it’s hard to speak up when your neighbors are opposed but I do hope you will share your support with the city council. There are many of us moms out here in Edina who feel the same way you do!