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No sneaky sidewalk plans, just pieces coming together

Fortunately, due to a grant, we will be able to construct sidewalks on both side of the street near Harvey Clarke Elementary School.

I felt it was important to respond to last week's editorial by Robert Farris criticizing the city for a lack of public process concerning the proposed sidewalk improvement project scheduled for B Street.

It is important to note that we are just beginning the design process and didn't think it was appropriate to discuss the improvements with residents until we had a preliminary design.

Furthermore, we didn't know we would receive the grant and didn't think it was fair to get people's hopes up or hold a hearing until we received confirmation that the grant was approved. Now, we know we have a project and will begin having open houses to gather community feedback on the preliminary design and address property owners' concerns.

One of the city's biggest challenges has been trying to address the large number of sidewalks that are in serious need of repair or replacement.

A study completed by city staff estimated that it would cost over $2.3 million to fix just dilapidated sidewalks. In the past few years, we have built new sidewalks along Sunset Drive, 18th Avenue, and A Street as part of our goal to develop safe pedestrian routes throughout the city.

Property owners are required by City Code to pay for sidewalk improvements and repairs in front of their property. In many cases, property owners can ill afford to pay this expense. There are very few grant funds available for sidewalks and the city doesn't have a dedicated sidewalk fund.

Over the past two years, the City of Forest Grove has sponsored a sidewalk improvement program to local citizens. This program basically targeted sidewalks that were unsafe or in dire need of repair. To date, we have had over 110 residents volunteer to pay to fix their sidewalks. In some cases, the city provided 5- or 10-year loans to help finance the improvements. These residents were so concerned about the condition of their sidewalks that they agreed to pay the city to repair them themselves.

One of the most unsafe pedestrian areas in Forest Grove is near Harvey Clarke Elementary School. Much of this area doesn't have sidewalks. Presently, all grade school children walk in the street or along a dirt path that serves as their only route to and from school.

Fortunately, due to a Safe Routes to School grant, we will be able to construct sidewalks on both sides of this street. The city has been trying to acquire this grant for several years but hadn't been successful. Finally, after many years of trying, the city has received grant funding that will pay for construction of a safe route to school for this neighborhood.

Finally, the city is strongly committed to improving our community's sidewalks and we do believe it is important to work with affected property owners to make sure we address any concerns they may have.

We will take the same approach that we utilized when we completed the major improvements to Sunset Drive, A Street, and 18th Avenue sidewalk projects. I agree with Mr. Farris that it is important for the city to meet with the property owners so that we can address any concerns they might have and we will.

The good news is that when this project is completed, we will have one more neighborhood that has new sidewalks that will make travel by pedestrians in Forest Grove even safer.

- Michael Sykes is the city manager of Forest Grove.




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