City Council work session, sidewalks IV, Nov. 25, 2013

Homewood City CouncilThe council held a 45-minute work session Monday in which a costly sidewalk project from the Homewood Middle School to Oxmoor Road along much of Mecca Avenue was whittled down to a more affordable build-out into the streets. The approved route from the school follows Mecca, on the east side, south to Highland Road, where it jogs east, then south again to Oxmoor along already existing sidewalks on Peerless Avenue. The council also addressed

A roughly drawn route of the Mecca sidewalk connector between the Middle School and existing sidewalk on Peerless.

A roughly drawn route of the Mecca sidewalk connector between the Middle School and existing sidewalk on Peerless.

thorny sidewalk issues in Ward 5 and Ward 4, where some Roseland Drive dwellers will be happy to learn that the sidewalk will be built in the street, not their yards. 

Members present:  Michael Hallman, Britt Thames, Fred Hawkins, Vance Moody, Patrick McClusky, Walter Jones, Jenifer Champ Wallis, Heather Reid, with Richard Laws arriving late.

Staff attendance:  City clerk Linda Cook, Building, Engineering and Zoning planner Vanessa McGrath, and mayor’s chief of staff J.J. Bischoff. City attorney Mike Kendrick and Melody Salter, city finance director, arrived closer to 5 p.m.

Audience attendance:  2, plus a local TV news crew.

Approved a less costly sidewalk plan along Mecca Avenue: The high-priority sidewalk project for Mecca Avenue, which had been originally priced as high as $125,000 due to removing trees and building steps, retaining walls and handrails, was pared down to a $95,000 project (engineering-$45,000/construction-$50,000) of 646 feet. The approved plan will connect the Homewood Middle School to Oxmoor Road via Highland and Peerless for student walkers and calls for building out the sidewalk 4 feet onto Mecca, and a short portion of Highland and Peerless.   Peerless, which at 24 feet is already narrow, would have two 10-foot vehicle lanes.

There had been previous discussions about funding a traffic study to determine options for better traffic flow in the neighborhood near the school- options such as closing Mecca, or making certain streets like Highland Road one-way only. Closing a street could take two to three years, and would add time and cost to the process of addressing traffic.  A traffic study with options for traffic calming measures could be taken up in the future.   The council voted unanimously for the new sidewalk plan on a motion from Fred Hawkins authorizing the mayor to bid the engineering job to Gresham Smith Partners.

Approved a survey for sidewalks on Rumson Road: The council discussed ways to address a costly but high-priority sidewalk plan for Rumson Road in Ward 5. The original proposal would have completed a connection between Shades Cahaba Elementary School and the YMCA via Windsor Drive and Rumson.  However, the entire project has been revised to include 465 feet  from Windsor to Yorkshire Drive, providing a possible solution for pedestrians on another blind hill on that street. One Ward 5 resident spoke out about a 10-year effort by the neighborhood to get the city council and mayor’s office to improve neighborhood traffic safety, and her personal advocacy for much of that time for a sidewalk on Rumson. The resident said the mayor’s “Walk to School Day” was not an option for her children and others.

This sidewalk project is still predicted to be very expensive because of the terrain and on-street parking, with no estimates available yet for engineering and build-out. The council therefore approved a request by Mr. Cobb for a street survey at less than $1,000 to determine a likely cost range for the sidewalks.

Approved an on-street sidewalk for Roseland Drive: This proposal replaces an earlier plan–approved over the objections of several residents–to build a sidewalk on city right-of-way through residential yards. Mr. Cobb said further information had been obtained, including a written bid for $45,000 for construction of a sidewalk into the street. One of the city’s primary objections to an on-street walkway had been drainage, which Mr. Cobb said was actually only a small issue in one place on the north side of the street where it connects to Ridge Road. He added that sidewalks built out onto broad streets (encouraging speed) like Roseland could be combined with other traffic-calming measures in the future to improve safety.

On-street sidewalks and narrowing street width are strategies commonly used by urban planners to slow traffic and encourage walkable neighborhoods, according to a representative on hand from the Regional Planning Commission of Greater Birmingham.

Put Columbiana Road sidewalk project on hold:  A sidewalk project and cross walk on Columbiana Road was effectively put on hold due to a preschool development going forward on the Publix outparcel, and which would face Columbiana. Another project on South Forest will take priority.  See the Nov. 25 council report for  more information.

The council also discussed, but took no action on, interest in sidewalks and calming traffic on Lucerne Boulevard.

The meeting was adjourned at 5:15.

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