Council directs staff to include sidewalk trees on 4th St. reconstruction

Leif Knecht speaking to Northfield City CouncilLocal landscaper Leif Knecht, former mayor Keith Covey Green trees on 4th St.and I spoke at open mic at last night’s Northfield City Council meeting, asking the Council to find a way to incorporate new trees on both sides of 4th St. between Washington and Division for this summer’s 4th St. reconstruction. (See the video of last night’s meeting in this KYMN blog post.)

Knecht said that there are varieties of trees that can do reasonably well in an environment where buildings block the sun and bedrock limits root growth. I distributed a printout of the above photo from 2008, showing that the current trees, although tilted and stunted in some cases, still did a reasonably good job for 30 years.

Councilor Rhonda Pownell made a motion to rescind her vote on last week’s Council decision to accept Streetscape Option 1 (“Small planters along 4th Street curb line, provision for hanging baskets on decorative light poles, no bump-outs or large-scale planters” – Page 27 of packet PDF) since it didn’t include trees. Jim Pokorney seconded.

I was impressed with the subsequent Council discussion. Some councilors were reluctant to rescind because it could delay the whole project. Others were understandably reluctant to get involved in this level of detail. They considered the pros and cons of sending the design to the Streetscape Task Force. Several times, they asked for input from City Engineer Katy Gehler and City Attorney Chris Hood. Mayor Mary Rossing did a masterful job of keeping the discussion on track, helping with the language of various motions, and making sure to get input from everyone.

In the end, they voted unanimously to accept the 4th St. plan but they then followed it by passing another motion, again unanimously, directing city staff to incorporate as many trees as possible into the sidewalk areas.

Nice work, Councilors!

Update 3/18, 10:30 PM:

56 thoughts on “Council directs staff to include sidewalk trees on 4th St. reconstruction”

  1. Nice report, Giff – We have to credit the council, too, for listening to the public. This might not have happened had you and Leif as well as former mayor Keith Covey, not spoken up. At the work session, the council was much more focused on the “bump outs” and planters, convinced that the trees were moot.

    I’ve borrowed this phrase often, “Democracy isn’t a spectator sport.” It takes work to keep on top of issues, and a night out once in a while to influence them.

  2. Thanks, Jane. There were several other folks who had talked face-to-face (F2F) to their councilors prior to the meeting about the trees, so that helped a LOT, as these people have good relationships with their councilors, just like Keith Covey and Leif Knecht do. My relationship with councilors has been pretty rocky of late.

    I should also note that that my Monday blog post was the result of someone paying me a F2F visit to alert me to the issue.

    I must give a tip-of-the-blogger hat to Kiffi Summa who has regularly stressed — yea, nagged me about — the importance of showing up at a Council meeting for F2F speaking at open mic.

    So while I like to think that the online world rules, it’s still F2F and having quality relationships with one’s elected officials that matters the most.

    Now the question is, would I be saying all this if the council had decided to NOT do anything about the trees? I’d like to think that I’d still be able to acknowledge the quality of their deliberations, that they listened, that I felt heard, even tho that I disagreed with their final decision. Remind me of that next time. 😉

  3. Citizen-requested or not, this feels like Council micromanaging. What’s the point of hiring consultants (in this case, the arborist) with background and experience in the area if we’re simply to ignore their recommendations because we like trees?

    The 100 block of East 4th is a heavily built environment… I don’t know why we need to subject trees to that against the recommendations of the experts hired by the City.

    1. Sean, although the staff mentions that they consulted an arborist, I don’t think they ever indicated in a public document who it was or provided a written report of the recommendation. I could be wrong tho, so if anyone can find that info, it would be helpful to have it here.

      But if ash trees can do reasonably well for there for 30 years, why not put in another variety that can be expected to do even better… according to at least one person with considerable tree experience?

  4. Incidentally, Griff, I’m surprised you haven’t commented on the fact that the Fourth Street Webpage (among other engineering projects) seems to be created outside that very expensive CMS the City’s site is supposed to be powered by. It appears this was created with static HTML pages and uploaded to a file section of the site.

    1. Sean, I’m trying to restrict myself from criticizing the city’s website in nearly every City-related blog post as I have been wont to do! But rest assured, I’m storing up. 😉

  5. I found some photos I took of the architectural renderings from the Downtown Streetscape Plan, created by Dahlgren Shardlow and Uban, Inc, on 8.16.05.

    One of renderings is Concept A: 4th St.  It shows 17 trees on the block between Division and Washington.  On the left side, it points to the trees with the label: “Overstory Street Trees in 10′ x 4′ tree grate.”

    On the lower right of that rendering is a ground level sketch. I’ve excerpted it here with a second image but I can’t quite decipher the text underneath it:

      Concept A: 4th St. Downtown Streetscape Plan, 2005  Concept A: 4th St. Downtown Streetscape Plan, 2005

  6. Sean, this is one of the many issues in which reliance upon “experts” (with or without the quotes) doesn’t necessarily lead to the best decision for the residents, businesses, and other stakeholders in the city. Oftentimes there are competing or even incompatible needs which must be prioritized or set by policy.

    I believe street trees are such a case. Yes, street trees provide challenges for infrastructure maintenance and snow removal; yes, it costs more to have them than not. But there are also many less quantifiable reasons to have them (shade, air quality, aesthetics, historicity, town identity, citizen preference).

    Usually experts are analyzing only one part of the elephant. And what do you do when one expert says we should have street trees (consultants paid to do downtown streetscape plan), and another expert (city engineer et al) says we shouldn’t? It’s entirely appropriate for the council to weigh in on issues like this in response to citizen input, even if it seems like micromanagement from time to time.

  7. Saaaweeeet!  On page 57 it addresses the issue of trees:

    Overstory street trees increase the desirability of pedestrian activity, enhance the civic status of the street, and increase adjacent property values. Along with the overall width of the street, trees are a primary element in providing a sense of safe separation from traffic.

    Many of the existing trees have reached the end of their useful life, and street trees in the Downtown should be replaced and planted in a staggered pattern at the defined building bays along the back of curb and sidewalk to create a physical barrier and better define the pedestrian and vehicular zones.

    This defined spacing of trees will allow for better visibility of retail signs, allow for the future rehabilitation of building facades, allow for future awnings, and allow for the creation of large tree planting beds of un-compacted modified soil to promote good plant health.

    The preferred street trees to be utilized within the Downtown are:

    Little Leaf Linden

    Boulevard Linden

  8. I couldn’t hear City Engineer Katy Gehler’s and Joel Walinksi’s comments at the Council meeting re: the ADA requirements as it relates to trees but it surprised me because the March 2 packet only mentioned ADA requirement of a 5′ clear zone as it related to the planters, not ‘in ground trees.’

    1. The existing street cross section accommodates the sidewalks, diagonal parking spaces and travel lanes. To maintain the amount of parking, change to the street cross section was not recommended. The survey showed that the width of the sidewalk ranges from 8.5 – 9.5 feet. The American Disabilities Act (ADA) requires that at least a 5’ clear zone be maintained for pedestrians. The tree planters used on 5th Street require a 5’ width plus space for car overhang. To accommodate the tree planter elements, as used in the 5th Street project, a sidewalk with a minimum width of 11.5-12’ is needed. Since the space is not available alternative methods were considered.

    2. Options to provide a vegetative element along the sidewalk were considered. In ground tree plantings were not seen as favorable for two reasons; soil borings showed that bedrock is within 4 feet of the surface not allowing adequate growth for any type of boulevard tree (as evident by the stunted growth of the existing trees) and any type of tree planted in the sidewalk would be within 5.5-6 feet of a building face not allowing enough space for spread of the tree’s canopy leading to misshaped trees.

    It would help to hear from someone who’s very familiar with the ADA requirements.

  9. The ADA says:

    403.5.3 Passing Spaces.  An accessible route with a clear width less than 60 inches (1525 mm) shall provide passing spaces at intervals of 200 feet (61 m) maximum.  Passing spaces shall be either: a space 60 inches (1525 mm) minimum by 60 inches (1525 mm) minimum; or, an intersection of two walking surfaces providing a T-shaped space complying with 304.3.2 where the base and arms of the T-shaped space extend 48 inches (1220 mm) minimum beyond the intersection.

    That’s tough lingo for clueless types like me to interpret so here it is in English from the Saferoutes site:

    The ADA and ABA guidelines state that where sidewalks are less than five feet in width, passing spaces sufficiently wide enough for wheelchair users to pass one another or to turn around shall be provided at intervals of 200 feet.[8]

    In other words, sidewalks can be really narrow as long as wheelchair can get around each other every 200 ft. On 4th St. the width of the sidewalk ranges from 8.5 – 9.5 feet. Trees would be a non issue, right?

    And now that I look closer, it would appear that staff’s rationale for rejecting the big planters on the basis of ADA is incorrect. Staff wrote:

    The American Disabilities Act (ADA) requires that at least a 5’ clear zone be maintained for pedestrians. The tree planters used on 5th Street require a 5’ width plus space for car overhang. To accommodate the tree planter elements, as used in the 5th Street project, a sidewalk with a minimum width of 11.5-12’ is needed. Since the space is not available alternative methods were considered.

    A big 5′ planter plus space for car overhang on a 8 ft sidewalk would seem to not be a problem since wheelchair users would be able to easily pass one another every 200 ft.

    Or am I missing something?

  10. Jerry Bilek alerted me to a portion of the 5th St. sidewalk, part of last year’s reconstruction, that has a passage that’s less than 5′.

    Here’s a photo of it, right at Grastvedt Lane. I paced it and it’s about 4.5′ wide. Click for a larger view.

    So if streetlight poles can be placed on a narrow section of sidewalk like that (presumable ADA-legal), set in far enough to allow for vehicle bumper overhang, why not trees whose circumference could be the same as a streetlight pole?

    1. Griff, that seems a bit insignificant to hold them to. If they’re making a very good-faith effort to make the sidewalk accessible to all users, isn’t that a positive thing?

      This very helpful page from the FHWA on ADA and other nonmotorized concerns has a section on sidewalk trees. They point out that grates allow trees to grow more harmoniously with the sidewalk. But, of course in a limited ROW like E. 4th St., that would further restrict stable sidewalk surface (while grates are fine for walking pedestrians, they could be problematic to the front wheels of a wheelchair).

      I would note that while older trees downtown use grates, those planted on 5th Street do not have grates (they have pavers that can be removed as the tree grows).

      1. Sean, the City is arguing that we can’t have trees in planters because they say “the ADA requires that at least a 5’ clear zone be maintained for pedestrians.” They’re wrong. And my photo of the 5th St. construction from last year shows that they ignored that incorrect guideline. It seems a little disingenuous to me.

  11. The most unfortunate part of this recent ‘kerfuffle” is that it set various components of local government and citizen groups in opposition to each other, and in a way that only resolved at the council level after several HOURS of discussion there.

    Initially, the Historic Preservation Commission and the Streetscape Task Force had extremely divergent views of a solution. Both of these citizen groups have mandates; the HPC from the Federal Guidelines for Historic Districts, and the SSTF from the City Council. I think it’s fairly obvious which one ‘trumps’ there.

    But in the initial Council discussion, the Mayor did not seem to see it that way, and seemed to be somewhat displeased with the HPC, saying: after all, their opinion was only an opinion. (I think the Mayor was, although totally sincere, mistaken in her observations; It is my recollection that the wording of the Federal Guidelines say that it is not just the buildings, as the Mayor thought, over which the HPC has oversight, but ‘ALL’ in the visual purview of the Historic District)

    Then when the Council returned to the same subject, last week, there was public comment which challenged the engineering report/packet information, on several levels, and in the end it appeared that the public comment was correct. There was also a rather contentious display of how to structure a more specific motion between two council members.

    All in all, it resolved in a way that is probably, hopefully, for the best…
    But it certainly pointed up the problems of being either staff or elected official when it comes to sorting out the problems of the local gov’t’s process.

    As Councilor Pokorney said; we have no problem passing a multi-million dollar infrastructure project, but we have an extraordinary debate on the replacement… or not… of the street trees.

    I think this says something BIG about Northfield; I think Northfield cares to do what must be done to keep a well ordered city (infrastructure, etc,)…BUT ‘it’ also cares deeply about HOW that is done, down to the level of eleven trees…and I think that’s a good thing.

  12. Here’s the Table of Contents for the FHWA section Sean mentioned earlier. Here are a couple of relevant excerpts from Section 1.3.1. Sidewalks (emphasis mine):

    With the exception of the curb ramp requirement, accessibility standards specifically applicable to public sidewalks have not yet been developed by the DOJ.

    Despite the current lack of enforceable standards for public sidewalks and trails, public and private entities who design and construct sidewalks and trails are still obligated under the ADA to make them accessible to and usable by people with disabilities.

  13. Downtown tree replacement is part of an enhancement initiative in the planning stages by the City. The goals of the Streetscape Task Force and the Heritage Preservation Commission have focused on a well-considered and coordinated ‘master plan’ for the many downtown pedestrian amenities that, when taken together, define a sense of place and foster pride of place. These enhancements were first ‘tested’ along Water Street and on Fifth Street, and now on Fourth Street.

    For tree replacement along renewed streets, the move is away from using square cast-iron tree grates to using brick-like concrete pavers in rectangular ‘tree pockets’ to better accommodate trees on our very narrow sidewalks. And to provide better air and water to the root systems, and for easier maintenance. In addition, the pavers can be re-leveled as trees grow and to reduce tripping hazards.

    That’s at ground level. Trees grow and spread in width, naturally- that’s the rub, which actually can be against walls, window, and awnings – an irritant to property owners. Tree pocket locations should ‘anticipate’ the expected mature size for the species selected. With narrow sidewalks, perhaps trees will need to be replaced before they become too large. Perhaps restricting growth by stone bottom tree pockets is not all bad! With narrow sidewalks, such as on 4th Street and Division north of 4th, tree locations could be guided by where they ‘work’ best considering sidewalk width, height of adjacent building, whether awnings are present, and so on. A ‘regular’ spacing rhythm may not be possible.

    On Fourth Street, I understand the City engineering reasons for not recommending planted trees were these: that subsurface rock stunts growth and that the distance between the paver-type tree pockets and the adjacent buildings would (apparently) be less than 60 inches. While this dimension is likely allowed by the ADA rules (at noted by Griff Wigley in another comment), because 60 inch wide turning locations are provided between trees, the question becomes whether planting trees this close to buildings is a good idea. Are there options for more distance between trees and buildings? Note that now on Division Street north of 4th Street, there are many circumstances where the walkway between steel grates and the buildings are less than 60 inches, and in these same locations the new type tree pockets would provide more concrete walk space.

    If the community wants trees in the downtown, then every attempt should be made to widen the sidewalks so it is easier to have downtown trees and other features. The pressures against this are two: the current engineering standards for the recommended street widths with parallel and/or diagonal parking, and of course, to narrow the streets without parking capacity changes.

    Wider sidewalks allow for the amenities now well liked in the downtown; flower planters, benches, bicycle hitching posts, as well as temporary sales tables, seating, and signs – all of which support a viable downtown and encourage pedestrian ‘traffic’ needed by businesses.

    The planned re-design for Division Street is recommended by the Streetscape Task Force to happen soon, and the tree related design issues will require significant public discussion – especially where extremely narrow sidewalks are present.

    1. Steve, thanks for the thoughtful overview.

      But I still don’t understand why the HPC and the Streetscape Task Force didn’t put forth design options that included in-ground trees on 4th St. Can you elaborate?

      And now the Council, rather than sending the issue back to the Streetscape Task Force, has directed staff to implement the ‘tree plan.’ Is that AOK with the Task Force?

  14. If the community wants trees in the downtown, then every attempt should be made to widen the sidewalks so it is easier to have downtown trees and other features. The pressures against this are two: the current engineering standards for the recommended street widths with parallel and/or diagonal parking, and of course, to narrow the streets without parking capacity changes.

    I think Steve makes a great point here. Why is the accessibility of the sidewalk what should be sacrificed for these trees? Why not sacrifice a few parking stalls?

    And Griff, yes, it probably is a bit disingenuous, but I’m sure it happens a lot. When something is a best practice, it’s just easier to call it a requirement (though it would be good to get an actual comment from City staff on this). Regardless, though, we know 60 inches is a best practice and a reasonable measure for accessibility. We know trees hurt the accessibility of the sidewalk at this narrow a width. So why fight them on it?

    (Incidentally, I’m quite sure the Division sidewalk in your latest pictures well precedes the 1990 ADA.)

    1. Sean, I think there’s a public good for trees on that street that far outweighs the need for ‘best practice’ of 5′ of clearance for the entire street, just because two people in wheelchairs might meet one another… something that would seem to be A) relatively rare; and B) of little inconvenience to them since they’d just to have to wait 5 seconds for the other to pass by any tree there.

      And yes, that sidewalk in front of the Archer House is probably pre-1990 but I think the lightpost, mailbox, pedestrian crossing sign, and Nfld News box are much more recent. Those are all there with the permission of the City, presumably, and all quite optional. And that’s a MUCH more heavily-used sidewalk than 4th St.

  15. The process is that the City has generated designs based on an overall concept for the downtown (but not detailed for each section or block).
    Designs are presented to the Streetscape Task Force, then reviewed by the HPC, which has review authority for the Historic District but doesn’t generate designs on its own.

    While I can’t speak for the HPC, I believe members want to see trees in the downtown. Regarding the 4th Street design proposed, the HPC objected only to the concept of trees in large concrete basins or pots that are then moved around for ‘storage’ over the winter to make it easier to do snow plowing.

  16. Steve, the Streetscape Task Force (STF) had a chance to review the design for 4th st. twice this year. It was on the agenda for Jan. 21 and Feb. 18. The Jan. 21 minutes report that Katy Gehler and Brian Hilgardner presented this:

    Sidewalks and Landscaping

    • We don’t want to reduce parking, so sidewalks cannot be widened.
    • Trees: lack of sun and shallow bedrock has limited tree health.

    Trees are often too large for their narrow area, requiring their building sides to be severely trimmed back. Might consider smaller, more columnar trees.

    • Planters as alternatives

    4 large corner planters or “bump outs”, removable for winter, at the four corners of 4th and Division and 4th and Washington.

    Would contain low decorative trees/ shrubs/flowers, to allow for clean sight lines for cars.

    Send your ideas for bum out planters to Katy. Consider having local artists decorate. Check with Garden Club.

    Check with The Grand in service truck parking near the 4th St. door. Could Washington St. and the north side door be used instead?

    Several smaller terra cotta planters, in red tones, could be placed on sidewalks by buildings, in summer, cared for by businesses?

    Planters on light poles, as on Division Street.

    Issue of maintenance of planters: city, business, Garden Club ?, Adopt-A-Planter Program ? One city charges firms $250 per year, and city buys, installs and maintains the planters.

    What’s not reported in the minutes is what the reaction was from members of the Streetscape Task Force.

    Was there a little/some/a lot of discussion/push-back from members about in-ground trees?  How about at the next mtg on Feb. 18 (minutes not yet available)?

    I’m trying to understand how it happened that the Council ended up voting on two options, neither of which included in-ground trees.

  17. Tracy, I’ve heard that, too, but was there no objection to that, no pushback, no arguments? If there had been more time, the Council really should have turned this tree issue back to the STF with a bit of chastisement for making the Council delve into micromanaging. Something like “We don’t know how the hell y’all let this come to us without an in-ground tree option to consider but schedule some emergency meetings and get us something to vote on but quick.” Too late for that now.

    And if the staff told the STF that in-ground trees weren’t an option not only because of the proximity of bedrock and buildings but also because of ADA rules, then the STF should give them hell about it either for being mistaken or disingenuous.

    The lack of info is once again maddening: Feb STF minutes still not available, no STF report in the monthly Board/Commission memo, nothing from City Engineer Katy Gehler or Joel Walinski in this week’s or last week’s Friday Memo (I think the last time Katy had *anything* in a Friday Memo was last summer). And it’s now been 9 days since the Council decision on this tree issue and the 4th St. project website still hasn’t been udpated to reflect their decision.

    All this silence makes me think that staff isn’t really working to implement the Council directive. Are they hoping to change it, reverse it, undermine it, overlook it?

  18. Tracy and Griff: At the last council meeting where the trees on 4th st. were discussed, the end of that discussion became so fraught with ‘parliamentary snarl’ that it was hard to know exactly what direction was given to staff.

    The Mayor and Councilor Pownell got into an extended dialogue after C. Pownell made a motion to direct Staff to put trees back as to “how many”, “some”, “eleven”, with the Mayor wanting more specificity in the wording of the motion,various others making Friendly Amendments to the Motion, the Mayor saying we shouldn’t have all these little friendly amendments, Chris Hood (city attny.) telling C. Pownell she can accept friendly amendments, etc. etc.etc….

    I think the INTENT was communicated to staff to put back as many trees as possible.

  19. 4th St. trees are back on the council agenda for next Tues. See pages 51-58 of the packet pdf

    ITEM: Items related to the reconstruction of 4th Street and adjacent blocks

    A. Consider Streetscape Options

    ACTION REQUESTED:

    Proposed Motion For Consideration: ____________Motion ___________Second

    The City Council of the City of Northfield hereby directs staff to move forward with Streetscape Option____ from Division Street to Washington Street in completing the design for 2009

    Improvement Project No. 005 – 4th Street Reconstruction.

    Option 1 – Use the following elements in the Streetscape:

    A. Stone gate, railing, trees and landscaping at Grastvedt Lane.

    B. In-ground planters with small or ornamental type trees and a pervious, ADA compliant surface. The planters include rock excavation, engineered soils, and an irrigation system to maintain the health of the trees.

    Option 2 – Use the following elements in the Streetscape:

    A. Stone gate, railing, trees and landscaping at Grastvedt Lane.

    B. Mid-block (alley) full bump-out with trees requiring a reduction in two parking spaces.

    C. At-grade bump-outs with planters at the intersections. The planters include a watering system, engineered soils, and will be moved for snow removal.

    SUMMARY

    The City Council is being asked determine what streetscape option should be used in the reconstruction of 4th Street from Division Street to Washington Street. This item was brought to the Council for direction to staff at the March 2, 2010 meeting. The council asked staff to incorporate trees into the design of the block with a strong preference to have the trees be located in-ground along the sidewalk. Staff has prepared an option based on the Council’s direction. However, staff has concerns regarding whether the intended aesthetic can be achieved with this option. Staff has prepared this option along with comparing and contrasting it to the original option developed with the Streetscape Task Force.

  20. Katy Gehler, City Engineer, has this in the Friday Memo:

    This week staff has been working through development of revised streetscape options for the council to consider at the April 6, 2010 Council Meeting. Also this week, staff received comments from the MnDOT State Aid Review and addressed the minor revisions. An addendum will be prepared and released next week once direction on the streetscape options is obtained. Staff will also be pushing back the bid date to allow contractors adequate time to develop their bids based on the addendum. The change in bid date is not anticipated to effect bid prices. Contractors have been indicating that work is in demand and the market will continue to be very competitive. Due to the change of bid date, the bids will be brought to council on May 4th.

  21. City Engineer Katy Gehler seems to have it wrong on the ADA again, and now on ITE.

    1. On the two-page PDF I referenced above (pages 56-57 in the packet), there’s a section for Option 1 on in-ground trees called:

    Compliance with ADA requirements and other general design guidelines

    Based on ADA standards a five foot Pedestrian Access Route (PAR) should be used. If this standard is not achievable, the PAR can be pinched to four feet with five feet passing zones at frequent intervals.

    See my comment 11 above. Where does the ADA say this in its section titled Chapter 4: Accessible Routes; section 403 Walking Surfaces? It just says there has to be 3 ft of clearance and if less than 5 ft, passing zones have to be provided every 200 ft.

    2. Gehler then quotes from the Institute for Transportation Engineering (ITE) design guideline manual, Design and Safety of Pedestrian Facilities (my link; the manual was published in 1998):

    The width of a sidewalk should depend on where it is installed and the anticipated usage. The following are suggested minimum specifications for the width of a sidewalk to be installed. When determining the appropriate sidewalk width, it is important to consider that the effective sidewalk width for pedestrian movement in most urban environments is reduced by parking meter, planter, mail boxes, light poles, signs and other street furniture. The minimum widths shown below are exclusive of these effective width-reducing appurtenances.

    1. Central business district: Wide enough to meet desired level of service according to the methods in the 1994 Highway Capacity Manual. The minimum width should be 8 feet.

    2. Commercial/Industrial area outside of the Central Business District: Minimum 5-feet wide with 2-foot planting strip or 7-feet wide with no planting strip. However, wider planting strips of 4 or 5 feet are recommended when possible.

    Gehler then writes:

    Option 1 will comply with the minimum ADA standards with the use of an ADA compliant surface over the planter boxes. Option 1 does not meet the ITE minimum design guidelines for sidewalk width in a Central Business District.

    I don’t get it. The ITE text that she quotes simply states the minimum width of a sidewalk in a central business district should be 8 feet. The 4th St. sidewalk is  8.5 – 9.5 feet. 

    Or am I missing something? 

  22. Griff, I don’t think you’re missing anything. In the staff description of the two options being presented tomorrow, the layout of the summary table might make things a bit misleading.

    In the left-hand column, referencing “Compliance with ADA requirements and other general design guidelines”, there’s a passing mention of ADA standards. (As I noted in my comment #15 above, accessibility standards specifically applicable to public sidewalks have not yet been developed.)

    The staff summary goes on to say that Option 1 (with the in-ground trees) “does not meet the ITE minimum design guidelines for sidewalk width in a Central Business District.” The ITE guidelines are not binding, and some experts say they aren’t even particularly good. But the way the table is laid out, one could understandably draw the conclusion that Option 1 doesn’t meet ADA requirements. This is false.

    If ADA compliance is really in question, I would hope that the Council would request the necessary legal opinion from the City Attorney rather than relying on the understanding of City staff on this matter.

  23. The documents Griff referenced seem to be perfectly clear what is a best practice/guideline and what is a requirement. Tracy, you’re right to say that “The ITE guidelines are not binding.” But nobody explicitly claimed they were. That doesn’t mean they should not be followed.

    Who was the dissenting vote?

  24. Jon Denison voted no, Sean. He voiced support for in-ground trees two weeks ago but has been voting against the additional expenditure of money for what he sees are non-essential items.

  25. City Engineer Katy Gehler responds to the comments I made at open mic last week:

    In light of the interpretation of the ADA guidelines of a citizen at the Tuesday council meeting a few points of clarification can be made regarding the industries’ interpretation and implementation of these standards.

    The US Access Board drafted and updates the ADA Guidelines. The board generally does not have enforcement authority so the guidelines remain as such until an agency adopts them as standards. Title II, subpart A, of the ADA covers State and local government. Rulemaking authority and enforcement are the responsibility of the Department of Justice (DOJ). However, the Department of Transportation (DOT) has been designated to implement compliance procedures relating to transportation, including those for highways, streets, and traffic management. The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) Office of Civil Rights oversees the DOT mandate in these areas.

    If a covered entity alters an existing facility or part of a facility, the altered area must be accessible to and usable by people who have disabilities to the maximum extent feasible. Alterations must follow the ADA Standards for Accessible Design unless compliance is technically infeasible. Where the nature of an existing facility makes it virtually impossible to comply with all of the accessibility standards applicable to planned alterations, any altered features of the facility that can be made accessible must be made accessible.

    Generally speaking the ADA standards address two areas, new construction and reconstruction. The standards leave “outs” for built environments where it is not feasible to meet the standards. For example, the slope of 4th Street between Division and Washington is greater than allowed by ADA. However, it is not feasible to reduce the grade to the required level, so the standard does not have to be followed. The use of these “outs” can be gray. For example, it is a requirement to bring pedestrian ramps into compliance with detectable warning areas if an alteration is completed. The courts determined that a mill and overlay on a street would trigger updates to the ramps even though the ramp itself was not part of the project.

    There are different areas of standards that the ADA publishes. The Public Right of Way Accessibility Guidelines (PROWAG) governs improvements in the Right-of-way. PROWAG has gone through a revision in the last few years with significant input from all stakeholder groups. This document has been adopted at the state level and is expected to be adopted prior to the end of construction of 4th Street. As interpreted by federal ADA staff, “the standards would recommend 5 foot sidewalks, but if that is not possible, they may go down to 4-feet with 5-foot passing zones at frequent intervals.”

  26. It’s moot now since the Council voted to go with in-ground trees on 4th St. But it would be helpful to know more about the info Katy refers to in her Friday Memo comments since the issue of trees downtown will come up again when Division St. gets a revamp.

    She doesn’t provide links to anything (sigh… another limitation of how the City produces the Friday Memo). 

    The US Access Board has a Public Rights-of-Way Access Advisory Committee site with a page titled Revised Draft Guidelines for Accessible Public Rights-of-Way.

    R301.3 Width

    R301.3.1 Continuous Width. The minimum continuous and unobstructed clear width of a pedestrian access route shall be 1.2 m (4.0 ft), exclusive of the width of the curb.

    Advisory R301.3.1 Continuous Width. The pedestrian access route provides a minimum accessible route of passage within a sidewalk or other walkway that may not comprise the full width of the pedestrian circulation route, particularly in urban areas. Industry-recommended sidewalk widths can be found in ‘Guide for the Planning, Design, and Operation of Pedestrian Facilities’, American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, July 2004 (www.aashto.org). The minimum width must be maintained without obstruction.

    Where a pedestrian access route turns or changes direction, it should accommodate the continuous passage of a wheelchair or scooter. As with street or highway design for vehicles, additional maneuvering width or length may be needed at recesses and alcoves, doorways and entrances, and along curved or angled routings, particularly where the grade exceeds 5%. Individual segments of pedestrian access routes should have a minimum straight length of 1.2 m (4.0 ft).

    Street furniture, including fixed or movable elements such as newspaper and sales racks, cafe seating and tables, bus shelters, vender carts, sidewalk sculptures, and bicycle racks, shall not reduce the required width of the pedestrian access route.

    Provisions for protruding objects apply across the entire width of the pedestrian circulation path, not just the pedestrian access route.

    R301.3.2 Width at Passing Spaces. Walkways in pedestrian access routes that are less than 1.5 m (5.0 ft) in clear width shall provide passing spaces at intervals of 61 m (200 ft) maximum. Pedestrian access routes at passing spaces shall be 1.5 m (5.0 ft) wide for a distance of 1.5m (5.0 ft).

    I don’t see anything there that indicates how in-ground trees on 4th St. would be a problem.

    Also on that page:

    Question: A city is rebuilding a sidewalk along Main Street. The distance between the edge of the right-of-way and the existing road does not provide sufficient room for a 4-foot-wide pedestrian access route. Does the municipality have to acquire more right-of-way on private property or narrow the roadway to provide the necessary space?

    Answer: No, these guidelines do not require the municipality to obtain right-of-way or to narrow roadways. A municipality may decide to do either for other reasons (for instance, the roadway may be narrowed as a larger traffic calming effort or as part of a larger project in the roadway).

    MNDOT adopted an Americans with Disabilities Act Transition Plan last week and it says on page 14:

    Finally, in 2009, as a part of the development of Mn/DOT’s Transition Plan, Mn/DOT Issued Technical Memorandum 10-02-TR-01 Adoption of Public Rights of way Accessibility Guidance to Mn/DOT staff, cities and counties. The memo makes Public Rights-of-Way Accessibility Guidelines (PROWAG) the primary guidance for accessible facility design on Mn/DOT projects.  Mn/DOT is currently beginning the integration of PROWAG into the Road Design Manual and other technical guidance.

    Lastly, I don’t understand Katy’s quote “as interpreted by federal ADA staff, ‘the standards would recommend 5 foot sidewalks, but if that is not possible, they may go down to 4-feet with 5-foot passing zones at frequent intervals.'” The sidewalk on 4th St. is 8.5-9.5 feet.



    1. Griff:: referring to your last question, i.e. Katy’s quote… it’s ‘staff speak’; a reasonable sounding citation while avoiding the basic question.

      But from their (staff’s) perspective, how would you like to work in a community that is so involved that someone will question ANY decision?

      Well, I personally think that’s a great community to work in but that’s because I believe staff’s agenda should be to give the citizens what they want for their community, while functioning within Best Management Practices.

      So many times the ‘rules’ will say “whenever possible” or some such qualifier, but that gets left out of the message.

    2. Kiffi, if I had a job in local gov’t, I’d LOVE to work in an ‘involved’ town like Northfield. It would beat apathy any day.

      But that presumes I’d retain my civic engagement values, of course!

      Journalism schools are just starting to change what they teach to reflect the social media landscape.

      I would expect that programs in Public Affairs or City Management or Urban Policy, etc will do the same.

      1. How would that affect the “balance of power” between the professional staff and the citizens?

        The town I worked in , as a city employee, insisted upon a public service based attitude for the employees, i.e., without the citizens who came together to form a town, there would be no need for those city employee jobs; therefore totally a public service position.

        Do you think that is a pervasive attitude? or is it more adversarial here?

      2. No, Kiffi, I think it’s a systemic problem everywhere.

        Once you’re on the ‘inside’ as either a staff person or elected/appointed, then there’s a natural need to communicate/engage more with fellow insiders in order to get stuff done. Citizen engagement can become burdensome, time consuming, irritating etc especially if citizens are seen as having a single-issue focus, or a simplistic view, not aware of the complexities/shades of gray.

      3. I would have to disagree, Griff, about being elected/appointed and not wanting citizen engagement. I’m eager to listen to citizens because I really don’t hear from all that many people. To get 10 calls and emails on an issue is a big response (this should tell citizens that their voice can be heard and heard quite loudly if they take the time to contact Council members).

        On the other hand, I do think that part of the citizen engagement job of a Council person is to try to describe some of the gray areas surrounding issues (which is why I still blog even when I don’t want to).
        .-= (Betsey Buckheit is a blogger. See a recent post titled Land development code update) =-.

      4. Have to disagree with your basic premise, Griff… getting stuff done on the “inside” is precisely what is wrong. NO ONE should be working for the ‘inside’ who is an elected official. I would also say that no one who is on a citizen Board/commission should be working for the ‘inside’.

        Who IS the ‘inside’?

      5. Kiffi, I didn’t mean ‘inside’ in a pejorative sense. ‘Twas a poor choice of words. ‘Gov’t official’ is probably better. Tracy’s a gov’t official because she’s been appointed to the Planning Commission. Likewise, Victor on the EDA.

        Betsey, my point was not about any individual gov’t official’s degree of public engagement. Rather, that there are systemic forces that tend to discourage it.

        It’s most noticeable when people are running for office. Their level of public communication is generally way up because they know it’ll help them get elected. Blogs and public forums/meetings are popular when one is a candidate. Once elected, those commonly fall by the wayside, because the newly elected don’t see how that kind of communication can help them govern more effectively. They often fail to see how the same tool (eg, a blog, a neighborhood meeting) that they used during a campaign can be used very differently when in office.

        Time constraints are another systemic factor. When one is running for office, you make time to campaign because if you don’t, you’re done. But once your elected, you don’t continue that level of public engagement because you have to get stuff done and the price to be paid for NOT engaging with public is minor or at least delayed way into the future.

        Not always, of course. You continue to blog, as does Rep. David Bly and Sen. Kevin Dahle.

  27. 11 days after the Council mtg, the Nfld News published this story today: Plans for Fourth Street finalized.

    Using bump-outs and planters, City Engineer Katy Gehler argued during the meeting, would allow plenty of room on the sidewalks for pedestrians. Because there is a significant stone layer just below the topsoil underneath Fourth Street, Gehler added, planting trees in the ground would require an excavation that could damage nearby building foundations.

    Despite Gehler’s concerns, the council chose the in-ground tree plantings. The bump-outs, several councilors said, didn’t fit with the downtown aesthetic and could present a visibility problem for motorists.

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