City of Fayetteville
City Council members have once again vetoed a controversial plan to build a sidewalk along Halsell Road near Razorback Stadium.
Instead, the group will look for other areas that could use a sidewalk.
It’s a decision similar to one made when council members tweaked the recommended 2016 Sidewalk Improvement Plan.
The council’s Transportation Committee had expected to see a plan that included a new sidewalk on North Palmer Avenue to connect Markham Road to West Center Street. The Palmer project was part of a plan several years in the making to provide a complete route from Wedington to the University of Arkansas campus by way of the neighborhoods to the west of the stadium.
The work on Palmer was originally set to begin in 2014, but was one of several projects that were pushed back because of weather and other delays. But instead of being added back into the 2016 plan, city staff included a sidewalk on nearby Halsell Road at the request of Alderman John La Tour.
La Tour, who lives at the intersection of Halsell and Oliver Avenue on land where he rents tailgating lots to fans during Razorback football games, said it would make more sense to route game day pedestrian traffic along Halsell rather than on Markham Road to the south.
La Tour’s idea was shot down by the committee in favor of the Palmer project, and received no support at a later City Council meeting when it was again suggested by La Tour.
This time the project received even more opposition. About a half dozen residents who live along Halsell Road spoke against the idea at the Jan. 2 City Council meeting.
The sidewalk, they said, would change the dynamic of their neighborhood, which doesn’t see much foot traffic at all except for the six days each year when the Arkansas football team plays in Fayetteville. Halsell is a narrow road enclosed by dense vegetation. A sidewalk would not only remove some of the vegetation, but would also cut about 15 feet into the front yards of the homes on the north side of the road.
Ward 4 council member Kyle Smith suggested removing the project and replacing it with new segments of sidewalk on Salem and Double Springs roads, but council member Sarah Marsh suggested tabling the entire list to allow the Transportation and Active Transportation advisory committees a chance to revise their recommendations. Her initial motion failed, as some members said they weren’t interested in stalling the entire list. Marsh made another motion to remove the two sidewalks, but to leave the remainder of the plan intact. That way, she said, the other projects could go on as planned and members of the two committees could recommend new projects to replace Halsell and Oliver.
Marsh’s second amendment was approved 6-2 with only La Tour and council member Adella Gray opposed. Gray said she felt bad for residents who didn’t want a sidewalk in their front yards, but said the project was long overdue.
In the final vote to approve the remainder of the list, only La Tour voted against.
A new approach?
It’s unclear whether the Halsell Road sidewalk will ever gain any traction again.
The controversy, however, did re-ignite a two-year-old suggestion first made by council member Matthew Petty.
During the initial Halsell debate in 2015, Petty said he’d like to see Fayetteville move away from its long held practice of dividing sidewalk work evenly between the city’s four wards.
“We represent residents who are all equal, but the distribution of businesses and schools and non-residential features of the city are not equal among the wards,” said Petty. “I think that we have to apply a more data-driven approach to how we choose these projects.”
Petty echoed those sentiments this week, and Marsh agreed.
The list of sidewalk needs in wards 1 and 2, she said, far outnumber those in the rest of the city.
When looking at city staff’s list of overall city sidewalk needs, Marsh said Ward 1 has more projects needed than wards 3 and 4 combined. In fact, Marsh said Ward 4 had so little sidewalk need that it was difficult for the Active Transportation Advisory Committee to even come up with a recommendation for a project.
While a new approach in contrast to the city’s sidewalk ward equality practices might be gaining traction, there’s still the question of what to do with the $165,000 and 1,750 feet of sidewalk left in the city’s time and financial budgets.
Both transportation committees are expected to make new recommendations for that work in the coming weeks. The City Council will likely take up the question at its first scheduled meeting in February.