Though the Bicycle and Pedestrian Plan update earned the Common Council’s approval last month, it apparently is not yet complete.

That was what city staff told the council March 14, as they sought clarification on a few items within the plan, including one related to the sidewalks language that was added the night the plan was passed. As it has anytime it’s come up over the past several years, the sidewalks discussion became a touchy subject.

Even though a compromise was reached, it could not be passed immediately, meaning the approval of the new language had to wait a couple of weeks until the council approved it March 28.

That original language about sidewalks came from a resolution approved unanimously in January that outlined a prohibition on installing them in existing neighborhoods without them, except when 75 percent of “affected property owners” agree and other various criteria are met. Despite the tone of the discussion, it replaced language that would have prevented any sidewalk installations in those neighborhoods under any circumstances.

The resolution language at issue March 14 was a clause of the ordinance that staff said left “room for interpretation.” A staff memo said it was not clear whether the sidewalk prohibition also applied to apartments, condominiums or commercial areas or only single-family homes, which have been discussed most often since it first came to a head in 2010.

“Staff believes the wording would restrict sidewalks in multi-family areas, and is open to varied interpretation regarding commercial areas,” the memo read. “Such language provides difficulty in advising residents.”

Ald. Carol Poole (Dist. 1), who wrote the original resolution, said the map attached to the resolution was clear enough and that would serve as a better directive than the sentence staff had questions about. She said the sentence could be removed.

“If we missed something on the map and something comes forward, then I guess those people will have to come forward at that time,” Poole said.

However, the council ultimately decided to put another resolution on a future agenda to clarify the language, which clerk Patti Anderson told them would be the cleanest way to make a change.

The council also agreed with staff to include an exception to the prohibition on shared-use paths for the upcoming Lacy Road project. That is slated for this spring and includes a shared-use path on one side of the road. As approved before, the plan would have required a separate homeowner approval process, even though the project has already gone out to bid.

Disputing the process

Some alders were unhappy to have the policy in front of them again at all.

“We continue to overcomplicate the sidewalk issue again and again,” said Ald. Patrick Stern (D-2). “I am so sick of talking about sidewalks.”

Yet alders continued to argue over the process March 14, with nearly an hour spent discussing the item in total.

“What (engineer Ahnaray Bizjak) brought us tonight was an unintended consequence of what we passed,” said Ald. Dorothy Krause (D-1).

Bizjak acknowledged that she was ready to move on, as well.

“I’m sick and tired of talking about it, too, to be perfectly honest with you,” Bizjak said. “I just want to make sure I understand.”

Alds. Julia Arata-Fratta (D-2) and Jason Gonzalez (D-3) both advised against making any changes to what had already been approved. Ald. Dan Carpenter agreed that the “resolution’s pretty clear,” noting that it passed unanimously.

Mayor Steve Arnold disagreed. He repeatedly told the alders city staff was simply “asking what you want.” Though it was “clear (alders) wanted it passed,” he said, it wasn’t clear what the intent was.

“Staff is trying to get it right, and I think that the council should do its best to try and cooperate with that effort so your intent is in the plan and any subsequent resolutions that may apply,” he added later in response to Gonzalez.

Contact Scott Girard at and follow him on Twitter @sgirard9.