The Cloquet City Council delayed a decision on building a sidewalk on Prospect Avenue after a public meeting Thursday, March 5, revealed a community and council divided on the issue.
City officials have worked for months to develop a plan to reconstruct the street and underlying infrastructure in the area of Prospect Avenue between 14th and 22nd streets. Portions of 20th and 21st streets, as well as Kelly and Fairview avenues would also be reconstructed.
Most people agreed that with the condition of the streets in the area, reconstruction is necessary. Some residents had questions for assistant city engineer John Anderson about the project and the assessment project — which will be used to fund approximately 20% of the approximately $3 million project — but most of the discussion focused on the construction of a sidewalk on the south side of Prospect Avenue between 14th and 18th streets.
The city received letters of support for the sidewalk construction from Cloquet Public Schools and the Arrowhead Regional Development Commission. A sidewalk on Prospect Avenue has been identified as a “priority corridor” by the school district’s “Safe Routes to School Sidewalk Network” committee. Since the district required students in fifth grade and above to walk to school if they live less than 1.5 miles away, more students are walking to school.
Ali Mueller, Carlton County’s Safe Routes to School coordinator, said the committee has worked for more than a year on the recommendations to create safer ways for kids to get to school.
“One of those was to enhance safety for pedestrians and bicyclists along Prospect Avenue,” Mueller said. “The action recommendation to implement that was to construct a concrete sidewalk along the street from 14th Street to 22nd Street. During the plan update we collected a lot of feedback from parents at the school, as well as from community members and 85% of Cloquet Middle School parents said the availability of sidewalks and pathways was an issue affecting their family.”
Some at the meeting, however, questioned how much use the sidewalks would get during the winter, when they are potentially covered in snow. Terri Hughes, who lives on 20th Street, said the sidewalk would be covered in snow from November through March each year and very few kids actually use Prospect to get to school currently.
Ward 4 Councilor Kerry Kolodge voiced opposition to the sidewalks, saying the homes on Prospect Avenue are “too close” to the street already. If the city does begin plowing the sidewalks on Prospect, residents will have even less yard in the winter than they do now.
Ward 2 Councilor Sheila Lamb — who represents the residents affected by the project — said the plan concerned her because it could funnel more children toward Prospect and potentially be more dangerous for kids with a sidewalk.
“I have tremendous concerns about safety of the kids crossing the street right there to go over to (Athletic Park), especially with the way people park during the summer,” Lamb said. “We’ve already had a lot of conversation about the speeding that goes on down Prospect and there’s no way to really stop that … In my mind that’s kind of prohibitive right there. I can just picture kids darting in between cars with that sidewalk there — whether it’s on foot or on bikes — and I think that’s something we really need input of our Ward 2 residents in that area.”
Lamb went on to say she had received “four to five calls” on the issue, and none were in favor of building a sidewalk on Prospect Avenue.
Others spoke in favor of the sidewalks, saying kids are already using Prospect to get to school and the sidewalks would also be used during the summer months when they are still using the sidewalks to get around town.
“I travel on that street almost every single day, and there are so many walkers on the 20th Street area and Prospect and all of them are in the street,” 20th Street resident Robbin Fish said. “Prospect is a terrible street, and there are so many walkers and bikers and they’re all walking right in the middle of the street.”
To move forward, the council needed a super majority — or six of the seven members — to vote in favor of seeking bids for the project. Lamb, Kolodge and Ward 1 Councilor Bun Carlson voted against including the sidewalks in the plan.
Ward 4 Councilor Steve Langley and At-Large Councilor Lara Wilkinson voted against a measure that would have removed sidewalks from the plan.
In the end, the council chose to kick the can down the road and give themselves more time to seek community feedback. They voted unanimously to seek bids with the sidewalks classified as an “add-on” to the project.
An add-on is typically used when the cost of a project is unclear and a council wants to make a decision once the costs are more clear. If there is enough money left over, the add-on can be included in the final project. In this case, however, classifying the sidewalk as an add-on allows the council more time to seek feedback and more information on the issue until construction bids are received.