After years of planning, proposals and seeking funding sources, an initiative to create safe pedestrian corridors through the City of Gunnison — known as Safe Routes to School — is finally taking shape.
City leaders have long sought to implement the street improvements, which fall within the city’s Comprehensive Plan to build designated paths for students to travel east and west across the city.
The project includes installation of approximately 3,000 linear feet of Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant sidewalks, with painted crosswalks, along the west side of Spruce Street and the north side of Arthur Avenue. These sidewalks are part of the routes children are directed to take to get to and from school.
On June 5, city leaders held a public meeting to address concerns and questions from residents who will be affected by the project. One of the biggest challenges to the sidewalk improvements is how they impact the city-owned right-of-way — including potential disturbances to landscaping, shrubs and trees for adjacent property owners.
According to Public Works’ Lisa Starkebaum, a total of 27 properties will be directly affected by the sidewalk installation. That list includes properties such as the former City Market lot, the Church of Latter-Day Saints and the Gunnison Community School, all of which have existing sidewalks.
“There are some homes along the route with a sidewalk attached to the curb,” explained Starkebaum.
The sidewalks attached to curbs have created problems during the winter months when plows need to clear roads while also keeping sidewalks safe for pedestrians.
The newly installed sidewalks will be set back five feet to make room for plows during the winter months.
Tree removal is another aspect of construction — with approximately 27 trees slated to be removed to make way for Safe Routes to School, said Public Works Director David Gardner.
“We’re trying to be very accommodating as far as the route of the sidewalk,” said Gardner. “We’re not being linear with it in any way.”
Even for homeowners who have existing sidewalks along their property, much of the walkway also is attached to the curb — meaning it will require replacement as well.
Starkebaum also noted the presence of sprinkler systems as another aspect that needs to be addressed. However, the adjustments made to irrigation systems, landscaping and other improvements will come from city funds.
Those costs have yet to be identified within the budget, with more specifics to be identified in coming weeks.
The city received a federal grant in the amount of $350,000 for the program and will contribute $87,500 in matching funds.
According Starkebaum, Spruce Street was identified as one of the safest corridors because pedestrians from the southern portion of the city can cross at a lighted intersection located at Tomichi Avenue.
The newly constructed sidewalks also will be connected with painted crosswalks to encourage drivers to slow down for pedestrians.
While Starkebaum acknowledged the task of tackling the variety of landscaping throughout the city is a tall order, the scope of work comes directly from years of citizen input which pointed toward building a safer pedestrian environment in city limits, she said.
Gardner anticipates receiving approval from Colorado Department of Transportation for the project by this coming fall with construction commencing next spring.
(Kate Gienapp can be reached at 970.641.1414 or firstname.lastname@example.org.)