Sidewalks, parking, pedestrian bridge common themes in Elkader visioning feedback

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By Willis Patenaude, Times-Register

What does Elkader want? What would make the residents of the small community happier? This is what Iowa’s Living Roadways Community Visioning Program wanted to find out. In conjunction with experts from Trees Forever and the Iowa State University Department of Landscape Architecture, they held a workshop and focus groups with community members, as well as conducted surveys and interviewed high school students, to gauge the public’s interest in certain ideas and to pinpoint areas for improvement. 

According to Elkader City Administrator, Jennifer Cowsert, who is a member of the steering committee for Elkader’s Community Visioning Project, the program is designed to act as a “planning process with an emphasis on all forms of transportation,” with heavy involvement from community members “to identify strengths and weaknesses” in the city’s current transportation infrastructure. 

The intent is to identify issues, brainstorm solutions and then implement them. The base objective is to enhance transportation and “build meaningful townscapes,” according to the Community Visioning website. 

The enhancements “help towns be safer for drivers, pedestrians (all residents and visitors) and be more liveable for residents,” Patty Reisinger, field coordinator for Trees Forever, said. 

Because transportation is so integral to small-town communities, you need to know and understand what they want in the way of changes, and the data did not disappoint. 

One recurring theme was the condition of the sidewalks and the need for improvement, especially where it concerns the mobility impaired, older adults and parents trying to navigate the well-worn sidewalks. 

As one survey respondent put it, “ I think that’s why if you push a stroller, people will choose to go in the street because you cannot maneuver [it] up on those curbs.” 

Another respondent, representing the youth demographic, said, “If I fall down…[it’s] because there [are] a lot of bumps in the sidewalks…and I have to step over them, or I fall. And then my mom tripped on it, and it was terrible.” 

One community member, speaking on behalf of an older relative said, “She’s a hundred years old [and] she’s on the street in her scooter because of the sidewalks.” 

As such, the condition of the sidewalks is considered a barrier—specifically the lack of sidewalks on Bridge Street, which one respondent declared were “just a mess.” 

Another recurring theme was parking, or lack thereof, and the narrow roads. As a member of the steering committee commented, “I have had trouble parking near the school during school hours, and it can be a bit of a bottleneck when class is in session or when there is a game.” 

As far as the narrow street issue is concerned, community members suggested that Main, Carter and First streets should probably be widened. 

However, the overwhelming majority of community members kept mentioning the desire to have a pedestrian bridge over the Turkey River, something Cowsert said “has come up several times over the last 10 to 15 years…because there is only one river crossing.” 

The reason it hasn’t been done, as of yet, according to Cowsert, is because “it comes with a hefty price tag” and could only be done if “funding became available or there was an ‘angel donor.’” 

Regardless of price tag, it is a desired improvement agreed upon by almost every group who participated in the survey. As one survey-taker put it, “We should add a pedestrian bridge over Turkey River connecting Founders Park to the campground, so pedestrians do not have to cross busy intersections and hold up traffic.”

Even a steering committee member seemed to concur, saying, “It’d be nice to have another way to cross the river other than the Keystone Bridge, because it becomes a planning nightmare when we have to close it.” 

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