By Zach Hagadone
Among the items on the agenda at the Dec. 15 meeting of the Sandpoint City Council — its last of 2021— was authorization for an application to seek $250,000 in grant funding to improve one of the most heavily traveled stretches of road in Sandpoint, especially by school kids.
According to data presented by Sandpoint Infrastructure and Development Director Amanda Wilson, more than 2,000 local children attend schools on Division Avenue, which also sees more than 6,600 vehicle trips per day as well as serving as a truck route. Meanwhile, the east side of Division between Superior Street to the north and Highway 2 to the south is woefully inadequate — especially when it comes to sidewalks and bike lanes.
“That sidewalk is functionally unusable,” Wilson told the council, referring to the berms of snow that end up covering the pathway following snowplowing, which crews can’t avoid as there is no buffer between the sidewalk and the on-street bike path.
Meanwhile, according to a December 2020 road safety audit prepared for the city by national transportation consulting firm Fehr and Peers, most cyclists avoid the current bike lanes on Division anyway — which offer no buffer from the vehicle traffic — choosing instead to ride on the sidewalk and further constricting the amount of available space for pedestrians.
“There are a long list of issues with this corridor,” Wilson said, going on to describe it as “the area with the greatest number of issues by sheer quantity.”
Among the most dire problems with that particular section of roadway is how many crashes occur on it. The report indicated that between 2015 and 2019 there were 26 crashes affecting property only, three minor injury crashes and four serious injury crashes — the latter representing 12% of all crashes, three times higher than the statewide average. The percentage of property-only crashes ran to 79% of the total, compared to 63% statewide. By far the highest density for collisions occurred at the intersection of Division Avenue and Pine Street.
Based on the recommendations in the report, proposed redesigns could include narrowing drive and turning lanes to between 11 and 12½ feet in width to accommodate planting strips, which would separate widened pedestrian and bike lanes from the street. Some planting strips could be up to eight feet wide and others no more than three feet wide, while sidewalks and bike lanes would be expanded to six feet in width.
In addition to pedestrian and cyclist safety, “we need the buffers for snow, [a place] to put the trash cans,” Wilson said.
Ultimately, performing all the work necessary to improve the entirety of Division Avenue would cost more than $10 million; but, using $250,000 under the Children Pedestrian Safety Program of the Local Highway Technical Assistance Fund — as well as $50,000 in general fund dollars already budgeted for sidewalk improvements — would be a relatively quick yet substantive action to take on a critical piece of the corridor before embarking on other projects, such as reconstruction on the west side of Division.
“It is a really clear case to make that this project would absolutely positively impact pedestrians who are kids,” Wilson said.
Council members agreed, with a unanimous vote to authorize applying for the funds.
The city should know if it has been awarded the grant by March 2022 and, if so, plans to award the contract by the summer. Noting that the suggested design is not complicated, Wilson said substantial completion could be completed as early as October.
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