The bike lane experiment now in place on Main Street will end Oct. 19, after which the city will decide whether to proceed with a permanent lane as part of a planned re-bricking of the historic district road, mayoral spokeswoman Susan O’Brien said Thursday.
The Historic Preservation Commission had sounded an alarm about the bike lane given the historic status of the area and the impact on the re-bricking project. Some members of the City Council criticized Mayor Gavin Buckley for proceeding with what he called an experiment without informing them or consulting the commission.
The cost also sparked criticism, with the city having already committed nearly $78,000 to temporarily block off what had been a parking lane for cars and extend the sidewalk to accommodate seats and tables for the public. City workers will begin removing the path on the first business day — Oct. 22 — after the lane experiment ends.
Thursday morning the council’s finance committee held an emergency meeting to discuss concerns about the mayor’s initiative, which also has drawn fire from some Main Street businesses.
“Everyone here wants this project, but we’re hearing stuff through the grapevine,” Alderwoman Sheila Finlayson, D-Ward 4, said at the start of the meeting. “There is a gap here — a disconnect — when the administration says they can do whatever they want and we hear about it later.”
Alderwoman Elly Tierney, D-Ward 1, also expressed frustration. “It is unfair whether two months or 10 months into the year to say, ‘Hey, you’re going to pay for this,’ ” she told City Manager Teresa Sutherland during the meeting.
Sutherland said that because the budget for public improvement was already appropriated and approved by City Council through roadway funds, no approval from City Council was needed to go forward. Likewise, the Historic Preservation Commission does not have authority over the experiment because it’s temporary, O’Brien said.
O’Brien said if the project goes forward, the Department of Public works will determine if contracts for construction of a permanent bike lane would be awarded as part of the re-bricking. Construction would then take about six months, O’Brien said.
Whether the process outlined by O’Brien satisfies the council — which would have to approve a permanent bike lane — remains to be seen.
With money already spent on the experiment, city council members say they’ve felt out of the loop.
“Driving in this morning, a lady from my ward called asking to get her tax money back,” Finlayson said at the start of the finance meeting. She called for an amendment to the financial process to improve transparency between the mayor and city council in the future.
The total cost to date for the bike lane experiment includes $74,627 for materials and construction of the bike lane and sidewalk extension, plus $2,980 for the tables and seats. This is 2 percent of the $3.6 million dollar public works roadway budget.
The 40 “European style” bistro sets, one table and two chairs each, will be open to the public and can be used for outdoor concerts or taken to the Pip Moyer Recreation Center for emergency shelter use.
The mayor’s plan also allows restaurants to extend service out to the sidewalk bistro sets. Wednesday night he asked the liquor board to approve liquor licenses to permit restaurants to establish a temporary sidewalk cafe. The liquor board voted to continue its hearing on the issue on Oct. 3.
Tierney said at the meeting that the project has a high risk of being rejected by the Historic Preservation Commission. Commission member Pat Zeno expressed doubts about the project at the meeting, saying the placing of bistro sets will likely violate the city code for sidewalk walking space.
“There is usually a linear process. You can’t just say ‘We’re going to spend $74,000 and see if it works,’” Tierney said. “You have to admit this project went full speed ahead and now you’re cherry picking where the money comes from. I do agree with Mayor Buckley’s vision, but this is not how it succeeds.”
Eyes On Main owner Rick Lepski, whose eye care center is in the experimental zone, told the committee he’s worried about how much upkeep of the project will cost taxpayers.
“This is not an improvement, this is a test. If you want to run a test, pay for it yourselves,” he said to the committee. “A lot of this stinks a little bit.”
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