The agenda item was approved with two caveats: Two separate plans will be developed for each side of the block, and plans will be designed and presented independently to the council for final approval as the process proceeds, according to the motion approved by the council. Although the council gave the go ahead for the city to draw up the plans, the sidewalk construction will come back to council for approval at a later date.
The approval came after at least a dozen residents along the 4700-5000 block of Maple, as well as residents of adjacent streets, came to speak to the council in support of a plan to install sidewalks along that stretch. Speakers cited long-term safety issues, the block's proximity to Bellaire High School, the street’s increased vehicular traffic caused by new traffic lights at Maple and Holly streets, and the street’s status as the only street in the immediate vicinity of Bellaire High School that has no sidewalks, according to a petition signed by 45 area residents submitted to the city Sept. 29.
“There are students and there are residents that are really at risk every time they walk out there,” Maple resident Linda Elder said to the council. “I’m fearful every time I take my dog out for a walk at any time in the day. The residents want this, and it’s been a long-term issue that we, as Bellaire, have not solved.”
Pedestrians are forced to either walk through residents’ front lawns or in the street, though even then they are bunched in by vehicles parked in the street, residents said.
Out of the 56 total homes along the 4700-5000 block of Maple, 30 households expressed support for the sidewalks.
However, for the petitioners, there was not a process in place for new sidewalk requests. Instead, the city of Bellaire used a petition process previously used by residents to opt out of the new sidewalk installation program, a component of Bonds for Better Bellaire 2016 that was not implemented, according to a Nov. 1 agenda report.
Cost estimates for installing sidewalks on both the north and south ends were about $265,000, according to the city, with an initial time frame of 750 days, including design, surveying, an independent hydrological study, a 180-day resident comment period and a 180-day construction period. According to Mike Leech, the director of the Bellaire Public Works Department, it might be possible to cut that time down to a little over a year in the best-case scenario by concurrently working on some of the items in the process.
However, not every item in the process can be quickened. According to the Bellaire city charter, a charter proposition that was approved by voters in November 2020 requires the city to provide six months of notice prior to a City Council action item to construct a sidewalk. The voter-approved proposition also requires a notice that includes project schematics and other details as well as a hydrological study of the proposed project by a third party.
Council support for the sidewalks was unanimous.
“To me this is a slam dunk,” Council Member Neil Verma said. “It’s been a slam dunk for years now.”
Mayor Pro Tem Gus Pappas shared that sentiment, citing the need along that stretch of street to curtail, as best as possible, the many near misses for pedestrians.
“At this point, we can take a first step towards addressing safety,” he said.
Council Members Jim Hotze and Catherine Lewis, while supportive, stressed a careful, comprehensive and thoughtful approach to addressing safety along the stretch of Maple, such as considering speed cushions or a wider sidewalk on one side of the street.
“All those considerations should be thought about before we rush into this,” Hotze said.