Renton City Council looks to move faster on sidewalk improvements

Almost half of Renton’s streets still don’t have pedestrian paths

In Renton, almost half of the city’s streets have no sidewalks.

An aerial map assessment of city streets from 2018 showed 48 percent of roads had no sidewalks on either side, 16 percent on one side and 36 percent on both sides.

That sounds like a scary number, Renton Transportation Planning and Program Manager Vangie Garcia told councilmembers, but the pictures show there’s lots of sidewalks, and guesses most of these areas without sidewalks are residential.

After over 10 years of “snail slow” progress on building sidewalks in Renton, the city council is looking for ways to expedite the process of creating walkable streets. The council began discussion at the May 6 transportation committee meeting, which will continue in a later meeting.

Public Works Administrator Gregg Zimmerman told council at the committee meeting the progress has been very slow, and the money allocated to this from the general fund can only get a couple hundred feet of creating or repairing sidewalks.

The city created a list of 200 prioritized areas with missing sidewalks in 2008, and many street segments from the list haven’t been addressed, according to city staff.

This concerns councilmember Ruth Pérez, who pointed out at the committee meeting that the list was created before many areas like Benson Hill were annexed into the city.

One option offered by staff is to update that walkway study, create a new list of prioritized projects and examine all of Renton so the list can be more equitable.

This was also listed as a recommendation in the Bicycle Trails and Master Plan, which was recently drafted.

Pérez said she would like to see an updated study, and that sidewalks are an issue of both equity and safety for children in the area.

“It breaks my heart to see a mother with her children walking on the side of the road, carrying their grocery bags,” she said.

From when the sidewalk study was released in 2008 to 2018, there’s been 420 pedestrian accidents in Renton, according to the Washington State Department of Transportation crash data.

The highest hit pedestrian age group were ages 15 to 29, with 141 incidents or 34 percent. Roughly 9 percent of pedestrians hit by vehicles were under 15.

2016 had the most pedestrians hit in Renton, with 62 people being hit by a vehicle.

The city will possibly look at alternative sidewalk options, like asphalt or gravel paths, which could be a cheaper, quicker fix to some streets. The typical concrete sidewalk in the city is expensive, one linear foot of sidewalk is $200. If the city also needs to include a planter strip, that rests between sidewalk and roads, and excavate, that cost goes up to $950.

An asphalt or crushed path would cost around $175 per linear foot, according to city estimates.

Zimmerman said to council that while those alternatives are an option, the streetscape doesn’t look as good.

At the committee meeting, McIrvin said the main concern he has is where they will fund a study, which is estimated at $250,000, or the same amount the city allots for sidewalks for one year.

Sidewalks were a topic at the March 2019 council retreat, where the city brought council two methods of funding sidewalks, that will be included in the continued discussion at transportation committee.

One method is to increase sidewalks’ slice of the general fund, which is paid mostly by property and sales tax. The city is budgeting $200,000 in 2019 for high-priority sidewalks, and $250,000 each year after until 2024.

The other is community-paid programs, where there would be a direct tax, fund or fee outside of allotted general fund monies. There’s a variety of programs other cities used that were included as examples during the council retreat, including a sidewalk mileage tax, improvement districts, utility fees or sales tax.

The committee will continue to discuss this matter at a future transportation meeting.

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