Raleigh City Council member Stef Mendell, who led the charge to cancel the Oxford Road sidewalk project two weeks ago, issued a statement saying she will be organizing a meeting to brainstorm options that address safety concerns in the neighborhood and discuss the city’s sidewalk-petition process.
“Now that I understand the wider neighborhood very much desires a sidewalk in their neighborhood, I would like to explore what other options are available to address their concerns about safety,” Mendell said. “A number of suggestions have been made and I plan to schedule a meeting at the Five Points Center for Active Adults so that we can have a broader discussion, not only about Oxford Road, but about the sidewalk petition process in general.”
The city had been planning for five years to construct a $523,000 half-mile strip of sidewalk along Fallon Park on Oxford Road after a resident successfully petitioned for the project in 2014. The section of road is heavily used by pedestrians, who walk and jog in the street alongside speeding cars because there is no sidewalk.
The city spent $21,000 on a consultant to help mitigate impacts to the environment after some residents worried the project could harm the trees in the park. Although city staffers believed the project posed no threat to the trees and went through several design iterations to appease the residents, a group strongly opposed to the park campaigned to cancel the project, convincing Mendell, their district representative, to join their cause.
The group justified their stance with an unofficial survey of the neighborhood, which found that, of the twenty-two households originally surveyed in 2014, sixteen of the twenty that responded to the second survey now opposed to the sidewalk. In addition, they pointed to the fact that the majority of comments about the project on the city’s website were negative.
“Typically in making decisions about sidewalks, the wider neighborhood is not consulted, and decisions are based on what the residents whose property abuts the proposed sidewalk want,” Mendell said. “I am aware that many neighborhoods desire sidewalks and are waiting in line for funding, so it seemed prudent to re-direct funds to a neighborhood that more urgently wanted sidewalks.”
Council member Nicole Stewart attempted to convince her colleagues to continue with the project, noting that others in the neighborhood were unaware the project was in danger. She argued that the sidewalk would promote safety and connectivity in the neighborhood, which is close to a school and greenway. In the end, she was the lone vote against canceling the project.
Following the vote, however, Mendell said she began to hear from residents supporting the sidewalk who were unaware it was on the chopping block.
“It’s unfortunate that the sidewalk proponents were not aware that the issue was still being debated,” Mendell said.
It’s unclear when Mendell will hold the promised meeting or whether there is a possibility the project could be resurrected.
Regardless, Stewart says Mendell’s move may be too little, too late.
“I think council failed the community. I’m hearing rumblings that we need to reconsider our process and I’m not convinced it’s our process that’s broken,” Stewart says. “We stopped everything in the face of progress, and I think that’s what’s broken.”