Peeved building owners persuaded city commissioners Monday to rethink street plans for a recently approved bike path spanning the first five blocks of Walnut Street.
The plans call for the removal of street parking spaces in order to extend the Prairie Spirit Rail Trail as two-way lanes in the middle of the street. During the public comment period of Monday’s study session, five residents expressed why they thought the plan was inconsiderate.
Charlie Adamson, owner of Adamson Bros Heating and Cooling, 102 S. Walnut St., visited the commission a second time to voice his concerns about the loss of two out of four total parking spots at his business.
“Initially, I had no opposition to the rail trail going down the middle of the street,” Adamson said. “It makes good sense, nostalgic wise, everything else. That’s where the train track was. Let’s put it back there.”
“I can’t go along with that any longer,” he continued. “If somebody riding a bicycle is more important than a single parking space on Walnut Street, I will not go along with it.”
Adamson was followed by Kenny Suffron, who said no consideration was given to business owners. Delbert Jamison, owner of the building at 225 S. Walnut St., said it’s convenient for people to park on the street especially when they make a quick stop.
Gary Brann, owner of three apartments at 122 W. Third St., said prospective tenants have passed up his location because of the dearth of parking.
“If we’re going to do anything in the city, unless we’re going to write off downtown, you should be doing proactive things to procure more parking in the area as opposed to finding ways to eat up what little exists,” Brann said.
Becky Gregg, who said she lives in a home in the 400 block, owned by Caylor Investments, was the last to comment on the topic. She said the lane, planned to be at least 10-feet wide, should be reduced to make room for parking.
“I don’t appreciate not being notified about this possible change,” she said. “That upset me.”
A letter was sent to property owners inviting them to a Sept. 4 meeting to discuss proposals as well as city news releases posted online, Wynndee Lee, community development director, said in a message Wednesday.
The Monday meeting continued without immediate discussion until it was addressed again by commissioner Linda Reed more than an hour later, after the dissenters had exited the room.
When he was in the room, Adamson said research he found online strongly opposed the two-way bike lane considered by Ottawa. Reed later said research was in fact conducted to support the plan and she had even traveled a bike trail in Iowa that was in the middle of a street.
“It feels a little funny at first,” she said, but then she said she became used to it.
Wynndee Lee, Ottawa community development director, said the plans proposed removing street parking from the 100 and 200 blocks because there was off-street parking elsewhere.
“There was abundant parking, more than any other two-block section in the entire downtown ... and fewer businesses abutting Walnut,” she said.
In three parking lots in the 100 and 200 blocks, there are 239 spaces, she said. In the 300 block, there is a parking lot on the west side with an undetermined number of spots. In the 400 block the parking is private, but Lee said the public parks there regularly.
In recent years, the community has been working to increase mobility and activity in Ottawa and part of that has been to improve the local trail system. The Franklin County Healthy Communities Initiative released free maps earlier this month showing designated bike trails in the county and city.
Suffron said during his comment period that he hasn’t seen much traffic on the trail. Adamson said the trail caters more to visitors of Ottawa who don’t even realize the trail disappears in the first section of Walnut Street.
But Lee previously presented findings of a group of residents, tasked with generating ideas for downtown, who said the disappearing section from First to Fifth streets deserved attention.
“I would urge folks to really walk or bike the area, not just drive it,” Lee said Wednesday. “It is far easier to see the curb line changes, the many driveways, and other challenges to walking and biking in the area that the city hopes to over time to improve with the community’s help.”
She said there is the possibility for improvements, if design evaluations provide the option to allow more on-street parking. Lee said the goal is to improve the safety of both drivers and cyclists, while minimizing the parking impact.
Future plans to Walnut Street include improvements to the road surface, curbs, gutters, sidewalks and landscaping, she said.
City commissioners scheduled to revisit the issue in a study session 4 p.m. Nov. 9 at City Hall, 101 S. Hickory St., Ottawa.
“It’s not over,” Mike Skidmore, Ottawa mayor, said. “We’ll keep considering this.”
Amelia Arvesen is a Herald staff writer. Email her at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter at @AmeliaArvesen.