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Ogdensburg to vie for street improvement grant


OGDENSBURG — For north country residents without a car or buggy, getting around the city can be difficult because there are few sidewalks and no bike lanes — but that may change.

The city will make a play for funds to improve transit and pedestrian and bicycle access along streets in the Marina District, but some City Council members argue the improvements are unnecessary.

The City Council last week authorized an application for a $7,500 Complete Streets grant from the St. Lawrence County Health Initiative.

Complete streets are designed for access by all potential users, not just automobiles. Street design keeps pedestrians, cyclists and public transportation options in mind.

“Across the country, complete streets have been shown to increase business,” City Planner Andrea L. Smith said. “We are developing a streetscape improvement plan; this grant provides funding for actual implementation.”

Many streets in the Marina District lack sidewalks, crosswalks at intersections and rights-of-way for cyclists. Several waterfront development initiatives include the district, which makes up an area bounded by the Oswegatchie River, New York Avenue and Main and Spring streets.

“We’re going to have to put in some infrastructure, like crosswalks, curbing, sidewalks,” City Manager John M. Pinkerton said. “This grant will help pay for that and let us do other things that will hopefully tie in the Marina District as we go from the arena to the Freight House to the Fort, the Dirty Gringo and down to Hosmer’s Marina. We have to tie that together. It gives us a focal point to work on.”

The Maple City Trail runs through the district on surface streets after crossing the Lake Street Bridge.

“It is something we need to look at seriously and not waste the opportunity,” Councilor Jennifer Stevenson said. “We need to continue the progress of the pedestrian bridge and tie things together.”

Throughout the city, roadways are poorly marked, lacking lanes, parking spaces, medians, planter strips, ground cover, shoulder markings and street trees.

Councilor R. Storm Cilley questioned the need for the funding at a City Council meeting Monday.

“I don’t see a need right now for bike racks; I don’t see a lot of people on bicycles,” he said.

Mr. Cilley also criticized the grant application as too vague.

“I am concerned about funding for grants when we don’t have a clear idea what we’re doing,” he said. “I might consider supporting this if you came back to us with a plan.”

Deputy Mayor Michael D. Morley worried the city could be unable to match the grant without cutting funding from somewhere else.

“Even in-kind services, technically there is money being spent,” he said. “We just had to cut community organizations’ money. I don’t want to spend money needlessly. If I don’t know the full extent of the programs, I don’t want to get involved with them. I did that with Neighborhood Stabilization Program.”

Mr. Morley also argued his constituents want faster roads without the clutter of pedestrians, cyclists and transit options.

“Part of this program is to look at what they’re calling ‘traffic calming’ — which is to slow traffic down,” he said. “These days people don’t want to be slowed down. With the vehicles and the trucks, they are getting bigger and bigger every year. I don’t see how narrowing down a street by building a bike path will necessarily help. Everybody is driving an SUV these days.”

Ms. Smith said the Complete Streets grant does require a match from the city, but the city would propose in-kind contributions of labor and equipment.

“The grant application says it doesn’t have to be actual money,” she said. “Our matching portion would be covered by providing labor.”

Mr. Pinkerton said winning the grant would help build momentum for development.

“I think momentum is something you have to keep building on; you can’t let up on it,” he said. “If we can get some pockets of growth going, we could revitalize the whole city.”

Ogdensburg will proceed with developing a complete streets policy, regardless of whether the grant is secured.

“The community identified complete streets as something they’re interested in,” Ms. Smith said.

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