Where the sidewalk ends

sidewalk problems

Where the sidewalks end, the danger for Beaumont students begins, Ward 4 Councilwoman Robin Mouton warns.

Beaumont Independent School District students living within a two-mile radius of their school campus are not eligible for busing and must make their way to class by their own devices. For many Beaumont students, that means walking. But when the rain is pouring and water gathers along streets – especially those with drainage problems, which are many in the city – and there are no sidewalks for the students forced to travel on foot, those youth suffer. And when they are forced to cross several lanes of traffic or walk alongside speeding cars, trudging through the grass and over whatever obstacles may lie in the unkempt pathways created solely by heavy foot traffic, their safety could be at serious risk, cautions the councilwoman.

Mouton said she was alerted to the dangerous conditions students face along Fannett Road and other streets surrounding Ozen High School by concerned parents and citizens.

“A couple of parents and a resident in the area called me,” Mouton told The Examiner. “They, along with myself, were concerned with the safety of the children.

“Fannett Road is a four-lane street. Many students have to cross all four lanes when walking home. Others are walking alongside the street and speeding cars. It’s dangerous. Sidewalks would help.”

Mouton said she took a close look at the area surrounding her old alma mater, and what she saw was stagnation.

“I am a product of that school (when it was Hebert High),” said Mouton. “I graduated 38 years ago. Not much has changed. The location of the entrance has changed, but there are still no sidewalks in most places out there, and there are no streetlights. I believe there should be for the safety of the children.

“It gets dark when it rains and at other times. And when it rains, students are forced to walk through puddles. They have wet shoes, wet feet, wet jeans, and they’re going into air-conditioned classrooms. They are going to be wet all day. I imagine being one of them, and this is how I’m starting my educational learning day – cold and wet.”

But students’ comfort is not her primary consideration, she said. Their health and safety is.

“I know at Ozen they’re not babies, but the lack of sidewalks poses an unnecessary danger to them,” Mouton asserted. “And I’m concerned about the entirety of Beaumont and all of our children, not just Ozen students. We want sidewalks throughout the city, and what better place to start than around schools for the safety of our children?”

When Mouton heard the concerns of her Ward 4 neighbors and constituents, she asked the Beaumont City Council to place a work session on the agenda. It takes two council members to get an item on the agenda, and At-large Councilwoman Gethrel “Get” Williams-Wright joined Mouton in making the request. A workshop was held at the council meeting April 19 to discuss the possibility of installing sidewalks in the city, with Fourth Street and Fannett Road in the spotlight.

At the meeting, City Manager Kyle Hayes addressed the topic of sidewalks, beginning the workshop with a slide show of streets and explaining the difference between asphalt overlays and full reconstruction of streets, the first being street repairs and the second being the complete tear down and rebuilding of streets and related drainage on a roadway.

Displaying a photo of Folsom Drive, Hayes pointed to the lack of sidewalks along the roadway there.

“This was put in approximately 15 years ago, and you can see that there are no sidewalks,” Hayes began. “At this time, we really wish we had sidewalks because we just completed the second hike-and-bike trail, and unless you put your bike in the back or if you want to venture out onto Folsom – I wouldn’t recommend it with all the traffic. But again, it was put in 15 years ago without sidewalks.

“Then, we changed our practice with the City Council’s participation. Approximately 12 years ago when we put in Delaware Extension, the city paid for that extension, and we put in sidewalks on both sides. People walk, run and bike there every day. It’s very nice.”

Hayes said city policy dictates the city install sidewalks when doing a complete reconstruction of a road, but not when making simple repairs, such as the asphalt overlay on Fourth Street.

“Seventh Street was a total reconstruction,” Hayes related. “Same thing on Calder.”

Hayes said on those streets sidewalks were installed, and on Calder the city went one step further, also creating bike lanes since there was plenty of right-of-way.

Hayes said total reconstruction of Washington Boulevard is currently underway, and there would be sidewalks installed there. However, no sidewalks had been planned at Fourth Street.

 “Fourth Street … should be a priority,” said Wright, pointing out the original plans the city made for the street did entail total reconstruction but was later scaled down to asphalt overlay due to budgetary constraints. “I would like to see the sidewalks for safety reasons, as a priority.”

Wright said she feels sidewalks should be placed around schools, and in areas where there is a high population of elderly or disabled individuals, like French Road where Rodney Dencklau and his wife Anniessia reside. Both use wheelchairs for mobility, and Dencklau has approached council numerous times to request the installation of sidewalks and to let them know he does not feel safe traveling down the street to and from his home.

“The road is curvy, and there is nowhere for me to go to get out of the way of a speeding car,” Dencklau told The Examiner. “There are no sidewalks, just ditches. I have to use the roadway, but if a car comes flying around the corner, I could get hit. I almost have several times.”

At the April 19 council meeting, Hayes said installing a sidewalk on one side of Fourth Street would cost the city an estimated $87,000. Installing sidewalks along Fannett Road from Ozen High to the Johns Library would cost the city close to $320,000.

At-large Councilman W.L. Pate asked, “Are there any other areas that would be of concern as far as sidewalks?”

Mayor Becky Ames responded, “A lot.”

Hayes agreed, and got a bit more specific.

“We’d venture to say 90 percent of the city doesn’t have sidewalks, or more,” he estimated. “Most areas do not have sidewalks, and that goes back decades.”

Wright said she believes the expense of installing sidewalks in key areas is worth the safety benefits, adding that Beaumont has a “healthy fund balance” of about $25 million. “I would think $100,000 coming out for a sidewalk wouldn’t be that much of a burden.

“If you go out there and see those kids when it’s raining, like it is now, when school lets out, they’re walking through that grass and their legs are all wet, or trying to walk on Fannett or Fourth and the cars are passing. This is a priority, a safety priority as far as I’m concerned. … I’m asking the council to support this on Fourth Street. I understand that we need sidewalks all over town, but this area is long overdue.”

Mayor Pro Tem Mike Getz said he feels West Brook High School had been overlooked in the sidewalk discussion.

“I live on Phelan, and every morning there’s a parade of students walking right in front of my house on their way to West Brook High School,” Getz related. “And every afternoon there’s a parade of students walking back in front of my house back to their homes. They’re not waking on sidewalks, and there’s no bicycle trail on Phelan. They have to walk on the grass. … We should also consider having sidewalks on Phelan for the safety of the students.”

“The staff and the administration very much agree that we ought to put in sidewalks anywhere we can,” Hayes told the council. “The issue, though, is it’s not budgeted for. It’s the first time it’s come up, in the last couple of weeks. So the issue is, if you want to move forward, how do we pay for it? Staff would agree we probably should have a sidewalk program different than what we have right now. … You have to plan for it.

“Sidewalks around schools probably is the highest priority.”

Mouton said that although West Brook is larger, its students have better surfaces upon which to walk to and from school than Ozen students and that prioritizing among schools would be another step in the planning process.

“Anything we do, we have to fund it somehow,” Mouton said. “It’s to a point on Fannett Road that there is a visible trail from the street where you can see that children are walking through the grass to get to and from school. So anything we do has to be funded; we just have to find a way to fund it for the safety of our children.”

Ward 3 Councilman Audwin Samuel said he agrees with Mouton’s point, and has seen children walking through fields near Ozen High to try to get to Sarah Street and make their way home.

“We need to move forward in making sure that our children are safe, so those schools that are affected should be addressed,” Samuel challenged. “Two council members came forward about roads leading to and from (Ozen). That is a need that we all recognize.

“Now, we can be proactive and do it because we know it’s needed, or we can be reactive and wait until someone’s killed or something happens. So, that’s the decision we have to make.”

“We all want sidewalks,” Hayes added. “How do we move forward? That’s the key question for the council.”

“I ask that we look at all the schools and see what we’re talking about,” Ames suggested. “How much? What are we looking at in dollars and lengths in the areas that would be most beneficial? … We will look at it as a council and prioritize those … and make sure there’s equality there in all areas.”

“So what we’re doing, we will be now looking toward establishing a sidewalk program throughout the city primarily focused toward schools, but at this time we are not doing anything for the concerns that were brought by council members?” Samuel queried, expressing concern about the period of inaction such a move would necessitate.

“I would hope we can do it fairly rapidly,” Ames shot back. “This subject has had a lot of interest, and rightfully so. … I would like for us to look at it as rapidly as possible.”

Council agreed the sidewalk program should be put in place in the city, with schools as the top priority, and said it would take time and planning to move forward to action.

Paths to nowhere

During the workshop, Ames said she hears a lot of questions about sidewalks leading to nowhere that apparently end abruptly, leaving walkers little option but to use the grass or whatever surface to which the path leads them.

Ames said that she hopes, eventually, the gaps between the sidewalks will be bridged.

“I’d just like to make note that that’s the ordinance that the council put in place recently, where a developer, if they develop either a neighborhood or even a commercial development, they’re required to pay for those sidewalks that are put in. So, sometimes if you see a newer development, and (the sidewalk) ends, that’s because the next (developer) is going to have to take that over. The city’s not paying for those – and also in housing developments.”

Hayes said the goal of the ordinance is to have the sidewalks connect as more developers move in and build along the arterial roadways.

Ames said in other areas, the state is responsible for the gaps in sidewalks.

According to her, “A lot of people think the city of Beaumont installed those sidewalks (along Highway 69). We did not. That was the state of Texas, and a lot of those sidewalks do not connect.”