The first snowfall of this season was beautiful, but biking to work across the Ogden River Parkway, over the footbridge, and up the dead end road formerly known as Madison Avenue, I discovered the way was blocked by broken branches and fallen saplings.
I've been biking and hiking this route since 1988 and it looks like I'm going to have to pack my pruning saw, once again, if the road is to remain clear.
This right-of-way is frequented mostly by kids going to and from school, dog-walkers, transients, wanna-be gang-bangers, and people like myself who choose not to drive. Our goal is to get across town, north and south-bound, against the least amount of traffic. The only possible pedestrian passage between Washington and Monroe is the street in question. Whether or not it is to remain open is my concern.
Gold Star Drive, main drag of the Ogden City Cemetery, is what this one block stretch of broken asphalt leads up to. An earth berm at the end of the street blocks automobile traffic. Against all efforts of the city to deny access, pedestrians and bikers keep forging paths through, as I have reported previously. ("Gold Star Drive is not a dead end," Standard-Examiner guest commentary, May 15, 2011, and "Trail is a short walk to stadium," (Letter to the editor, July 8, 2011).
Thanks to the adjacent Ogden City Green Waste facility, a pair of mulberry trees are growing sideways, succumbing to a landslide of compost. What we have is a one-block, inner-city wilderness, thick with greenery, providing shelter for birds and critters.
A friend of mine grew up in this neighborhood and is willing to testify that, as a girl, she and her friends used to go sledding down this hill all the way to the river. Nowadays, any kids who dared try such a stunt would find their way blocked by grocery carts, garbage, broken glass, and fallen trees.
Instead of limiting access, why doesn't Ogden city turn this end of Madison Avenue into a public greenway? Citizens could walk to the parkway and to Pioneer Stadium, alleviating traffic and parking problems during special events.
I believe that people will choose to walk if there is a safe and practical route. Thanks to the series of candidate debates sponsored this summer by the Ogden Ethics Project, I had a rare opportunity to bring my issue directly to the candidates.
On a warm August evening, in a debate in Browning Auditorium at Union Station, eight city council candidates were arrayed across the stage. About a hundred citizens, some with children, sat on folding chairs. The sun was setting, lending a golden hue to the tableau. It looked like something by Norman Rockwell. There was the rythmnic thunder of an approaching Front Runner easing into the station, and then its slow-moving shadow cast through slatted blinds.
Dan Schroeder, director of the Ogden Ethics Project, led the candidates through a series of prepared questions. There was general consensus that the streetcar project was dead. What to do with the monies generated by the quarter cent sales tax for transit was hotly debated. Though intended to support "alternative transit," all the money is currently going to road projects.
That's when it ocurred to me: could the quarter-cent sales tax be used to build a city-wide greenway system?
Volunteers were circulating around the room, distributing paper and pencils so that members of the audience could write their own questions. The paper with my note on it was relayed to Dan Schroeder at the speaker's platform and he popped the question: "Would you support the creation of an Ogden Greenway System?"
There was consternation among the candidates. "What's a greenway?," one of the candidates said to the fellow next to him. Several candidates asked to have the question repeated.
Schroeder carefully repeated my simple question. The condidates spoke among themselves, trying to understand what the heck this was about.
I stood up, identified myself, and said, "A greenway is, basically, just a safe route through the city for people who don't drive."
You could almost see lights turning on over their heads as comprehension dawned.
Landon Halverson spoke first, saying, "It's a great idea. It should be included in our long range plan, but now is not the time to start new projects."
Richard Hyer said, "I saw one of those in Florida and it was a great draw, very popular."
Amy Wicks said, "It could be included in our long range plan."
Jennifer Neil said that she would want to see a specific plan before deciding anything.
None of the other candidates were in favor of a greenway system, with Jon White speaking most vehemently against it. "We already have a greenway," he said. "It's called a sidewalk and it goes right through town along Washington Boulevard."
After the debate, I spoke with City Council member Caitlin Gochnour, who encouraged me to continue my quest. "It should be included in the Recreation Master Plan," she said. "Your timing is perfect."
I asked Dan Schroeder for advice about how to proceed. Schroeder suggested that I start small. Focus on a pilot project, be specific as possible, and present it to the city council.
My greenway goal was to connect the most amount of city parks with the least amount of traffic disruption. Biking around town, I developed a route connecting four city parks, the library, the Municipal building, the Jefferson Historic Dictrict, the new hotel being built at the Ogden Junction, and the river parkway. I called it Greenway No. 1.
I'm a writer, not an engineer, so the two-page proposal and hand-colored map that I submitted to the city council on September 20 was probably unordodox, but they can't clain that they hadn't been warned. I had spoken with several of them beforehand and I had e-mailed my proposal to all council members and to the Ogden City Planning Department.
"You could start the greenway right here, at the Municipal Gardens," I said, addressing the council. "The greenway would cross 26th Street at Kiesel Avenue. There's very little traffic on that street. Why not let people use the street instead of cars?"
Greenway #1 continues south for one block, turns right on 27th Street, and proceeds to Grant Avenue. Turn left on Grant Avenue, walk half a block, and you're at the Marshall White Center.
Here's how I explained it in my proposal:
When possible, the greenway should parallel existing parks, extending their boundaries. Some sections of the greenway may go down the middle of the street, some sections may be nothing more than a well-demarcated "bike lane," preferably with a green canopy.
Three minutes later, we were scooting down Gold Star Drive, heading toward Sally's old sledding hill and the river parkway. My time was up and the city recorder proceeded to ask each of the coucil members if they had any questions or comments.
The council members were gobstopped, struck dumb. Never have I seen so many politicians refuse a chance to speak. There were no comments or questions, and there being no further business, the meeting was adjourned.
I haven't heard a word from them since, or from the Planning Department, or the Planning Commission, leaving me to wonder: is Ogden ready for a greenway system? And if such a plan were submitted to the city council, would they do anything about it?
Sawatzki lives in Ogden.