Thanks in large part to outrage expressed by some members of the biking community on social media, Riverdale has found itself, once again, in the media’s spotlight. This time, the controversy swirls around the City’s decision to erect a barrier fence along the Mississippi River Trail behind some homes on Wisteria Lane and across a city-owned lot with a cement path that connects the MRT to Kensington Street. By blocking this path with the fence, Riverdale effectively cuts off access to a public road that bikers and pedestrians can take between the MRT and the Duck Creek Bike Trail which terminates in VanGundy Park just a few blocks away.
Even though this has been a major subject of discussion at Council Meetings and Town Hall Meetings for the past two years, the snow fence erected while Kensington and Wisteria road resurfacing work caught many in the bike community by surprise. The City’s reluctance to remove the snow fence as the road project reaches its conclusion has pushed more outspoken members of the bike community well beyond surprise to indignation.
I’ve included some of the comments made by bike riders in this post so you can see what people are saying to me and about Riverdale during all of this. And while I’ve had to remind a few residents to tone down the rhetoric a time or two, Riverdale residents, by and large, are asking good questions and expressing their points of view fairly openly.
That includes a resident or two who don’t necessarily agree with the City’s decision and have made a point of calling that out on social media as well.
And that’s fine. Everyone is entitled to an opinion.
So here’s mine.
I, quite literally, don’t have a dog in this fight. I’m the mayor of Riverdale and a user of the MRT and DCBT. I’ve used the connector at Kensington and I’ve had a bike rider who wasn’t paying attention hit my car with his bike while I was waiting for him to pass over my driveway to get onto State Street (fortunately neither the biker nor my car were injured).
I have a lot of friends who bike on the trails. Some of them understand the frustration of the Riverdale residents most affected by the bike and pedestrian traffic using the connector trail to go up and down Kensington, some of my friends do not. But because they’re my friends, they’ve taken the time to reasonably and patiently explain their positions to me.
And, of course, I have lots and lots of friends in Riverdale. Several live right down there in the Havens Acres neighborhood and have had to deal with what all of them (to a person) say is a major inconvenience to the “quiet enjoyment” of their life in the neighborhood. I understand that. I used to live in the McClellan Heights neighborhood in Davenport and although the Bix 7 race was fun every year, dealing with the straggling joggers and walkers doing the “Bix at Six” training runs a month or two before the big race could be a real hassle.
So, it’s as mayor of Riverdale that I approach this problem. And as the mayor, it’s my job to be the point-guy to take the questions and to reach out to those affected most to see if we can work out a solution that will work for everyone in a way that reassures people the roads they travel are safe and that their property rights are being respected.
What that probably means is that NOBODY is going to be 100% satisfied with the solution that eventually results. So, now you’re warned.
I’m a person who tries to deal fairly and from a position of fact and knowledge. That’s a little unusual for someone who trades in emotion, humor and rhetoric for a living, but it’s who I am. And maybe because I work with words and with journalists, I really don’t like exaggerations made to make a point and I abhor intentional misstatements of truth. Those are shenanigans that decrease the power and potency of the person making the claims in my book … and there’s been plenty of that in this latest tempest.
What Do People Have Wrong?
There are incorrect, inaccurate and possibly intentionally misleading claims being made by some people in the bike community that don’t help their argument and undercut the offers to help made by leadership from community bike clubs who want to help us find a solution. One news report showed a member of the bike community say that Riverdale was not allowing people to ride on Kensington Street. “Any cyclists who are using the Mississippi River Trail can no longer use this public street,” said James McAdams to WQAD’s Bianca Reyes.
That’s not true. The streets in Riverdale are public thoroughfares and can be used by anyone. What Riverdale is restricting is access across city-owned property at the end of Kensington Street.
But this is just one of several incorrect portrayals of what’s really going on. I’ve also found references made by members of the bike community to Riverdale’s intention of cutting off or blocking the MRT. Again, that’s not true.
In fact, we want people to use the MRT. As it was originally designed. Ride in at 42nd Street and Duck Creek, peddle behind the Havens Acres neighborhood to Bellingham Road, cross State Street at the federally-approved bike crossing that’s there and then continue down the MRT back into Bettendorf.
But trail users want to be able to make a connection between the MRT and the DCBT and for them, the option of turning left at Brenny’s when they cross State Street isn’t a good option. Some – including the board of the Quad City Bike Club – feel the crossing at State Street isn’t safe.
That’s understandable. It’s common sense that going under a road is safer than going over a road. But to me, this is more about making a desperate argument to forestall the inevitable fence and gate that will be installed over the connector at Kensington Street than it is about safety.
In the nearly 2-1/2 years I’ve been mayor, I’ve received 0 complaints from bike riders or pedestrians about the safety of the Belligham/State Street intersection. During the same time, I’ve received over 400 calls from residents in Havens Acres complaining about bike and pedestrian traffic on Kensington. Recently, I was told that on a good day now, residents in the neighborhood are seeing between 500 and 1,000 people bike, walk or jog up and down Kensington Street.
And therein lies another problem.
Anecdotal claims are interesting, but not necessarily helpful. Is there a lot more bike and pedestrian traffic on Kensington when it’s a nice weekend day? I don’t doubt that. How much more? I don’t know.
I will tell you this, though, I’ve seen bike riders ride through a resident’s yard to get from the MRT to the street. I’ve seen the disrespect shown both directions. And I’ve seen glass and broken rock put on the connector between Kensington and the MRT.
And I’ve seen how the bike community talks about the residents of Riverdale on social media.
None of those things are helpful or acceptable.
So, What Do We Really Know?
Here is a message I sent to a resident who was “ashamed” of Riverdale’s decision. I understand her point. She says she worked with the residents who managed to bring the MRT into reality nearly ten years ago and she’s a frequent user of both bike paths and the connector between them on Kensington Street. But just as she’s questioned residents about the claims they’ve made associating neighborhood crime with the MRT, she makes similarly questionable claims of her own.
All I have to go on is what I’ve seen first-hand and the people I’ve spoken to, personally. These are the things I think are fairly certain about this situation:
1. There has been persistent trespassing by people using the trails:
• I’ve spoken to bike riders who have apologized for cutting through the city-owned lot before there was a cement connector path for about 3 years.
• The existence of the connector trail, itself, speaks to the persistent trespassing across the city-owned lot. I’ve spoken with our maintenance man, George Miller, who recalled being instructed on multiple occasions to re-seed and restore the goat path/cow trail the bikers and pedestrians had created on the city-owned lot. He said the City finally had Kenny Mahler just pave the path to cut down on the mud and debris being left in Kensington Street.
• I’ve seen photography of tire tracks across Mike Steen’s yard from the MRT to Kensington (or, possibly the other direction)
• I’ve personally witnessed a biker pedal across someone’s yard on Wisteria to make his way from the MRT to the city street.
2. There are not good records of the intentions or plan for the MRT or for the connector path in the City’s archives. According to what I’ve been told by previous mayors, there has been long-standing reluctance to document things because of the City’s history of litigation.
3. The QCTimes report on the original extension of the MRT in 2012 documented the Havens Acres neighborhood’s resistance to the path and their request for a fence to keep people from cutting through the city-owned lot at the end of Kensington.
4. That same article quoted the mayor at the time (Jack Franklin) saying he recommended the fence, but the City Council didn’t vote for it.
5. I personally witnessed previously-elected officials disparaging residents in the Havens Acres neighborhood as being poorer, unintelligent and not worth the effort when it came to dealing with this issue.
8. Home values in the neighborhood have not changed appreciably in the 8 years since the MRT was put in. In fact, the City’s assessed property values have not changed significantly in either direction since the total elimination of the state’s M&E tax in the early 2000s.
Where Do We Go From Here?
I will continue to meet with the Quad City Bike Club and other area bike clubs to make sure they understand that Riverdale will work with them to address the concerns of their members when they’re in our city. That’s an obligation of any elected representative and it’s the right thing to do. One of the first things we’ll be working on is improving and replacing signage for trail users so they have a better understanding of how to make the connection between the trails safely and efficiently.
I will also meet with Bi-State this week to discuss setting up a traffic study at the connector between the MRT and Kensington Street so we can get an accurate count of peak traffic volumes using the connector (and Kensington Street) between the two trails. This will be an inconvenience for residents in Havens Acres (again) for a period of time, but the data collected is really important.
The City has good relationships with both the City of Bettendorf and the Iowa DOT. If there is going to be any work performed on alternate connection routes, those parties need to be a part of the conversation. The north side of State Street (between Duck Creek and Brenny’s) is in Bettendorf and the sidewalk on the south side of State Street (between the Pancake House and Bellingham) is almost entirely within the Iowa DOT’s right of way for Hwy 67.
And here’s the thing, the very first question they’re going to ask is: “How many people are we talking about, anyway?” If we want to make sure something happens, we need hard numbers, not anecdotal claims that opposing sides will question whether they’re accurate or not.
I will continue to reach out to the businesses affected by this decision. There is an impact felt by both the Duck Creek Pancake House and My Place – and we need to be a constructive partner in helping find and develop a solution.
And finally, we need to realize that we have an obligation to work through this issue in its entirety. We can’t just build a fence and call it a day. We need to understand and respect the concerns raised by bikers and walkers on the MRT – and if there’s a way to help them feel safe making the connection between trails while they’re in Riverdale, we owe that to the community at-large. But, by the same token, I am responsible to the City and its residents to make sure our homeowners feel safe in their homes and to reduce or remove nuisances that make the “quiet enjoyment” of their neighborhood difficult.
Nobody is happy now. Nobody is likely to be happy once we’ve worked out a solution. But then again, maybe that’s how we know things were handled equitably?
More Comments from Unhappy Bikers
Here are some of the comments I’ve seen in the past day or two. There are new ones out on Facebook now, more misstatements and misinformation. Some of it, I’m sure, is unintentional (it’s not a particularly easy subject to research and understand if you don’t live here already). But a lot of it is just trying to wind people up.
So, spoiler warning, a lot of these comments say nasty things about Riverdale, Havens Acres residents and me. If that is likely to upset you, don’t waste your time reading them.