A ruling was issued on Tuesday by Judge Henry Latham II, in Iowa District Court, concerning the lawsuit filed against the City of Riverdale by individuals and groups representing users of the Mississippi River Trail who were upset by the City Council’s decision to close and lock the gate between the multi-use trail and South Kensington Street in the Havens Acres neighborhood. The ruling denied the Plaintiffs’ request for a Summary Judgement that would have required the City to re-open the gate and allow for the passage of bikes, walkers and runners unabated and, at the same time, granted the City’s request for a Summary Judgement to allow the gate to remain locked and require trail users to remain on the trail as they circumnavigate the neighborhood.
The Plaintiffs’ request the City also pay for other, consequential damages and attorney’s fees were also denied.
“This seems like a reasonable outcome,” said Riverdale’s mayor, Mike Bawden. “And this is the way disputes like this should be worked out – in a court of law rather than in the court of public opinion. The City felt it had a right to act in a way that addressed the needs and concerns of its residents and the plaintiffs in this case felt they had a right to continue riding across City-owned property to make a convenient connection between the two, great multi-use trails in the Iowa Quad Cities.”
“Despite our efforts and offers to work with trail users to develop solutions, they made the decision that taking a more adversarial approach was preferred. I think it’s pretty clear we weren’t anywhere near agreement on how to move forward, so letting this work its way through the courts was probably the best solution.”
It’s not over … yet
The Mayor reminded people that even though the City’s position prevailed at this time, that does not necessarily mean the litigation is over.
“For some folks, this decision may seem like the end of the road – but the Plaintiffs in this case have options to consider. They’ve made it pretty clear in their social media postings that they want to look at other legal possibilities, so I urge our residents not to think this is over and, above all, don’t gloat.”
Mayor Bawden refused to speculate on what the Plaintiffs in the case may do next, but he did make note of the fact that the “problems” (both perceived and actual) arising from the Council’s decision to close and lock the gate at the end of South Kensington Street need to be addressed.
“I’ve already received messages from some of the more outspoken bike advocates threatening boycotts of Riverdale businesses and worse.” said the Mayor. “And while I think most of the rhetoric is just venting frustration, I think we need to realize that this situation has arisen out of concerns some trail users have about their safety when they’re using the MRT in Riverdale – and that’s an issue we need to continue working on as a city.”
The upcoming review and certification of the City’s proposed FY22 budget provides an immediate opportunity to show the City is serious about addressing some of those concerns. “We have two items in the FY22 budget that are related to some of the concerns raised by trail users and residents, alike,” he said. “I hope we’ll be able to adopt them into our FY22 project plan and get to work on them sooner rather than later.”
Those two projects include installing cameras on the traffic lights at the intersection of Bellingham Road and Hwy 67 (State Street) that will allow the lights to be triggered optically (when traffic approaches the intersection) rather than the current timer system. The system should also allow the City to capture the license plate numbers of vehicles that run the red light at the intersection so fines can be issued and evidence can be collected in the event of an accident.
The budget also provides an additional amount for re-painting the IADOT-approved bike crossing across Hwy 67 to make it more noticeable to vehicles using the street. “I’d hope we could work with an organization like Bi-State and the Quad City Bicycle Club” to improve the way the crossing is marked and directional signage along the trail as we make these improvements,” said Bawden.
A multi-jurisdictional solution is what’s needed
Mayor Bawden reiterated his intention of continuing to engage both the Iowa Department of Transportation and the City of Bettendorf in making improvements that address the safety, traffic and privacy concerns of both sides involved in the dispute. “Bettendorf is really a key to any long-term solution,” he said. “By working together, I hope we will be able to get the Iowa DOT to consider reducing the speed limit of State Street from 40 to 35 from downtown Bettendorf to the main gate entrance at Madison Street in Riverdale.”
“If we’re successful there and the Bettendorf Police Department enforces the speed limit, that could have a dramatic effect on the risks people face when they cross at Bellingham. Add to that the ability to identify vehicles that run the light at that intersection and a more visible crossing, and I think we’re off to a good start.”
The Mayor also pointed out that at some point he’s hopeful the City of Bettendorf will honor the commitment they made to turn the sidewalk running from the Duck Creek Bike Trail to the MRT at Bellingham (on the north side of State Street) into a full-sized, multi-use trail. That promise was memorialized nearly seven years ago but no further action has been taken by the Bettendorf City Council since. “I understand there may be some challenges to moving ahead on that commitment, but I’m not clear as to what those are,” Bawden said.