An avid trail runner, I travel by my own two feet whenever possible. Nine years ago, when my husband and I were deciding where to relocate within Austin, walkability was a primary concern. We settled on Cherrywood, an established neighborhood in central east Austin, where three different grocery stores, numerous parks, banks, the public library, schools, restaurants, and a variety of theaters are all within walking distance.
Much of that walking, however, takes place in the road. Sidewalks are few, and existing ones are often broken and quite narrow. Still, the ambiance is great, thanks to large trees and mature landscaping beautifying and shading the streets I amble.
This morning, John Eastman and Imad Salem strode purposefully down Lafayette Ave. Clad in neon yellow visibility vests, the two shepherded a group of Cherrywood neighbors from 32nd to 38 ½ Street; their mission, to explain the City of Austin’s upcoming sidewalk installation along Lafayette’s eastern curb.
10 Basic Facts Behind Cherrywood’s Sidewalk Project
Eastman works for the City of Austin’s Public Works Department. As the project manager, he’s in charge of the big picture issues. Salem is an engineer with MWM Design Group and will be the project’s lead field engineer. It’s Salem who will work closely with individual homeowners on just how that sidewalk installation impacts their property.
Prior to the tour, Eastman and Salem provided some background information:
- This is a Quarter Cent Funds project, designated by Austin’s City Council and limited in scope.
- The project terminates at 32nd , not Manor Rd., due to lack of funding.
- Construction will start around the beginning of October 2016 and continue for some three months.
- During this time, the construction crew will lay approximately 100 ft. of sidewalk and driveway a day.
- To accommodate mature landscaping, sidewalks will abut the curb (called “back of curb” construction).
- Lafayette Ave.’s east side was chosen because that location had less impact than the west side.
- To comply with Americans with Disabilities Act, sidewalk width will be 5 ft. (with some exclusions) and head clearance must be 80 inches.
- Water meters will be relocated but not updated (that’s another department’s purview).
- Almost every driveway will be reconstructed for approximately 10 ft. to blend with sidewalk and make ADA upgrades.
- Bumping the sidewalk into the road will protect mature trees and their root systems.
City of Austin, Neighbors Work Together to Improve Cherrywood
After discussing those basics, we moved down Lafayette, stopping to discuss particulars about each home within the project’s scope. It was a wonderful opportunity for those property owners to ask questions, though Eastman and Salem mentioned several times that they’d already spoken to various people.
Eastman explained that there’s not a definitive plan beyond the basic parameters. Why? Neighbors provide so much input into their particular situation that a set plan would be useless. The goal is to work the new sidewalk as seamlessly as possible into the existing landscaping. Areas where homeowners can affect project design are
- slopes (grade the area or build 6-inch retaining wall?);
- existing structures (making transitions to walkways, terraces, drains); and
- items in right of way (ROW) the homeowner wishes to relocate.
That last bullet point is the most complicated. The work crew automatically removes and disposes of materials, shrubs, plants, and trees (those that are not to be saved) within the ROW. This includes landscape gravel, dying trees, and mature agaves and wax leaf ligustrums. However, large plants can be dug up and set aside for the homeowner to replant. Small plants, such as beloved bulbs or rose bushes, need to be removed by the homeowner in advance. While the crew will scoop up landscape gravel to set aside, it would become mixed with dirt, so that’s best done by hand prior to construction.
It’s crucial, however, that homeowners make these individual wishes known to Salem, the project engineer, in advance.
While it’s possible to make adjustments as late as the day of construction, Salem emphasized he’s eager to talk with homeowners as soon as possible. Eastman also pointed out that items within the ROW constructed without required permits (walkway lighting, for example) will not be replaced, though irrigation systems will be moved and repaired. He also suggested replacing items, such as decorative posts, after sidewalk and driveway construction are completed, so that the homeowner can choose the best possible location.
How Will Sidewalk Work Happen?
The project starts at the beginning of October (they didn’t have an exact date), and work will progress from 32nd toward 38 ½ St. Eastman predicts they will get to a house every day or two, but there’s flexibility in that schedule. “If you’re having an event at your home, like, say, a wedding reception,” he explained, “we’re not going to tear up your driveway that day.”
Again, communication with Salem, the detail guy, is key.
Salem explained that individual property owners will be notified in advance of work, especially those with water meters in the ROW. In this case, the City sends a plumber to flush the lines and shut off the water before relocating the water meter, and homeowners will be without service for about an hour. He also explained that driveway work necessitates street parking; though the concrete sets very quickly, homeowners will need to allow 24 hours of drying before utilizing their driveways.
I watched and listened to Eastman and Salem thoughtfully address neighbors’ particular concerns as we promenaded along Lafayette Ave. My fears of losing curbside beauties—Those gorgeous crepe myrtles! The cluster of old oaks at 3303! The magical poppy garden and neighboring vine-covered fence!—were soothed.
Between the City’s careful lot-by-lot consideration and Cherrywood property owners input, this upcoming sidewalk project will do much to provide access, calm traffic, increase visibility at intersections, and make walking in this lovely central neighborhood corridor even more enjoyable.
Do you live on Lafayette Ave., between 32nd and 38 ½ St.?
I took notes over particular houses as we passed, so post your question in the “Leave a Reply” section below and I’ll relay what was discussed.
If you’d like to reach out to Eastman and Salem, their cards are in the following photograph. They’d be happy to hear from you.
And to read more about Cherrywood’s sidewalk project, click on these links: