Thursday, February 11, 2010

No Walk To The Park: The Soldotna Community Playground

What’s not to like about the Soldotna Community Playground? A group of moms saw a need in the area, so they got together and are making something good happen. Inspired by the custom playground in Seward, some local parents contacted the private enterprise that sold that playground equipment in Seward and several other locations around the state (and nation) and began to raise the needed funding to begin construction. The community has generously responded and ground breaking is scheduled to begin this May.

The location seems ideal. Soldotna Creek Park has become a showcase for our town, especially after the DOT exchanged the land adjacent to the old park for their present location adjacent to ARC Lake. The expanded park now offers boardwalk fishing, hosts the Kenai River Festival, weekly farmers’ markets, and will be the site of the Kenai Watershed Forum’s headquarters. A new park plan is in the works and it will feature a gazebo, a veterans’ memorial, a (not nearly as big as the first revision) parking lot and some needed landscaping.

But what is not included is access across the highway for the kids who might want to go play in the soon-to-be very cool playground. There is no crosswalk and no traffic light, nor is there a ramp over or tunnel under the Sterling. The closest protected crossing is either by the Y or on Binkley St.

Just about all of the kids in town live on the other side of the highway, don't they?

Do you think that the new kiddie park might attract the attention of those 7-12 year-olds, some who are just learning to ride their bikes, who probably have not yet developed sane unprotected-highway crossing skills. While Soldotna Creek Park already gets unsupervised youngsters, the number of those free-range kids will undoubtedly increase.

Soldotna has been lucky that no child (to my knowledge) has been hit by a car or truck while crossing the Sterling or Spur Highways, but the odds of that happening will increase as we offer an attraction that makes them dodge our crazy summer traffic. To not have a safe highway crossing plan in place the day the new playground opens up is simply flirting with disaster.

The residential area of our town is very friendly to bicyclists and pedestrians. One of the goals of the city-sponsored Envision Soldotna 2030 is to promote walking and bike riding – it’s a good idea for everyone’s health, for relieving traffic congestion, and for making the city more livable. For kids, having parks where they can safely walk or bike to gives them some fun, freedom and exercise. It gets them out of the house and out from underfoot.

The only way to get to the proposed playground safely will require that someone drive the kids there – completely contrary to SOLdotna’s grand development plan.

Not every parent has the time or means to get their kids there when the youngster might have some time to play. And isn’t it a better idea that when the parents do have the time to take the kids to the park, that the family walks or bikes there together?

It’s hard to believe that the planning department, parks and rec, and the playground group asked themselves the basic question: Where is the best place for this new playground? While Soldotna Creek Park might be the most aesthetic, it isn’t the most practical and without a controlled crossing, it isn’t the safest.

Wouldn’t a central Soldotna location be a better choice? Why not close Park Ave between Binkley and Fireweed to traffic, remove the blacktop, and put the playground there? It would be less than a mile from most every home in the residential area, there would be no unprotected major roads to cross, kids from both Soldotna ad Redoubt Elementary could take mini-field trips with their classes and the residents of the nearby senior housing could watch the great-grand kids romp around.

Of course, there’s no guarantee that a car, no matter where the playground is located, won’t clip some boy or girl, but I don’t like the odds of that happening if the playground is installed at SCP without some sort of traffic control at Birch Ave.


anon. said...

and the time to be speaking out is several months after all the pre-planning phases have come and gone ?

the time to boast of your so-called wise foresight is after any call for public input has expired ?

If you're going to do anything other than beat on your own breast you're going to have to acquire a sense of when it is you should be pro-active.

Posing rhetorical what if scenarios long after the call for public input have come and gone is little more than an attempt to drum up applause for oneself where none is deserved.

See if you can't get out in front of the issues,

anyone can claim hindsight, and no one deserves praise for hindsight when they didn't generate and act on foresight.

Dale Bagley said...

A crossing at Birch st and the Sterling Hwy is 2nd on our priority list and will soon be number 1. Unfortunately a traffic light can cost around 1.2 million dollars these days. At our last meeting we introduced an ordinance to appropiate $150,000 towards this crossing. The more money that a municipality puts toward a DOT project the higher it will rank on the STIP list. Also both Peggy Mullen and a Larry Semmens have been doing some research and it looks like some of the "crossover conduits" may already be buried under the highway which could save money and speed up the project. The Council is very concerned about this issue. Here is a link referencing that $150,000 ordinance.

Souldotna said...

This morning, I inadvertently hit delete rather than publish for the following comment:

Hire Intelligence has left a new comment on your post "No Walk To The Park:

Pointing out an obvious concern is timeless. There will be a tragedy with kids going to the park, playground or not. When the personal injury lawyers get done with the city and state for lack of singage, cross walks and warnings, then the required safety devices will be installed.

Souldotna said...

Dale - Thanks for the update and glad that the council is moving forward with a light on Birch. Hopefully, it won't take the 5 years that the flashing light at Redoubt El took to become reality.

And Anon - if you've been paying attention, lots of folks have raised this concern over the years (check out the planning commission minutes from as far back as Nov 12, 2006). The choice of Soldotna Creek Park for the playground was the result of juggernaut, rather than logic. As with most issues, it is off the radar of most folks. It's not too late to tweak a not-yet-built project.

And look - I do publish your comments when there is some substance. I still had to wade through a a bit of vitriol to find it though. But there it was: Safety be damned - Stay the Course!

You don't really believe that do you?

Could it be that your posturing is simply a bit of anger directed at me because I don't publish your comments that only spew anger and your own aggrandized importance?

Now, remember: play nice. The purpose of debate is to exchange and examine ideas with the hope of making things better.

Robert Ruffner said...

Hey Dale,

I didn't know that folks were thinking about an underpass. I think it is a great idea, in fact I was helping clean up a minor spill that happened after a wreck at Thompson Corner yesterday and after it was mopped up I was looking for a spot to do this.

With all the fish passage projects we undertake, a people passage project sure seems like a good idea to me. I don't know what utilities you'd have to go under and insulate for, but I'm sure its all doable. What I was looking for was enough ground for ramping down to the walking grade. Its easy on the park side, not so much on the City side, but again I think its doable.

Dale Bagley said...

Hi Robert
Sorry for the confusion. The "crossover conduits" have to do with the wiring that needs to go under the road. It is what makes doing a street light so expensive. I don't believe an underpass is being talked about. It is an interesting idea but I don't think it is used when the ground is completely flat. That would certainly make for some challenges, especially in winter time.

I saw all the traffic backup up near Birch and was wondering what was going on.

eliminatehypocrisy said...

Has a pedestrian bridge over the street been considered? An underpass also seems like it could be a good idea. I'd be worried about kids crossing that road even with a light and crosswalk.

Robert Ruffner said...

The draft Envision Soldotna 2030 neighborhood section has a goal (3g) of providing for grade separated connection between the park and the Northern Side of the Sterling Hwy. The graphic they've included is an overpass.

I agree that drainage issues for an underpass would be a challenge.

Jim said...

I believe there were many who commented to the council that Farnsworth Park would have been a better choice for the Playground equipment.
You must remember that the council that approved the kiddie park is no longer the council of today. Maybe today's council can be convinced to make it right as they did with the cemetery.
And on the tunnel, can anyone spell FLOOD?

Rene Azzara said...

Placing a children's park next to a raging river isn't the sanest idea. We are lucky that we have never lost a child to a highway incident or due to them slipping away from their parent's sight and ending up in the Kenai. Access to the river should be fenced off and a latch placed high enough that little one's can't open it and dash. Something to think about.

Rene Azzara said...

Safe access over the highway is just one of the hazards of this park. Has anyone stopped to consider that unrestricted access to a raging river might be just as hazardous as the highway? A child can easily slip away from a parent and end up near the water's edge in a moment. Higher usage will result in greater risk.

cheraheath said...

I know its a bit late to chime in on the subject but the concern about this park brings up some concerns I have with parks in general. In no way am I saying that a cross walk of some sort is needed. More to the point of children falling into the river...are you kidding me? There would need to be a major neglect of parental or supervision duties for a child to navigate out of the facility travel through the woods and out to the river. If a child could do this with your back turned for just a moment I would see this as a problem. But as it stands, you would need to disregard the welfare of your child for a period long enough for them to traverse this expanse. This would also be enough time for them to walk into any street in any park I have seen in the area, choke on something with irreparable brain damage, fall off equipment, etc. I constantly see children with a lack of supervision (and I don't mean 6-10 year olds)at parks in this area and am appalled by parents off in the distance while their 2 year old climbs 15 feet in the air. It is difficult and nerve racking to go to parks with unsupervised children its all I can do sometimes to not yell out WHO'S CHILD IS THIS? yes, this stuff is designed for kids, but its not kid proof. Its a playground, not a padded room. Keep an eye on your kids and they won't need to sue the city when they let their 3 year old walk out of the ONE entrance to an otherwise fenced in area to walk through a parking lot, woods, down an embankment, across a boardwalk and fall into the river. Don't make it sound like an inevitable "accident" that you can't keep an eye on your kids.
Sorry if this sounds heated, but its a big topic for me.

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