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Archive for April 12th, 2008|Daily archive page

CEMAR Trail still a ways off; spectacular bike bridges in future trail plans

In City Hall, Downtown District, Marion on April 12, 2008 at 9:47 pm

It was worth asking the question when local bicyclists took to busy First Avenue East at rush hour a week ago to make the point that the city needs to make more accommodations for those on two wheels.

The question: Just what is the status of the CEMAR Trail, the strip of paved trail that will run from the popular Cedar River Trail at Cedar Lake near downtown to the south side of Marion?  After all, when built, most bicyclists are apt to take the CEMAR, not busy First Avenue East.

Rob Davis, the city’s engineering manager, reports that the city now has $870,800 in hand in state and federal grant money to help build Phase 1 of the CEMAR project; $150,000 for Phase 2; and is seeking $3 million in state trail funds for  Phase 3.

The total cost of the project is about $5 million.

No construction is expected on the project this construction season, but look for design of Phase 1 this year.

Phase 1 takes the trail from Shaver Road NE at Cedar Lake to 20th Street NE and comes, Davis says, with at least two difficulties:

 One, the trail passes long-established neighborhoods, so a lot of residents will want to see just how the trail affects them. A trail out front of the house may have homeowners wondering if they are going to run over bicyclists as those in vehicles back out of driveways. And a trail in backyards could invade some privacy. Phase 1, Davis notes, doesn’t pick up along an old railroad right of way until it gets to 16th Street NE.

“If you’re going through an urban area, it’s going to be a challenge,” Davis says. At the same time, it’s a great opportunity, he adds, because so many people live along the trail route and are apt to use it. Close by will be both Coe College and Mount Mercy College.

A second difficulty of Phase 1, Davis says, is getting the CEMAR over railroad tracks and then under Interstate 380 at the trail’s start near Cedar Lake before it begins its journey toward Marion.

He says Phase 2 of the trail, which takes the trail up to 29th Street NE, is the easiest phase, but Phase 3 is tough because it has the task of getting over First Avenue East.

One concept now being studied is to build a pedestrian/bicycle bridge over First Avenue East at 31 Street NE/SE before the trail then heads to Marion.

Davis notes that a major improvement is coming to First Avenue East, too, and one idea for that might include a boulevard-like, landscaped center median. One advantage of such a median would be that it could hold the necessary pillars to support a bridge to get the CEMAR over First Avenue East.

Davis this week talked about the new mentality being used these days when building streets and roads in Cedar Rapids, Iowa and nationwide. He called the approach “the complete street,” an approach that takes into consideration all users. You don’t build or improve a street, he says, without thinking sidewalks and trails and trees and other amenities.

Davis points to major improvements now underway on Edgewood Road SW as a pair of viaducts now are being built to take the road over two sets of railroad tracks and Prairie Creek. Part of the improvements will include a new on-ramp to Highway 30 for those heading north and east, a ramp that by next year will prevent those heading south on Edgewood Road SW across Highway 30 from turning left to head east.

The new on-ramp also will come with a pedestrian/bicycle tunnel under it and a pedestrian/bicycle bridge over Highway 30 on the east side of Edgewood Road SW north to 37th Street SW, Davis says.

The bridge might be five years out, he says.

Doug Neumann, who heads up the Downtown District, was talking optimistically this week about the city’s chances of securing state funding this legislative session for the proposed, 7.5-mile RiverWalk project along the river through downtown.

Neumann notes that the southern end of the RiverWalk is apt to include a pedestrian/bicycle  bridge across the Cedar River from the Cedar River Trail to the city’s new urban fishery on the east side of the river. The fishery also will have a paved trail around it, which is being built this summer.


Forecast by national headhunter a little shaky: In-house O’Konek tops list of chief candidates

In City Hall, Police Department on April 12, 2008 at 3:19 am

City Hall turned to the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) in recent months for help in conducting a national search to find Cedar Rapids’ next police chief.

By then, PERF was no stranger to town: The Washington, D.C.-based consultant had spent considerable time at the Police Department over several months helping the department reorganize and modernize under the city’s new council/manager government.

As a result, it couldn’t be ignored at the end of January when two PERF representatives, one of whom had been at the department for months, told City Council members that the odds didn’t favor a current member of the Police Department becoming its next police chief.

No internal candidate would be discouraged from applying,  Drew Diamond, PERF director of training and technical assistance, said then.

But Diamond noted the next chief would need to be experienced in the police approach known as community-oriented policing, an approach the Cedar Rapids department had not been doing a very good job at in recent years.

At the same time, Rick Overman, a PERF consultant, said it was “not very often” that internal candidates became police chief in executive searches that PERF played a role in.

Flash ahead 10 weeks:

On Friday, the city’s Civil Service Commission announced the results of interviews and reviews of seven police chief candidates that PERF helped the city find.

The commission certified five of the seven candidates “qualified” to be police chief, and then the commission ranked the five.

Two of the five are the two internal candidates in the competition, Capt. Steve O’Konek, 46, and Capt. Bernie Walther, 47.

O’Konek was ranked first of the five.

Behind him in order are Kenneth Greg Graham, 46, deputy chief at the Ocala, Fla., Police Department; Jeff Hadley, 37, captain at the Fort Wayne, Ind., Police Department; Joseph D’Agostino, 49, captain at the Port St. Lucie, Fla., Police Department; and Walther.

Those left off the certified list were Randy Bratton, 44, police chief in Paducah, Ky.; and Gary Maas, 57, former police chief in Littleton, Colo., and Sioux City, Iowa.

Jim Piersall, one of two Civil Service Commission members who participated in the seven-member interview panel, said Friday that the rankings were based on the interviews, resumes and written answers to questions. Only five of the seven were considered “qualified to be police chief in Cedar Rapids,” Piersall said.

On the interview panel were Piersall; Christine Landa, Civil Service Commission member; City Manager Jim Prosser; Fire Chief Steve Havlik; Conni Huber, human resources director; Mo Sheronick, assistant city attorney; and Bill Moulder, former Des Moines police chief.

Piersall said each of the seven on the interview panel scored each of the candidates, and he and Landa than complied the scores and ranked the candidates.

The list of five qualified candidates now has been handed to Prosser, who picks the next chief with the approval of the City Council. Prosser and the council can pick anyone on the certified list.

Prosser has said he will conduct a second round of interviews with an unspecified number of the certified candidates.

Late Friday afternoon, Prosser said it would be a few days before he made any decisions about those on the certified list.

“I really want to take a look at it, and we’ll go from there,” he said. “… But we have to move on it quickly.”

He repeated Friday that he would like to hire a new chief by early May and have him on the job by early June.

 He called the Civil Service Commission’s interview process “thorough.” “I appreciate their guidance,” Prosser said.

 O’Konek and Walther both are district patrol commanders. O’Konek joined the department in 1985, Walther in 1981.

 The new chief will replace Mike Klappholz, who retired March 7 after a 9-year run as chief.

One of the candidate interviewers, Mo Sheronick, noted to the candidates that Cedar Rapids had not hired a police chief from outside the Police Department since about 1975.

To see videotapes of the interviews of the police chief candidates, go to