A good head start is considered a boon to any project, so how about a 3-1/2-year jump on the reconstruction of West Essex Avenue, between Kirkwood and Geyer roads?

The Kirkwood Department of Public Services conducted an open house on the West Essex project Nov. 13. The meeting was well-attended, mostly by residents of the street coming to see what was being planned for the road and sidewalks outside their homes.

Impetus for the project is the poor condition of the pavement on Essex Avenue, city officials said. Upgrades are included because a study by GBA consulting engineers found that parking on West Essex was light enough to permit the use of some right-of-way to upgrade sidewalks and to introduce landscaped islands and a protected bicycle lane.

Because the city is hoping for federal funding, the timeline for the project includes extended sidesteps for funding approvals (2019), design approvals (2020) and right-of-way acquisition (2021) before construction begins in the spring of 2022.

What those attending the open house saw was a neatly organized presentation of four alternative reconstruction plans, two with variants (making a total of six).

Attendees agreed principally on two things: 1) It was a very well-presented event; 2) they didn’t want to see a bicycle lane raised above the grade of the roadway, or separated from it by a cement curb.

Reasons varied, but the conclusion was clear: No separated bike lane.

“It’s probably because of the impacts,” said City Engineer Ted Dunkmann. “With any option that has parking and a bike lane, it forces us to move the sidewalk to the edge of the right-of-way.

“There are several properties along here that have fences or private retaining walls actually located on the right-of-way that would have to be removed,” he added. “Also, trees that are in close proximity in back of the right-of-way would have to be moved. So it’s more impactful.”

Option 3 would definitely impact Lesli Moylan’s property at the corner of West Essex and North Clay Avenue. It would slice a piece off the northwest corner to ease a dogleg and improve the sidewalk on North Clay.

Moylan said she is willing to part with the ground, so long as it would improve bicycle safety for her 12-year-old son, Jack.

She, nevertheless, did not vote for Option 3. Nor did Jack, who deliberated carefully before selecting Option 2 and inducing his mother to do the same.

Viewers voted with small, round colored stickers – green for approval, yellow for a second choice and red for disapproval. The chart with Option 2, with 10-foot lanes for auto traffic, and a 5-foot bike lane separated from the roadway by 2-foot painted stripe, was a clear winner. It was dotted with ten or more green stickers and a scattering of yellow, with no red dots spoiling the image.

The clear loser was Option 3, with 11-foot travel lanes for cars and a 5-foot bike lane protected by a cement curb. Like all of the options, No. 3 included 5-foot sidewalks on both sides of the street. The protected bike lane seemed to polarize the attendees with a few apparent bicyclists attaching green dots to the chart and about three times that number peppering the board with red stickers. No one applied a yellow sticker.

The curbed bike path made Option 3 and its variant the most expensive choices of the four, at just over $2 million. The other three options, and the variant for Option 1, ranged from $1.3 to $1.5 million.