Last month we covered the City of Bismarck’s so-called “demonstration project” known as the “ Pop-Up Pathway“. This temporary path was the result of a proposal to build a “Bismarck Central Pathway” from the downtown area to the Riverfront. It was available to the public from September 23rd to October 14th. And according to City Planner Will Hutchings its purpose was to gauge interest in making the pathway permanent.
One of the major concerns related to the Pop-Up Path was in relation to safety. The proposed pathway runs through an area with a high density of sex-offenders. That was illustrated by the following map provided to us by a reader, which identifies locations of registered offenders by the red and green markers:
In an unbelievably odd coincidence – just six days after our article was published here on The Minuteman – the Bismarck Tribune featured a man riding the Pop-Up Path on their front page. Only the man in the picture was none other than a registered sex-offender
This issue in relation to safety isn’t the only one that has been voiced about this proposed project. Others that live in the area have voiced concerns about building such a path next to the regular flow of vehicular traffic. If you didn’t have the opportunity to see the path, you can view diagrams of it here (go to pages 18-19). I’d say the concerns definitely have validity.
In a Letter to the Editor in the Bismarck Tribune last week, one Bismarck resident expressed their concerns this way:
“Check out Bismarck Memorial Highway. The promoters put the pop-up trail on the westbound driving lane, striped it, placed hay bales and orange cones to create a 6-foot trail. I was told the sidewalk by Zonta Park was too narrow. I measured it and it is also 6 feet.
“That makes the traffic lane too narrow. Cars usually travel 45 mph or even more there.I live there and we have not seen even one person on the trail. Walkers who live in the area do not walk in the street lane.” (Emphasis Added)
Aside from the concerns about the path itself, I’m fascinated by the fact that this resident mentions that they’d not seen “even one person on the trail”. This is quite a different story than the one being portrayed by the City of Bismarck in a recent video posted on their Facebook page devoted to the Pop-Up Path.
Not only does the video feature a number of city employees advocating for the path, but it has a representative from AARP – who donated the funds for the temporary path – and a number of bikers on the trail. But were these bikers indicative of the overall interest expressed from September 23rd to October 14th? Or is this a propaganda video?
A look at the official website for the Pop-Up Path shows a list of partners in the project. And what do many of these “Community Supporters” represent? Biking. So, were those in the video more representative of a local group of special interests attending an event than a community utilizing the temporary path in support of it becoming permanent one day?
One of the most ridiculous things I noticed on the path was this sign that had “Yes” on one side and “No” on the other.
With a marker provided, those utilizing the Pop-Up Path could put a tally mark to show their support one way or the other. Please, let’s be honest here. Does anyone with anything more than a first grade education truly believe this is a legitimate way to gauge support– by putting tick marks on a giant posterboard? By the way, the above picture was taken at an activity advocating for the pathway.
Aside from the various aspects of safety concerns, there is also the issue of funding. Absolutely no plan has been put forth of how the path would be paid for. What kind of leadership does this show to a city that was reported to be $222 million in debt as of the end of last year?
Of course, according to City Administrator Keith Hunke, that’s “healthy” debt. Really? How “healthy” is that for the people of Bismarck who end up paying higher taxes? And I don’t think I have to remind you that with the Bakken Oil Boom over as we knew it, the entire state has taken a hit economically– though we’re still better off than the pre-boom era.
And even with all of this, I’m not done yet. Let’s take a look at City Commissioner, Josh Askvig. Not only does Mr. Askvig serve on the Bismarck City Commission, but in August of 2016, he started his new role as State Director for AARP— the nonprofit charity responsible for funding the temporary Pop-Up Path.
And get this– just ten days ago, Askvig wrote an op-ed criticizing MDU for its recently proposed rate increases. And while I understand his criticism, there’s one very interesting aspect of his article. In his criticism, Askvig acknowledges this:
“This increase would fall hardest on those with fixed incomes who cannot easily stretch to cover additional costs. I am especially concerned that when MDU started this process four years ago, the fixed rate charge was only $9 a month. Just two years ago it was doubled. This proposal hikes it to a whopping $22.58 a month. And in this latest rate increase, as with the previous ones, homeowners will shoulder most of it.” (Emphasis Added)
Now, how can Askvig – as State Director of the AARP – point out the burden of MDU doubling their monthly fixed rate charge on one hand, while advocating for a fluff project – like the path – that will cost the taxpayers money on the other?
In addition to this, I pointed out in the first article on the Pop-Up Path that it was Askvig who suggested the city maintain or increase current mill levy’s during a budget preview discussion back in August. A move that means higher property taxes for the resident’s of Bismarck. Yet, it’s not surprising considering that Askvig’s reasoning was to “address funding priorities”.
Then we have this little tid-bit of a information– Askvig likes to bike. A fact pointed out by the Bismarck Tribune in August 2016 and one you can see here in a picture from his Facebook page:
I’m led to wonder if the decision regarding the future of the path hasn’t already been made? Is a future vote just a mere formality? That’s the feeling that some people I’ve talked to have about this project. And if you listen closely at the end of the aforementioned video, City Planner Will Hutchings seemingly has a Freudian slip of sorts. While encouraging people to go to the website and provide feedback he said:
“… we want to make sure that what ultimately gets built– if it gets built – and that’s why we’re asking; we want to make sure that that’s exactly what our citizens want and desire.”
Please, don’t take my word for it. Watch the video and listen to how he says the above statement. It’s almost as if he catches himself and makes the correction mid-sentence.
I’m guessing that when all is said and done that what was sold to the public as a “demonstration” will be what it was intended to be all along… permanent. And it won’t be because it was such a popular idea with the taxpayers. It’ll be in spite of them.
1. https://www.theminutemanblog.com/single-post/2017/09/20/Bismarcks-Proposed-Path-Goes-Through-Dense-Area-of-Sex-Offenders 2. https://www.theminutemanblog.com/single-post/2017/09/26/Bismarck-Tribune-Unknowingly-Features-Sex-Offender-on-New-Pop-Up-Path 3. http://bismarcktribune.com/opinion/letters/pop-up-path-raises-concerns-on-safety/article_4232daaa-302a-5d38-9991-758639144c2e.html 4. http://bismarcktribune.com/news/state-and-regional/how-much-debt-do-north-dakota-s-biggest-cities-have/article_2bf1949f-7611-530f-a2df-6d975ed9ef1f.html 5. http://bismarcktribune.com/news/local/bismarck/askvig-steps-into-new-role-as-director-of-aarp-north/article_468f239c-f067-536e-a155-18d0f82715de.html 6. https://www.facebook.com/pg/popupbismarck/videos/?ref=page_internal