54th Street West sidewalk

Karsyn Cookman, 12, and her brother Walker, 9, play in the front drive of the family's home along 54th Street West on Monday. A new sidewalk is proposed along the family's property.

The city's requirement that sidewalks be installed in older subdivisions that were built or annexed into the city without sidewalks seems pretty straightforward; it improves pedestrian safety and increases neighborhood curb appeal.

In practice it's not that easy. 

"Not one of us is happy," said Kasey Cookman, a homeowner on 54th Street West.

Cookman and her six neighbors live on the edge of the Yellowstone Club Estates subdivision, where it butts up against 54th Street West. The neighborhood was built decades ago with the Yellowstone Country Club subdivision and, at the time, was part of the county, which didn't require new subdivisions to install sidewalks. In 2002, the subdivision was annexed into the city. 

54th Street West sidewalk

A sidewalk along 54th Street West and the Yellowstone Family Park ends at Bobby Jones Boulevard. 

Foot traffic and the number of vehicles traveling 54th has increased dramatically during the past few years. A park just to the north of the homes on 54th Street and Ben Steele Middle School, 2 miles to the south, has put more children on the road.

54th Street West sidewalk

Walker Cookman, 9, plays with the family's 3 1/2-week-old Labrador retriever puppies in the front yard of the family's home along 54th Street West on Monday. A new sidewalk is proposed along the family's property.

That traffic increase put the Yellowstone Club Estates section of 54th Street on the city's radar, City crews will install a sidewalk on the west side of 54th Street from Bobby Jones Boulevard down to Rimrock Road starting later this month. The sidewalk will cross the front yards of seven homes.  

"The whole thing is about having safe pedestrian facilities," said Debi Meling, city engineer for Billings. 

State law gives cities the power to place sidewalks wherever they see fit and allows them to do it without giving notification, Meling said. 

But that's not how Billings does it. Meling's office mailed letters to the homeowners in February, April and May, notifying them that the city planned to install the sidewalk and detailing how the process would work.

But that doesn't always make the news easier to swallow. 

Under the statute, the homeowner is required to pay for the section of the sidewalk that will go in front of the house. 

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"We have to pay for it," Cookman said.

For her lot, the section of sidewalk will cost her and her husband $4,700; the city gives property owners 12 years to pay it off. 

Adding to the frustration is the fact that the other side of 54th Street is a vacant field. The problem is it's owned by the county, placing it outside the city's jurisdiction.

Sidewalk on 54th

The new section of sidewalk will run along the residential area of 54th Street West. 

The sidewalk instead will go in on the west side of the street and extend 10 feet into the yards of the homes on 54th. City code requires a strip of boulevard between the road and the sidewalk, and so the first five feet of yard will become the boulevard and then the sidewalk itself will go in. 

Neither the sidewalk nor the boulevard will be on the homeowners property; the city owns 10 feet of right of way from the road's edge to the home's property line. For most homeowners that's the first 10 feet of their yard. 

Meling understands that it can be frustrating news to receive. The city installs sidewalks every summer in established neighborhoods. 

"After we talk to people, most people are generally accepting," Meling said. 

For its sidewalk project, the city prioritizes streets that are arterials, school routes or see heavy pedestrian use. 

Most of the work ends up being in areas that were once part of the county. But not all of them were county developments. 

"Some developers asked for and were granted waivers by the City Council to not install sidewalks in new subdivisions," said Nicole Cromwell, zoning coordinator for the city and county. 

In the county, there's still no requirement for sidewalks in new subdivisions, she said. However the county does have a few exceptions. 

"A few years ago, the county did adopt what are called the suburban street design standards that do require paved roads and sidewalks in new areas that are zoned in the county," Cromwell said. "Subdivisions in the agricultural zone districts are not required to place or put in sidewalks."

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