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Riverdale bike dispute goes to court
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Riverdale bike dispute goes to court

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An ongoing, sometimes-heated dispute between the cities of Bettendorf and Riverdale over a bike path connection escalated Monday, with a Bettendorf alderman saying he feels his city council, mayor and administration have been "disrepected" by Riverdale.

And in a related development, the Quad-Cities Bicycle Club and the Cornbelt Running Club filed a lawsuit Friday in Scott County District Court asking a judge to essentially force Riverdale to reopen the disputed bike path connection that it closed in June with a locked gate.

That means the long-standing dispute could be settled in court.

The issue is this: The Duck Creek Bike Path that snakes through Bettendorf actually ends in Riverdale by going under a bridge that carries State Street/U.S. 67 over the creek and continuing to a small park, or trailhead.

However, just to the south of the trailhead, running along the Mississippi River, is the Mississippi River Trail and when that opened in 2011, cyclists and runners began continuing from the trailhead onto Riverdale's Kensington Drive to the Mississippi trail. And, the reverse happened, too — cyclists already on the Mississippi trail used Kensington to get to the Duck Creek trail.

Neighborhood residents objected, saying they did not want cyclists and runners using the street to go through their neighborhood, called Havens Acres. The neighborhood contains some 37 households, or about 20% of Riverdale's population.

The issue has been battled about ever since, with cyclists saying that the only other ways to get between the two trails are unsafe because they involve crossing State Street/U.S. 67 and traveling within feet of the highway where the speed limit is 40 mph and large trucks are common.

In June, Riverdale decided it had had enough and put up a locked gate between the two sides of the fence along the Mississippi River Trail.

John Harrington, former president of the Quad-Cities Bicycle Club and spokesman for the lawsuit, said in an interview that closing the connection between the two trails "forces people to cross U.S. 67," and although the crossing at Bellingham Road has a stoplight, that doesn't mean it is safe.

He said he personally knew of instances in which people were "almost killed" by drivers not paying attention. "I have real, live examples of friends who have almost been hit."

Also, with COVID-19 and a big increase in families biking together, crossing the highway with children is just not a good idea. "I don't care how 'approved' it is," he said.

In August, Harrington said he asked the Riverdale City Council, on behalf of the bicycle club, the Cornbelt Running Club, Arconic and River Action Inc., to reconsider the closure of the connector sidewalk, but the council refused to consider it. (River Action is a Davenport nonprofit that promotes riverfront activity with trails.)

The two clubs have raised about $11,000 to pursue their lawsuit, drawing from their budgets, a GoFundMe page and an event called Tour de Gate, Harrington said.

Also since August, leaders of the two cities have met and correspondence has been exchanged, and the Riverdale city council had agreed at its Sept. 22 meeting to assemble an ad hoc group of stakeholders to try to come up with a solution and to put $25,000 in its 2021 budget for improvements or solutions that would be recommended by the group to address safety concerns, Mayor Mike Bawden said in an interview.

But with the lawsuit filing Friday, that is now on hold, he said.

Riverdale's attorney will file a response to the petition, but having the matter settled in court by an "independent body" may be best, Bawden said.

"We have two different views of this issue," he said. 

Meanwhile, Bettendorf Alderman Frank Baden, At Large, said at Monday's committee of the whole meeting of the city council that he feels the city has been "disrespected" and asked that a resolution ending Bettendorf's contracts with Riverdale for snow removal and engineering services be discussed at tonight's (Tuesday's) city council meeting so that there could be a "seven to zero vote" to terminate.

"Riverdale has done its utmost to ruin a very good relationship as far as I'm concerned," he said.

Bettendorf has provided snow and ice removal for Riverdale's 4.5 miles of existing streets and engineering inspections for streets being built in the new Woods Estates housing subdivision.

The resolution terminating the agreements was drafted after council members meeting in goal-setting sessions earlier this month said they felt that Bawden's Aug. 26 letter in response to Bettendorf City Administrator Decker Ploehn's Aug. 18 letter "were not productive and not responsive to the concerns that Bettendorf had raised," according to a staff report.

In his letter, Ploehn asked Riverdale to leave the connection open "until a safe alternative is considered and implemented." Ploehn also asked for a survey of users.

Termination of the snow removal and engineering services won't be a problem, Bawden said.

He praised the work Bettendorf has done — "those guys are awesome" — but said that the city will just hire someone else.

"I think it's unfortunate, but I understand the politics of it," he said. "City councils are going to do what city councils are going to do."

Bettendorf will continue to remove snow on Belmont Road, which is a shared street, and will continue with fire protection, Ploehn said.

Riverdale has a population of about 400, while Bettendorf has more than 30,000. That size difference can give Riverdale residents a feeling of getting pushed around by Bettendorf, Bawden said.

Residents of Havens Acres have opposed having a bike trail in their neighborhood since the Mississippi Riverfront Trail was first proposed in 2007 and once threatened legal action against the city, Bawden said.

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