The turning point came in 2009 when Lisa Klinkhammer’s daughter was almost hit by a car while riding her bike down a busy street in Lakewood’s sprawling Oakbrook neighborhood.
“We said, ‘Something’s got to change,’” Klinkhammer recalled last week.
Change has come slowly to Oakbrook, located in the vicinity of Western State Hospital and Fort Steilacoom Regional Park and nestled between two golf courses.
Its busy streets serve residents living in about 1,200 homes and condos. There are no sidewalks or bike lanes, evidence of the area’s development before Lakewood became a city in 1996.
After an effort to assess property owners to build sidewalks fizzled about three years ago, Klinkhammer and her Friends of Oakbrook group took matters into their own hands.
The group is raising money to beautify the neighborhood entrance at the corner of 87th Avenue Southwest and Onyx Drive, plus add a walkable shoulder along stretches of both streets.
Neighbors have raised $4,750 so far for materials, and local businesses are donating labor and equipment. The homeowner at the busy intersection is leasing his property for $1 a year to accommodate a new entrance sign.
“We’re really trying to get a renaissance going in our community,” Klinkhammer said.
The work by Friends of Oakbrook is an example of a neighborhood looking after itself at a time when the city’s budget is strapped.
Desiree Winkler, Lakewood’s transportation division manager, said there are simply more neighborhood needs around the city than tax revenue available to City Hall to pay for them.
“It would be nice if other portions of the community would do something similar,” Winkler said.
The high-traffic intersection at 87th and Onyx had been filled with weeds, and people often used it to park cars for sale or to get rid of junk.
“It was a dumping ground, said Chad Bickle, the owner of Green Tech Excavation who lives in Oakbrook and is contributing to the project.
The group approached the city about forming a local improvement district to pave the street and install sidewalks, curbs and street lights on Onyx and Zircon Drive, another busy street, as well as some internal streets.
Property owners along the affected streets would have paid $500 a year for 20 years, a tough sell when property values had diminished during the economic collapse. The proposal died.
But Friends of Oakbrook realized the status quo was dangerous in a neighborhood with many elderly and disabled people and families with small children. More than 7,000 cars drive through the intersection each day, Winkler said.
“Does it take someone to get hit and killed to make a difference?” Klinkhammer asked. “I’m not willing to wait.”
In May, the group began fundraising to beautify the entrance. A rock wall is up. Landscaping and an entrance sign are in the plans, thanks to donated labor, design work and equipment. Klinkhammer estimates the group needs to raise another $2,250 to pay for materials and finish that project.
Friends of Oakbrook has also started constructing a walkable shoulder along both Onyx and 87th using recycled asphalt. The last piece of the effort is to expand pathways to the Fort Steilacoom Golf Course and Oakbrook Park. Total estimated cost of this phase: $10,000 to $15,000.
The city waived the fee for the right-of-way permit so the group could install the improvements on the corner, which is partially public property.
Oakbrook resident Gary Brown said past efforts to clean things up never lasted.
“We’d rather have something that looks nice for the whole neighborhood, because nothing was happening there,” he said.
When a News Tribune reporter visited the corner Tuesday, one of Klinkhammer’s neighbors saw her and stopped to donate $100.
Earlier, Sandrine Sifrar and her 7-year-old daughter Lauren stopped on their bicycles to give $5.
Sifrar said she likes the neighborhood but is nervous about riding on the busy street. She was thrilled to learn that the project included a walkable and bikeable shoulder.
“I’ll feel more safe,” she said.
The words are music to Klinkhammer and her Friends of Oakbrook.
“Things can happen if you put things in motion,” she said. “But somebody has to stand up and take a leading role in it.”