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Neighborhood Walking Guide

  There are no sidewalks in my neighborhood or parts of sidewalks are missing.

At some point in the day, everybody is a pedestrian. No matter if it's when you walk the dog, walk from your car to a store or to work, or walk to a restaurant, you become a pedestrian. And it's the same for children when they walk to school, a friend's house, or to the school bus stop. When people walk, especially when they are children, they deserve to walk in the safest way possible, and for a multitude of reasons, that means having continuous sidewalks on both sides of the street.

The presence or absence of sidewalks, especially along streets, can influence a person's decision to walk from place to place or to walk for fun or exercise. If sidewalks don't exist along a street, people may be forced to walk in the street or along the shoulder, close to moving traffic. In these circumstances, moving traffic, especially with trucks or buses travelling at high speeds, is dangerous and intimidating and can scare pedestrians into their cars or homes.

Some neighborhoods have sidewalks that are not continuous: they exist in front of some buildings or homes but not in front of other buildings or homes. Areas with discontinuous sidewalks also discourage people from walking. For many pedestrians, it may be difficult or impossible to walk through the area where the sidewalk is missing since the path is blocked, muddy, or otherwise hard to walk on. People who are in wheelchairs or have vision impairments may find it impossible to walk under these conditions.

Having a sidewalk on only one side of the street is also highly problematic. All people, especially people with mobility impairments, need and deserve a sidewalk in front of their homes, at least to a safe crossing location, so that they do not have to cross the street unnecessarily. And for the same reason, people need the same sidewalk coverage at wherever they are going. In sum, the presence of continuous sidewalks in a neighborhood can significantly support people's ability to have access to their community.

Reasons sidewalks are important

Request sidewalks be installed in your neighborhood

Additional considerations
• Patience is a virtue
• Funding is limited
• Sidewalk design
• Build support within your neighborhood


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Reasons sidewalks are important
To make the case to install sidewalks in your neighborhood, you may need to convince your neighbors and town or city officials that sidewalks are important. Sidewalks are important for a multitude of reasons:
    • Sidewalks provide a safe and level walkway, especially during wet weather and for people using wheelchairs, the elderly, or people pushing a cart or stroller. For these people, it is particularly important that sidewalks have well-designed curb ramps and level driveway crossings.
    • Sidewalks provide safe places for children to walk, run, skate, ride their bikes, and play
    • Sidewalks significantly reduce pedestrian collisions with motor vehicles
    • Sidewalks improve the ability for people to get around by providing ways for them to get wherever they need to go: work, parks, schools, shopping areas, transit stops, and home
    • Sidewalks enhance the appearance of individual properties, neighborhoods, and the entire community
    • Sidewalks help protect property frontage from damage due to erosion and parking
    • Sidewalks provide a separation between motor vehicles and pedestrians
    • Sidewalks help keep pedestrians from walking across landscaping

Request sidewalks be installed in your neighborhood
Continuous sidewalks should exist along both sides of all streets in urban and suburban areas, and in most populated rural areas as well. They should be installed by developers when constructing new buildings or homes and by your town, city, county, or state agencies during roadway improvement projects.

Each town or city handles requests for sidewalk installation differently. Call your town or city and ask who you should talk to about installing a sidewalk. Additionally, you may be able to schedule a time to speak in front of your town or city council by, once again, calling your town or city. At the town or city council meeting, you should make a brief presentation about why you and your neighbors feel that a sidewalk is needed in your neighborhood. It is always a good idea to have a petition signed by several of your neighbors to show the need is widespread. Also, seek support from the local businesses, schools, and other community groups. There is strength in numbers.

To make your case as strong as possible, read below to familiarize yourself with important aspects other towns and cities consider when determining where to install a sidewalk. The council will probably take your request under recommendation and will study it further or will pass your request on to someone involved in your town or city's sidewalk installation program, if such a program exists.

The following programs exemplify some of the sidewalk installation programs that exist in cities throughout the nation and may exist in your community. If your town does not have a sidewalk installation program, approaching elected officials, being persistent, and showing that the sidewalk project would have widespread support is the best way to get sidewalks constructed in your neighborhood. You can also suggest that your town or city adopt or change their sidewalk installation program if you read through the following programs and think that a particular type of program could work well in your community.
City of Fairfax, Virginia (Population 21,498)
The City of Fairfax's Policy and Procedure for Residential New Concrete Sidewalk web site states that requests for sidewalks are taken prior to the development of each five-year Capital Improvements Program (CIP). Requests are solicited from civic associations and other interested groups and are compiled with staff recommendations, school board requests, suggestions by members of city council, citizen requests or petitions that were addressed in writing or presented orally to the city council, or other appropriate means. The city council then decides if requests should be adopted in the CIP based on:
- the volume of traffic and the number of pedestrians using the route;
- the relationship of the route to schools, public transportation, parks and other facilities;
- the use of the route by children or the elderly; and
- the facilitation of bicycle/trail routes.
Funding is provided entirely by the City.

Town of Chapel Hill, North Carolina (Population 48,715)
The Town of Chapel Hill holds an annual public forum to solicit requests for sidewalk installation. Participation in the forum is encouraged via advertisements in the local newspaper and invitations sent to a mailing list composed of people that have historically expressed interest in sidewalk installation and neighborhood walkability issues. Participants then compile a list of areas where sidewalks are absent that need further attention. A final assessment by the planning department then determines the priority for funding based on:
- traffic volumes and speeds;
- proximity to schools, transit stops, and other pedestrian generators; and
- existing facilities on the side of the street at issue, opposite the side at issue, and nearby (i.e. will the project fill a gap/missing link).
Since funding is provided by the Town, the size of the budget determines the number of projects funded.

Arlington County, Virginia (Population 189,453)
There are four options for getting a sidewalk installed in Arlington County, depending on the scale of the project and qualities of the neighborhood. None of the options come at the expense of the property owners. In most cases, more than half of affected property owners or residents in a given neighborhood must support the installation of sidewalks by signing a petition. The petition is then given to the County which determines the feasibility of the project and the project is completed in about a year or two's time.

City of Charlotte, North Carolina (Population 540,828)
The City of Charlotte usually appropriates about $4 million a year toward installing sidewalks, half of which usually occur in neighborhoods. This budget translates into about 6 to 10 projects per year. To determine which projects should be funded, the city considers a number of factors including:
- the Annual Average Weekday Traffic Volume on the street; connectivity (connection to an existing sidewalk or sidewalk network);
- the presence of a school, library, park, hospital, and/or transit nearby;
- if there's a worn path already present; the distance of sidewalk needed; the necessity of curb and gutter; drainage needs; obstructions in the right of way; and
- number of cars per household.
Once a project is proposed either by calling the city or submitting the request on-line, it is prioritized and funded when possible. Amazingly, there are currently over 700 projects on Charlotte's priority list. A speedier way to install sidewalks is to have property owners foot the bill. For this approach, 51% of affected property owners must request a sidewalk. If the city council approves the request, all property owners would cover the expense.

City of Phoenix, Arizona (Population 1,321,045)
The City of Phoenix's Sidewalk Installation Program web site states that interested property owners or citizen groups living in areas that were built a long time ago and are otherwise fully developed without sidewalks should submit written requests for sidewalk installation to the City's Local Paving and Drainage Section. Officials then prioritize each request based on how it scores with respect to the following factors:
- street type (collector, local, or other);
- available right-of-way;
- developed land use (residential, vacant, or other);
- existing obstructions;
- neighborhood revitalization; and
- access to schools, bus routes, parks, and other large traffic generators.
The top-rated projects in each Council District are recommended to the city council for funding each year. About three to five miles of sidewalk are constructed each year and the city covers the costs. For all new developments, sidewalks are required to be installed by the developer.

Additional Considerations
    Patience is a virtue
    People will appreciate the time and effort you're putting in to make your community a better, safer place to live. However, you will need to be patient as you work toward getting sidewalks installed in your community because town or city responses sometime take awhile to work their way through the system to review and rank your project, secure funding, project design, as the design and bidding phases. Additionally, you'll need to be considerate since you may need to meet and work with town or city officials and neighbors throughout the process.

    Funding is limited
    Sidewalk installation programs are generally limited by available funds. Depending on the topography, drainage needs, and necessity of purchasing additional space (i.e. right-of-way) to construct the sidewalk from property owners, some sidewalk installation projects may be quite expensive. Accordingly, the quantity of sidewalks that your community can install each year may be quite small. To augment available funds, some planning programs have found a variety of potential sources, both state and federal, which may be used to fund future sidewalk installation projects. The greater the amount of available funds, the greater the amount of sidewalk installation projects which the town or city can undertake. The National Transportation Enhancements Clearinghouse has a helpful web site for municipalities looking for funding options (http://www.enhancements.org). Additionally, some communities have formed improvement districts where residents have agreed to pay for sidewalk improvements over several years through a tax on the property owners who benefit from the improvement projects.

    Sidewalk design
    Not only will the existence of sidewalks increase the walkability of your community, but how the sidewalk is designed will also have a significant effect on encouraging people to walk in your community. Generally speaking, sidewalks that are separated from the street enhance the safety, the perception of safety, and the aesthetics of the walking environment from the perspective of the pedestrian, especially when the space between the roadway and the sidewalk is nicely landscaped. Though the right-of-way must be greater for the construction of non-abutting sidewalks, there are ways to minimize the right of way needed. For example, a lane for traffic can be eliminated or the lane widths can be reduced to provide more space for pedestrians and a landscaped buffer. Additionally, affected citizens are generally more supportive of sidewalks if they will enhance the walking environment of the area and result in greater property values.

    Build Support Within Your Neighborhood
    Your elected officials will be more willing and likely to support a sidewalk project that has wide support from the community. Instead of approaching elected officials alone, take others or take a petition from residents, school officials, and community and business leaders. Homeowners associations or a school PTO can often be a formidable and persuasive ally.
Occasionally, there may be some residents who oppose a sidewalk in front of their homes, sometimes for hard-to-understand reasons. Some may think the sidewalk may cause them to "lose" property in front of their homes, when it is often already public right-of-way. Some others may oppose a project if they think the project is proposed and sponsored by the town or city. Sometimes these people can be swayed if they are shown that support for the project comes from the neighborhood via a neighborhood association (instead of the town or city) or if there is a special plea from a nearby school principal or PTO representative. If these means are not effective, the town or city may have to enter the debate. If you need to contact the town or city, please try to apprise town or city officials of the situation and the context of the debate to the best of your ability.


Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center, 2004, Pedestrian Safety Guide and Countermeasure Selection System. http://www.walkinginfo.org/pedsafe

Sidewalk Installation Programs
   Arlington County, Virgina
   City of Charlotte, North Carolina
   City of Fairfax, Virginia
   City of Phoenix, Arizona

Population figures are from the Census 2000 http://www.census.gov

National Transportation Enhancements Clearinghouse, http://www.enhancements.org