Jan 252011

Lacking sidewalks, pedestrians risk safety by walking in the roadway

It can be frustrating at times to hear the promotion of public transit and you look around and see uncovered and generally down-trodden bus stops everywhere.  The temperature here in Southern California can often reach into the 100’s.   A little bit of shade can go a long way towards encouraging more interest in public transit.

A similar concept can be applied towards the presence or lack of presence of sidewalk infrastructure.  Promoting walkable communities and the many health and economic benefits of walking is fine, but there needs to be adequate infrastructure in place to back up the talk and (pardon the pun) “walk-the-walk.”  Adequate infrastructure for walkable communities starts with adequate sidewalk coverage.  (Note- City planning and design are crucial as well and entire topics unto themselves.  This discussion focuses on improving upon existing community designs).

Below are some common reasons why a community may be lacking sidewalk infrastructure:

  • City ordinance requires sidewalk on only one side of the street
  • Development of adjacent property hasn’t occurred yet
  • Lack of sufficient public right-of-way
  • Lack of funds
  • There’s no clear idea of how much sidewalk is missing
  • There’s no clear plan of how best to prioritize and install missing segments

A good starting point is to perform a network-level assessment for sidewalk presence using a geographical information system (GIS).  Mapping out sidewalk infrastructure is an invaluable tool that can be used for analysis and planning, as well as for presentations to management and the public.

Defining what an agency considers acceptable sidewalk material is also an important factor.  Some agencies might only consider concrete sidewalks of a certain width to be acceptable, while others might accept sidewalks made of asphalt concrete (AC) or community trails made of decomposed granite materials.

Analysis of sidewalk presence and developing a cost plan for installation are the next steps.  Using a GIS allows agencies to analyze and prioritize missing sidewalk segments more efficiently and objectively.  Layer(s) that contain the location of schools, senior centers, public transit stations, malls, etc. are highly useful in this process.  Parcel layer data can also be valuable in sorting out private property/public right-of-way issues.  a methodical plan for sidewalk installation can be spread out over a certain period of time based on availability of funds.

Gone are the days of the “We don’t want to know what’s wrong because then we have to fix it” attitude, where nothing ends up getting fixed until somebody gets hurt and a lawsuit is filed.  It is not reasonable to expect an agency to fix all of their missing sidewalks in one swoop.  Conversely, simply ignoring the problem carries it’s own price tag in the form of lawsuits and lost business revenues.

A logical solution is for agencies to take a proactive approach in dealing with their missing sidewalk infrastructure.  Such an approach should include assessment, analysis, planning, installation tracking, and public outreach.

Next topic(s): ADA pedestrian ramps, trip/fall hazards…