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Thread: Why are people so angry over having to put in sidewalks?

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    Cyburbian stroskey's avatar
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    Why are people so angry over having to put in sidewalks?

    It seems no matter who or what is being constructed or renovated, contractors, owners, and everyone involved in a building project objects to sidewalks being built. It feels like despite all of our regulations regarding storm water runoff, fire codes, etc. sidewalks get the most backlash. I've had people build in a neighboring town because they didn't require sidewalks (the owners didn't realize fuel costs in the long run were a lot more), and I've had people threaten anything they could so they don't have to put in sidewalks. Why the aversion, and are your communities like this? We had one man at a public meeting even say, "We don't need sidewalks. People walk in the street."
    I burned down the church to atone for my transgressions.

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    Cyburbian Raf's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by stroskey View post
    It seems no matter who or what is being constructed or renovated, contractors, owners, and everyone involved in a building project objects to sidewalks being built. It feels like despite all of our regulations regarding storm water runoff, fire codes, etc. sidewalks get the most backlash. I've had people build in a neighboring town because they didn't require sidewalks (the owners didn't realize fuel costs in the long run were a lot more), and I've had people threaten anything they could so they don't have to put in sidewalks. Why the aversion, and are your communities like this? We had one man at a public meeting even say, "We don't need sidewalks. People walk in the street."

    Umm no. Complete opposite, everyone wants sidewalks. Period. California has passed a complete streets act. So with that said, more urban areas that lack sidewalks are clamoring to get them.
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    Cyburbian stroskey's avatar
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    This is not for new construction - this is for old buildings and lots being rehabbed or redeveloped. Who pays for all these new sidewalks in CA?
    I burned down the church to atone for my transgressions.

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    Cyburbian otterpop's avatar
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    We encounter this resistance too. Sidewalks in the county are not common. We usually only require them if there is connectivity with an adjacent subdivision or a trail system. Developers consider sidewalks to be an unneeded expense. They say that Inside the subdivision those people who do walk will walk in the street anyway.

    In town, we have a mishmash of sidewalks and no sidewalks. As you would expect, the older parts of towns have sidewalks separated from the street by mature trees. People squawk mostly about being expected to maintain the space between the sidewalk and the street. In the parts of town that are not so old but not so new (like where I live), you have some sidewalks but mostly not. There is a sidewalk across the street from my house that runs for two blocks. People mostly walk in the street. The new new parts of town generally have sidewalks.

    I wouldn't mind a sidewalk on my property, especially if the city would foot the bill for tearing out those damn juniper hedges the previous owner planted and I hate. Those hedges have two of my son's baseballs and passing cars seem to enjoy tossing their empty soda and beer cans in them. Though I did find a perfectly good skateboard in them once and I gave it to my son (saving me some money).
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    OH....IO Hink's avatar
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    Sidewalks, bike paths, pretty much anything that costs money. Around here even our citizens like to get up in arms about who the sidewalks bring into their neighborhoods....

    We have been much more proactive in pushing sidewalks in the last 2-3 years. It is having an effect. I find that sidewalks are like the band Journey. Everyone says they don't like them, but once they are around them more... they start to understand the value. Then people have to have them and don't remember life without them.
    A common mistake people make when trying to design something completely foolproof is to underestimate the ingenuity of complete fools. -Douglas Adams

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    Cyburbian Raf's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by stroskey View post
    This is not for new construction - this is for old buildings and lots being rehabbed or redeveloped. Who pays for all these new sidewalks in CA?
    We have utilized CDBG funds to pay for new sidewalks under the whole "ADA" compitability thing for existing neighborhoods. We also have a City wide Transportation Impact Fee that is coupled with our Capital Improvement Plan to fund sidewalk construction in various parts of the City.
    follow me on the twitter @rcplans

  7. #7
    Cyburbian
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    I am wondering how big the lots are in these areas without sidewalks? And are they truly semi-rural areas where people do walk in the street (or not at all)?

    I do know in some really small towns in Colorado, people really do walk in the street and would see installing sidewalks as a burden (plus they would become buckled over time with freezing and thawing and poor maintenance). Made me wonder if an alternative standard (such as a sufficient shoulder, perhaps with narrowing lanes) might be more palatable.

    When I worked in a larger city (pop 60,000) where most developments were on "smaller" lots (perhaps 6,500 sq. ft), most people did indeed seem to want and expect sidewalks, especially families with kids. People even wanted bicycle trails. We thankfully did not have the culture of asking "who will be walking on these sidewalks"! This is not to say standards were not needed. I did observe that where the developer chose 4' attached sidewalks with roll-over curbs, people still walked in the street to be able to walk side by side. We only required detached walks on collector streets and larger.

    On the other hand, if these developments are in the neither urban nor rural category (I'm thinking of 50s and 60s ranch houses on full 1/4 to 1/2 acre lots), it seems a tough call - I can imagine an aversion to sidewalks and if traffic is low, people really do use the street. On the other hand, there may be destinations that they need to connect to. Perhaps its a context-sensitive question?

    For retrofit, I have seen some cities use annual levies, perhaps with the city footing half the bill and the property owners being able to pay the cost of a sidewalk over 5 or 10 years ...

  8. #8
    Cyburbian ColoGI's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Hink View post
    I find that sidewalks are like the band Journey. Everyone says they don't like them, but once they are around them more... they start to understand the value. Then people have to have them and don't remember life without them.
    Don't stop believin'!

    Nonetheless, one place I worked hated them as it was rural and city folk want sidewalks. Another place required them and it was expected to have a sidewalk and no one was angry. So it depends.
    -------
    Give a man a gun, and he can rob a bank. Give a man a bank, and he can rob the world.

  9. #9
    Pardon me for getting academic here....

    This is another example how shared cultural values shape the built environment. Some places strongly resist sidewalks, others consider them as essential. It's all related to how people mentally decide what their ideal environment includes or should not include.

    There are lots of other examples such as who rides public transit, whether children should live in apartments, etc.

  10. #10
    Cyburbia Administrator Dan's avatar
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    In the community where I work, sidewalks are very rare. There's no opposition to them; in fact, it's quite the opposite. The problem is street standards that were written for a rural community in mind; not the suburb that the community has evolved into. Most new streets, even in denser residential areas, have rural profiles; open swales, no curbs, no sidewalks.

    There's a lot of support for increased pedestrian connectivity, but the idea of sidewalks never crosses anyone's mind when I talk about it. Instead, they picture a network of windy nature trails, like what might be found in a 1970s-era planned community. I'm struggling to get them to connect the idea of pedestrian connectivity and complete streets with sidewalks that line all streets, rather than just a trail system that would be far more difficult to build and provide less functionality. It's almost as if the entire concept of sidewalks has been forgotten, or that sidewalks are something on the very cutting edge of street design. Maybe the desire for trails is related to the "shared cultural values" Gotta mentions.

    Model stormwater design guidelines from New York State actually discourage sidewalks on both sides of residential streets, because they add impervious surface area that could increase the rate and amount of runoff.

    Clarence, New York, a suburb of Buffalo, actually bans sidewalks in residential areas, because they detract from "rural character". Here's an example of some Clarence-style rural character.

    For some reason, in looking at suburban areas throughout North America on Google Streetview, sidewalks are rarer in Canada than the United States; not something I'd expect to see.
    Growth for growth's sake is the ideology of the cancer cell. -- Edward Abbey

  11. #11
    Cyburbian rcgplanner's avatar
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    My fair city will be requiring sidewalks for all new development under our ULDC. We are also requiring variance credits for variances over a certain amount, one of the credits is constructing a sidewalk. We have been pretty aggressive using CDBG funds to build sidewalks especially in our more economically distressed parts of town. This being Texas and it being 90 plus degrees 6 months of the year we have gotten some backlash, i.e. nobody walks, so why waste $ building sidewalks. It will be interesting to see how much backlash we get once our ULDC goes into effect next year.

  12. #12
    Cyburbian ColoGI's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Dan View post
    Most new streets, even in denser residential areas, have rural profiles; open swales, no curbs, no sidewalks.

    There's a lot of support for increased pedestrian connectivity, ...

    Model stormwater design guidelines from New York State actually discourage sidewalks on both sides of residential streets, because they add impervious surface area that could increase the rate and amount of runoff.

    ...For some reason, in looking at suburban areas throughout North America on Google Streetview, sidewalks are rarer in Canada than the United States; not something I'd expect to see.
    There is a lot to be said for swales for stormwater. If only we could make the streets safer for peds, we'd have a connected non-motorized transportation network. If only...
    -------
    Give a man a gun, and he can rob a bank. Give a man a bank, and he can rob the world.

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    Cyburbian DetroitPlanner's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by CPSURaf View post
    Umm no. Complete opposite, everyone wants sidewalks. Period. California has passed a complete streets act. So with that said, more urban areas that lack sidewalks are clamoring to get them.
    In Huntington Beach CA you see a patchwork of sidewalks. In many older areas where there has been no redevelopment there are no sidewalks. These areas are typically very close to the CBD, while in newer development and in the CBD there are sidewalks. You would think the opposite would be true.

    In my region we have a suburb that is geographically isolated because it is on an island. This island has been very progressive when it comes to bike paths as a way of getting folks off of the main roadways. However, when it received a Safe Routes to Schools grant, a very vocal minority was able to screw things up being that "only poor kids walk to school!", and "we dont want to attract 'those' people!" I guess geographically isolated areas attract people that want to be isolated but not out in the sticks!

    We too have a complete streets mandate. It is currently being shaped and it is an interesting process.
    We hope for better things; it will arise from the ashes - Fr Gabriel Richard 1805

  14. #14
    Cyburbian hilldweller's avatar
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    Sidewalks can be expensive to build in areas with curb and gutter drainage systemts. In a lot of communities developers are expected to provide sidewalks in connection with their development projects, which they often do not regard as worthwhile ("nobody is going to walk here"). It's another expense they didn't account for in their pro-formas, viewed as another exaction from the town/city on top of open space requirements, impact fees/mitigation, design regulations, etc., which all cut into their bottom line. These are the usual reasons why developers squak about sidewalks, necessity and cost.

  15. #15
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by stroskey View post
    It seems no matter who or what is being constructed or renovated, contractors, owners, and everyone involved in a building project objects to sidewalks being built. It feels like despite all of our regulations regarding storm water runoff, fire codes, etc. sidewalks get the most backlash. I've had people build in a neighboring town because they didn't require sidewalks (the owners didn't realize fuel costs in the long run were a lot more), and I've had people threaten anything they could so they don't have to put in sidewalks. Why the aversion, and are your communities like this? We had one man at a public meeting even say, "We don't need sidewalks. People walk in the street."
    Good question. Some people in some neighborhoods do walk in the street, and if the primary reason for a sidewalk is to separate from traffic they may be unnecessary in these areas (because presumably people wouldn't walk in the street if they couldn't). Sometimes developers request waivers because the sidewalk would literally go to nowhere as adjoining properties don't have sidewalks. there should be a waiver standard for sidewalks. Developers don't like them because they add nothing to their ROI and also add to the type of stormwater treatment they have to do, while simultaneously cutting into the space which they have to do it in. Generally, sidewalks are a context-sensitive requirement, and the planning board will usually want them unless it makes no sense. But the answer to your question directly is: cost.

  16. #16
    Cyburbian WSU MUP Student's avatar
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    I don't work for a city/town or for a developer so my experience is purely as a resident... One extremely affluent local community, Bloomfield Hills (MI), has no sidewalks, except for one small strip along the side of a large private school connecting some of its buildings and a church, and has opted out of the regional bus system. The city is only 5 square miles and is surrounded by other affluent communities (Birmingham and Bloomfield Township). In the past, there was always an aversion to requiring sidewalks in the small commercial area or along the main strip through the community, Woodward Avenue, and resistance to joining the transit system because it would bring those people to town.

    Neighboring Birmingham has sidewalks throughout and Bloomfield Township, which is largely residential, passed a plan a few years back to slowly begin adding sidewalks and trails to the vast majority of its streets. Some of the first new sidewalks and trails that the Township installed were along its side of the roads that make up its boundary with Bloomfield Hills. The sidewalks seem to be very well used throughout the year. In the past few years, Bloomfield Hills has seemed to put in a bit more effort at attracting commercial and retail development in its little downtown area. They have been able to attract a few nice developments as well as some redevelopments of existing properties but still do not require sidewalks. Pouring over planning commission and city council minutes for this year and last year however, I notice that the issue of sidewalks seems to be being brought up much more frequently and in a very favorable manner. It seems that residents, businesses, and the local politicians are all becoming more interested in bringing sidewalks to the main street through town and the main cross street in the downtown area. Residents are now even expressing a desire to add sidewalks to the residential areas which is interesting since most of the houses are large lot development on parcels greater than an acre.

    I think a number of factors has brought about this change in opinion in a traditionally car-centric community. First, the residents in Bloomfield Hills are generally older than those in most communities and the generational turnover of younger families moving in with children has begun (in earnest compared to other areas of course) and these younger residents want to be outside and walk places, even if it is just to get fresh air. Second, the city sees the activity in the vibrant downtown in neighboring Birmingham and wants to attract more commercial and retail activity of their own and realizes that they may need to offer similar amenities (i.e. sidewalks) in order to compete. Third, maybe they have seen that there was no massive uptick in crime in neighboring Bloomfield Township when they began installing their sidewalks? I don't expect sidewalks to come to Bloomfield Hills this year, but from what I have seen, it looks like they are going to take a serious look at the costs and available funding sources for adding sidewalks through the city along Woodward Avenue and maybe it will happen sooner rather than later.

    Long story short... opinions change and I think a lot of it is generational.
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  17. #17
    Cyburbian
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    The context is very important. In some locations sidewalks are warranted and desirable, and in others they are not. I grew up in a village where there were no sidewalks on most of the local streets. Everyone drove like they expected to find people walking (and kids playing) on the streets. About 20 years ago they put a new sewer and water pipes so they took the opportunity to rebuild all the local streets to “modern” standards, including cutting down most of the 50 to 100 year old street trees that gave the village its character to fit the sidewalks in. The result is people now drive much faster on the local streets and kids can no longer play there safely. This didn’t occur to me as being a problem until I started to research “Shared Streets” a few years ago and realized that I had grown up on a shared street. Everything comes full circle.

  18. #18
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by Howl View post
    The context is very important. In some locations sidewalks are warranted and desirable, and in others they are not. I grew up in a village where there were no sidewalks on most of the local streets. Everyone drove like they expected to find people walking (and kids playing) on the streets. About 20 years ago they put a new sewer and water pipes so they took the opportunity to rebuild all the local streets to “modern” standards, including cutting down most of the 50 to 100 year old street trees that gave the village its character to fit the sidewalks in. The result is people now drive much faster on the local streets and kids can no longer play there safely. This didn’t occur to me as being a problem until I started to research “Shared Streets” a few years ago and realized that I had grown up on a shared street. Everything comes full circle.
    A lot of what I've read in favor of shared streets/shared spaces doesn't take into account one major concept: mixing pedestrians with vehicles is inherrently dangerous.

  19. #19
    Cyburbian Plus Zoning Goddess's avatar
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    Two issues I've seen here in FL:

    If it's a new development, the developer doesn't want to foot the bill (and in some cases, only has to build sidewalks on one side of the road it it's "affordable housing".)

    Then the much less likely case, where the sidewalks are on the homeowner's property and have to be built at the time of home construction: "Get the hell off my property!". Those are the ugly cases. People shoot.

  20. #20
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by Huck View post
    A lot of what I've read in favor of shared streets/shared spaces doesn't take into account one major concept: mixing pedestrians with vehicles is inherrently dangerous.
    Not if the cars are going slow enough. Almost every mall and plaza parking lot in the world is a shared space. Statistical evidence from Europe shows that pedestrians are safer in shared spaces than they are on separated sidewalks in many locations because traffic is moving at a much slower speed.

    http://www.redcross.org.uk/What-we-d.../Shared-spaces

  21. #21
    Cyburbian
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    Just to pile on, it really does depend on the neighborhood. In the Baltimore area, most blocks built before 1950, in suburbs and all but the smallest towns (especially main/commercial streets) as well as the City, have sidewalks on at least one side of the road, while later developments run the gamut. In Md I haven't actually heard about any big dustups over adding sidewalks, for either cost reasons or bigotry, but in Quarryville, PA (fairly compact, older small town) the borough (that's what PA calls actual small/medium towns, to distinguish from rural townships) has spent the last few years steadily adding sidewalks to streets that didn't have them, with a goal of having them on all streets, to big fuss. IIRC, the project was catalyzed by an ADA complaint from somebody, on top of intermittant resident requests to add sidewalks, but many residents balk at the costs being charged to the property owners. I think the charges are added to the property tax bill (the Lancaster County newspapers, the Intelligencer-New Era and Sunday News should still have articles in their 2011 archives) and property owners aren't happy paying for something many of them didn't ask for, and being expected to maintain them. The borough responded that the only alternative was to raise everyone's taxes to cover construction and maintenance costs--six of one, half a dozen of the other.

  22. #22
    Cyburbian
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    In most MD neighborhoods I've been in that have sidewalks on some streets but not all, the sidewalks are usually on main/commercial streets, arterials, and larger residential streets where traffic is already heavier and/or faster to begin with, where shared space never existed or ceased to be safe/feasible decades ago, and pedestrians really are safer on the sidewalk than in the street. Shared space mostly occurs on side streets and in very small-town or rural areas where traffic is light and slow. (Or used to be light and slow).

  23. #23
    Cyburbian imaplanner's avatar
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    I will share the sentiment that it depends on the neighborhood. I've worked in some jurisdictions that were quite walkable and had a cohesive community. In general those property owners and builders have been fine with putting in sidewalks. In areas where nobody walks anywhere, people are upset at the percieved taking of their property and the idea that someone might walk by their house.
    Children in the back seat can cause accidents - and vice versa.

  24. #24
    Cyburbian developmentguru's avatar
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    I just came across this post, but reassure you that you're not alone. In my area, during my tenure, we have made three concerted runs at an ordinance to require sidewalks for all new construction, and the local building community has lobbied the elected officials every time, soundly beating the initiative. Same with infill. Right now, street width determines if you need a sidewalk - solution? Build ridiculously-wide streets! Actual statements along the lines of the following have been made:
    • Since the popularization of refrigerated air, people don't walk outdoors;
    • Sidewalks increase crime by bringing delinquents to and through your yard, tempting them;
    • People walk with strollers and bicycle in the street all the time - it works just fine;
    • If you don't like it, drive;
    • This will kill development, driving out the developers who have lived here their whole lives, and will dissuade others from coming in;
    • If I have to mow the grass (in the portion of their yard which is in public right-of-way), then I should get to prevent others from crossing it;
    • My home insurance rates will skyrocket;
    • It's too hot, nobody will use them;
    • In response to desire trails - they should just take the bus.
    It's sad and unfortunate, and incredibly frustrating! I have read and heard about suits brought in areas because they did not provide adequate ADA accessibility, but hate that this approach might be the only way to get things done. One thing we did was to actually run the numbers - since the claims were made that these sidewalks in residential areas would make the prices of homes skyrocket - and our Engineering group was able to blow their claims out of the water by showing just how affordable they could be. But...still a no-go. Good luck to all encountering this issue!
    "In our profession, a plan that everyone dislikes for different reasons is a success. A plan everyone dislikes for the same reason is a failure. And a plan that everyone likes for the same reason is an act of God." - Richard Carson

  25. #25
    Cyburbian btrage's avatar
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    Anyone ever come across a residential alley that had sidewalk running along one side of it? If so, why would it be there?

    I have an alley that has sidewalk along one side, about the length of 4 lots. I'm talking about a typical dirt alley in an older neighborhood, not one of those new urbany type alleys.
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