The first comment of the night came from the youngest community member present.
David Wiles, a student at Walker Upper Elementary School, walks a block to school every day and is concerned about his route.
“When I go across the intersection between Rose Hill and Del Mar, there is no crosswalk so I have to wait until all the cars go by,” Wiles said. “When I walk to school I would just feel safer if there was a crosswalk there.”
Unfortunately, Wiles’ situation is not easily remedied. Because no sidewalk exists on the Del Mar Drive side of that intersection, the city cannot install a crosswalk.
Steve Ivory, a resident of Rose Hill, agreed with the student and was concerned about children getting off the bus on Sixth Street in the Ridge Street neighborhood.
“There is no sidewalk that runs the entire length of the street,” Ivory said. “Kids getting off the bus walk in the street because there is nowhere else to walk.”
Councilor Kathy Galvin acknowledged that the lack of sidewalks is a city-wide concern.
“We are hearing this pretty much at every town hall,” Galvin said.
Similar discussions arose at town hall meetings in the Fry’s Spring and Woolen Mills neighborhoods earlier this year. At the Woolen Mills meeting, one resident had gone so far as to prepare a presentation for council with pictures of specific gaps in the sidewalks there.
The council has taken the initiative recently to provide some additional funding for sidewalk building. Councilor Kristin Szakos told the audience that $100,000 had been added to the sidewalk budget last year.
Jim Tolbert, the city’s director of Neighborhood Development Services, said in an interview that all that can be done to build necessary sidewalks is happening with the funding from the budget. In 2011, his department compiled a list of 25 approved sidewalk construction projects to be completed by 2016.
Tolbert says he anticipates seeing those projects finished as early as next year, including portions of First Street Southeast, Meadowbrook Heights and Shamrock Road. He said residents are increasingly demanding sidewalks in their neighborhoods in response to growing traffic.
“Where years ago it was safe to walk on those streets before without a sidewalk, the same streets now are not safe,” Tolbert said.
Once the current list of projects is completed, Neighborhood Development Services staff will decide on the next sites to prioritize. Those future sites are identified first by proximity to schools, by increasing access to transit stops, and next by increasing access to employment.