New sidewalks: love them or hate them?

sidewalks.jpgIn Saturday’s Strib: Sidewalks? Too pedestrian for some: “In suburbs, sidewalks can divide. Some say they encroach on privacy. For others, they bring safety and a sense of connection.”

It’s the perfect time to discuss/argue about sidewalks because, as far as I know, they’re NOT on the City Council’s plate in a big way. However, I started thinking about them again because of the east Woodley St. proposed upgrade.

Retrofitting suburbs with sidewalks is generating debate in some cities around the metro. Aiming to create a safe place to walk and link neighborhoods with parks and shopping areas, some suburban officials are instead encountering resistant homeowners who view sidewalks as an encroachment on privacy and pristine lawns. The result? The installation of sidewalks has become one of the hardest things on some city officials’ to-do list.

I’m inclined to love sidewalks and I really wish Woodley had them during the 25+ years I’ve lived on or near the street. With 4 kids, it was always a big concern since the traffic on it is heavy and moves fast. But now that my kids are grown and gone, I’m violently opposed to new sidewalks. (kidding!)


  1. Dan Bergeson said:

    The Council has talked about sidewalks alot lately, mostly having to do with the upgrade to Lincoln Parkway as it runs past Greenvale Elementary and also on N. Linden Street. Practically every week in June and into the middle of July. Here’s one of the stories on the subject in the Northfield News:

    If sidewalks/bike paths are part of a residential development from the beginning, then there are very few detractors. It only makes sense. People use other modes of transportation to travel to and from their homes: they walk, they bike, they skateboard, etc. It’s when you want to add sidewalks after 10, 15 or 25 years of not having them that they generate controversy: they’re too expensive, they take up too much space, they’re ugly.

    August 21, 2007
  2. BruceWMorlan said:

    The “Not In My Front Yard” (NIMFY) attitude toward sidewalks (after the fact) is exactly why Dundas is going to embed them (and non-motorized trails too, I hope) in our neighborhoods. My main complaint is width. A usable sidewalk should let two couples, each walking and talking, pass each other in opposite directions without one or two of them having to step into the grass/mud. So a little 8 footer is just not up to the task. But, who wants 12 feet wide of impervious surface added to the road on each side? Oh, the conundrum we create when we try to serve all masters (healthy neighborhoods, healthy waters, happy houseowners).

    August 21, 2007
  3. Curt Benson said:

    Hold on Bruce. You call an 8′ sidewalk a “little 8 footer”? An 8′ sidewalk is more correctly called a “street”. A Hummer is 7′ 3″ wide.

    Have you made a recent investment in a concrete venture? (I call for the state auditor to investigate the Dundas Planning Commission.)

    August 21, 2007
  4. Yeah, I was a little confused about 8′ wide sidewalks comment, Bruce. Aren’t most residential sidewalks about 5′ – 6′ wide?

    August 21, 2007
  5. Curt Benson said:

    I admit it, I was obsessive enough to measure the nearest residential sidewalk, it was a mere four feet wide.

    August 21, 2007
  6. Rob Hardy said:

    Here’s the response as posted on my blog, which I invite you all to visit from time to time:

    We returned home from a year in England to find the infrastructure work on Fifth Street nearly completed, and a new sidewalk in front of our house to replace the cracked and buckling sidewalk that was there before. I like sidewalks, and I’m happy to have a new four-foot wide sidewalk in front of my house, even though it brings with it the obligation to keep it clear of ice and snow in the winter. For me, sidewalks are an indispensable part of living in a community. In her classic study of city life and urban design, The Life and Death of Great American Cities (1961), Jane Jacobs talks at length about the important functions of sidewalks in the life of a community. They provide safety, contact, and assimilation of children. Even more so than playgrounds and parks, they are places where the children of a community meet and play together and move under the eyes of large numbers of adults.

    Unfortunately, not everyone is as fond as I am of sidewalks. On the east end of Fifth Street, where there were no sidewalks before the infrastructure work began, some residents were opposed to having sidewalks installed. This opposition is common, especially in suburban neighborhoods, as a report in today’s Star Tribune suggests. Sidewalks are regarded as an invasion of privacy, as a blight on the cherished American suburban landscape of broad green lawns and houses tucked secretively behind their multi-car garages.

    It’s a shame that American communities tend to be designed more for automobiles than for children, more for privacy than for interaction. The secrecy of the sidewalk-less suburban cul-de-sac is preferred to the openness of the sidewalk-lined urban grid. Northfielders have recently expressed concern and alarm over heroin use in the high school. Many of our newer neighborhoods almost seem purpose-built for such furtive and antisocial behavior. It takes a village to raise a child—a village with sidewalks, where children circulate under the eyes of a large number of adults who come to take an interest in their behavior and their well-being. As Jacobs argues, sidewalks not only provide opportunities for “surveillance” of children’s behavior, they teach children to feel a sense of responsibility for their wider community.

    When we arrived in Northfield after more than a year’s absence on Wednesday night, we were met by the words WELCOME HOME in colorful chalk on the new sidewalk in front of our house. Neighbors came out onto the sidewalk to greet us. Before we even stepped into their privacy of our house, we had stepped back into our community.

    August 21, 2007
  7. Curt,

    That must be a pre-1950s sidewalk, or sidewalk course. In the 1950s, due to an outbreak of Really Wide Foot Disease (RWFD), municipalities decided to make the standard width of sidewalks 5 feet. I think people and sidewalks have been widening ever since.

    In fact, I blame our overly-permissive sidewalks for contemporary America’s obesity struggles.

    August 21, 2007
  8. Well, excuuuuse me for suggesting that the proper width is based not on tradition, but rather on need. Safe routes to schools suggests 5′ to 6′ widths, but they do that in an environment where they expect all traffic to be one way (to school in the AM, toward home in the PM). I base my “guesstimate” on what I’ve observed in Rochester, plus a desire to support walking (healthy communities). I expect the Dundas planning consultant to give the planning commission the best answer relative to our objectives. Then we’ll compromise down (if necessary and justified) during the PUD stages of any developments. And, like streets, we will use different widths for different routes (arterials, collectors, etc.).

    And Brendon, it ain’t our feet that are getting really wide …

    August 21, 2007
  9. Jim Haas said:

    Sidewalks are good. Walking is good. Walking in the street or on the lawn is less good. Rob Hardy is right. Jane Jacobs is right. Mr. Morelan is right (except for the eight-foot slab, which I think would feel more like a runway).

    Anyway, for what it’s worth, I like sidewalks. I’d even be willing to spend some money to have sidewalks in my neighborhood. My own money!

    August 22, 2007
  10. Bill Ostrem said:

    I appreciate the eloquent defenses of sidewalks posted here already!

    FYI, in the most recent discussions about sidewalks along Woodley St., the county and city have proposed making them 5 feet wide.

    August 22, 2007
  11. I like sidewalks, too. In Chicago, everyone has a sidewalk in front of their dwellings with very few exceptions. Of course, the traffic is higher at times and people park on the street with few neighborhood exceptions.

    The Northfielders who pass by my house use both the sidewalk and the street on any given day, and by any given mode of transport that uses either feet or wheels. I live by Target, traffic is generally quite low. The kids also use the area between houses to short cut to the park. I don’t mind, but I think the planners could have put in east west trail access to the park, rather than just north south.

    I do dislike sidewalks that are poorly drained, leaving places
    for puddles and ice to form.


    August 22, 2007

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