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The Sidewalk That Isn’t

Because automobiles are, by far, the main way people get around, this article might seem irrelevant to our dear friends at County Hall.  Yet there are plenty of residents who can only get around by walking. Their mobility needs have been consistently overlooked since Day One.

Our community's sidewalks are either dysfunctional (narrow, cluttered with utility infrastructure and almost always having dangerous rolled curbs) or non-existent. Walking, then, can be a formidable challenge, especially for the elderly and disabled. Why should pedestrians be forced to navigate around sections of missing sidewalks -  which the County's engineers and planners cutely call "sidewalk gaps"? Why do people have to walk in the street, particularly on main drags like Watt, Arden, El Camino, Marconi, Eastern, etc.?

Our newsroom elves (who don't drive) have grown tired of just complaining about this among themselves. They have insisted that we get the issue in front of you all, by pointing out a "sidewalk gap" on Wyda Way. The missing sidewalk is on the north side of the street, between Wright Street and the Target store on Fulton Avenue. The sidewalk exists, then it doesn't. Pedestrians have to either walk through dirt/mud and debris on an uneven surface or they have to walk in the street.

May contain: car, transportation, vehicle, city, outdoors, bus stop, path, and sidewalk
The missing sidewalk. You just left Target with your groceries, using your walker to get back to your apartment. Good luck.

Now, one could argue pedestrians could use the sidewalks on the south side of the street to avoid unsafe passage on the north side of the street.   But, while there is a concrete sidewalk along most of that section of Wyda Way between the store and Wright Street, the section of walkway on the south side closest to Wright Street is a poor surface of macadam, unlevel and pocked with dips. Crossing the street to get to a sidewalk only adds to the hazards; it puts pedestrians at risk of being hit by cars. Vehicles parked on the corners (illegal, but common) cut visibility for drivers and pedestrians.  This could result in serious injury, particularly at night.  

The situation is worse when you consider the demographics of the neighborhood and its pedestrians. Among the numerous apartments are two large complexes of seniors' housing that received public subsidies for construction and tenant rent relief. The complexes must comply with regulations concerning walkable distances to a grocery store. Unsafe walking conditions defeat the purpose of those subsidies and regulations and expose the county to risk. Our elves have watched in dismay as elderly pedestrians have had to push their walkers and shopping carts into the street - as cars drove past - to get around the missing sidewalk. The road is particularly narrow there. It was never “improved,” even when the seniors' complexes were built.  They saw pedestrians walk on the roadway's hazardous shoulder, littered as it is with chunks of concrete, piles of dirt, and a not-quite-dead tree. They were aghast to see people - children and elderly pedestrians along with disabled people in wheelchairs  - out in the street with its potholes and broken pavement.

No one reading this needs to be reminded that Arden-Arcade residents are somewhere between a rock and a hard place, being powerless residents of a county ruled over by a committee of five Supervisors in a heavily urbanized area. We have a widespread missing-sidewalks problem. How does the County respond? It relies on a 15-year old sidewalk plan that has been implemented at the speed of a snail. How long will it take before someone is seriously injured as a result of a missing sidewalk in a pathway critical to many people who do not have cars? How many decades will pass before the County exercises its municipal obligation to improve its rights-of-way for pedestrians? Yup, you guessed it: the county's priorities will always be somewhere else and will always optimize for cars.

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