by Brady Holt
Current Staff Writer
Currently, residents seeking sidewalks on their block must submit a petition with signatures from at least 51 percent of the block’s households, and get advisory neighborhood commission support.
This runs counter to the spirit of the Priority Sidewalk Assurance Act the D.C. Council passed in 2010, says Marlene Berlin, who heads the Pedestrian Advocacy Group at Iona Senior Services. Instead, she said, the city should be actively working to install sidewalks, particularly in certain areas — and stopping only in cases where residents file petitions opposing them.
“To me, people should be able to walk to school, walk to transit, walk to recreation facilities without having to walk in the street,” Berlin said in an interview.
An Iona volunteer recently compiled a map of Ward 3’s sidewalk gaps, highlighting those within a quarter mile of schools, parks with playgrounds, rec centers or Metro stations. The map is available at tinyurl.com/ward-3-sidewalks. (And Iona would appreciate your help in ensuring the map is accurate. Please visit tinyurl.com/ward3sidewalkpriority.)
The 2010 sidewalks law already requires that the District install a sidewalk on at least one side of a street that’s being reconstructed. But it also identifies “priority areas” that should be first on the Transportation Department’s queue when funding is available.
In addition to schools, rec centers and transit spots, priority goes to areas that are hazardous to pedestrians and blocks where residents have petitioned for sidewalks. Those priority areas should get sidewalks by default, Berlin said. “We want to change the norm,” she said. “The norm [should be] that of course sidewalks will be built, and if people don’t want them, they can request that.”
But the Iona proposal to change policy wouldn’t eliminate what Berlin called the “sidewalk wars” that have raged in recent years between pedestrian advocates and residents who want to preserve the ambience and open space in front of their homes. After some debate, the city last month installed sidewalks on Brandywine, between 30th and 32nd streets, but neighbors successfully resisted them on the other streets.
Ward 3 D.C. Council member Mary Cheh, who introduced the 2010 sidewalks bill, said she applauds the Iona proposal to improve continuity of sidewalks.
“It’s an important effort just in general, because as I’ve always said, we’re not a community of cars — we’re a community of people,” she said in an interview.
Cheh’s own neighborhood of Forest Hills in particular remains one with numerous sidewalk gaps, she added, despite the designation of several streets there as “safe routes” to Murch Elementary School.
Because the sidewalk issue is at this point a Transportation Department policy rather than a District law, Berlin said Iona will make its pitch to the agency — likely this spring, after soliciting community feedback. (Click here to read and comment on the changes Iona proposes for DDOT sidewalk procedures.)
Agency spokesperson John Lisle said the department is currently working on long-term strategies and welcomes such suggestions.
Reprinted from the February 6th, 2013 issue of the Northwest Current