Making the Case for New Sidewalks

Residents walk down an urban sidewalk in Madison, Wisc.To make the case to install sidewalks in your neighborhood, you may need to convince your neighbors and town or city officials that sidewalks are important. Sidewalks are important for many reasons:

  • Sidewalks provide a safe and level walkway, especially during wet weather and for people using wheelchairs, the elderly, or people pushing a cart or stroller. For these people, it is particularly important that sidewalks have well-designed curb ramps and level driveway crossings.
  • Sidewalks provide safe places for children to walk, run, skate, ride their bikes, and play.
  • Sidewalks significantly reduce pedestrian collisions with motor vehicles: For instance, one study found that in residential and mixed residential areas, pedestrian crashes were more than two times as likely to occur at locations without sidewalks than would be expected on the basis of exposure.
  • Sidewalks improve the ability for people to get around by providing ways for them to get wherever they need to go: work, parks, schools, shopping areas, transit stops, and home.
  • Sidewalks enhance the appearance of individual properties, neighborhoods, and the entire community.
  • Sidewalks help protect property frontage from damage due to erosion and parking.
  • Sidewalks provide separation between motor vehicles and pedestrians.

Request sidewalks be installed in your neighborhood

A man jogs along a suburban sidewalk in Las Vegas, Nev.

Sidewalks should be installed by developers when constructing new buildings or homes and by your town, city, county, or state agencies during roadway improvement projects. Each town or city handles requests for sidewalk installation differently. Call your town or city and ask who you should talk to about installing a sidewalk.

The cost of sidewalks is often important in determining how many sidewalk projects a town or city can build each year. A jurisdiction may have a system developed to prioritize sidewalk projects. They may be able to give guidance to you and your neighbors about what type of project would compete best for funds. For instance, priority locations may be those on busy streets, or around schools and senior centers.

Require developers to construct new sidewalks

A family walks along a sidewalk in Naples, Fla.New construction and redevelopment of existing buildings in many jurisdictions leads to the construction of most new sidewalks. This requirement may be based on how many dwelling units are being constructed or the size of the total development. However, even in locations that require developers to build sidewalks, developers are sometimes exempted from this requirement. Some common excuses:

  • The adjoining properties do not have sidewalks.
  • No one walks in this neighborhood.
  • The cost is too high.

Citizen pressure may be required for the sidewalk construction requirements to be enforced. Active and aware neighbors can be an asset in monitoring new development in their neighborhoods. If there is a certain threshold that developments must meet to require significant off-site improvements (such as sidewalks), you may notice that many developers will make sure to stay under these thresholds. Consider lobbying your local government to change its policies if new construction in your neighborhood does not result in better walking conditions.