Livability Essentials: Sidewalks

I love sidewalks. Seriously. Sidewalks create connectivity in neighborhoods and towns, which increases the livability and quality of life for the community members. Why? Children can walk on the sidewalks, safe out of the traveled lanes of traffic. Pedestrians, runners, dog walkers and everyone else can stroll or dash through town without having to constantly worry about a car swerving into the shoulder or a car door opening.

Sidewalk in Jamaica, VT.

The visual connectivity of sidewalks is important, as much as the functional aspects. Sidewalks are a transition zone between private property and the public road; within this transition zone, people can stop and talk if they’d like. It is almost like the “third place” – a meeting place – (almost) in the street. Sidewalks create neater looking neighborhoods and in general, aesthetically pleasing corridors improve sense of place and quality of life. Additionally, sidewalks signal a residential setting, which then causes slower traffic; sidewalks can be traffic calming devices.

However, many rural towns do not have sidewalks. In some areas, they are not feasible because the cost would be too great for construction and maintenance, simply due to the distance that would necessary. In such cases, people are lucky if the road shoulders are wide enough for safe cycling, walking and running. Unfortunately there are many state highways and roads in Vermont that are very narrow and, although, they are bike routes, they are not safe for the beginning cyclist or children. There are “share the road” programs, but if you’ve ever had to pass a cyclist on the road and have encountered oncoming traffic, you know how dangerous these instances can be. Wider shoulders or separate bike lanes would be a much better solution.

At the very least, village centers should have formal, concrete sidewalks rather than gravel shoulder/path combinations. I feel safer on a sidewalk as a runner and as a pedestrian; I imagine parents want their children on sidewalks as they wander to and from school and other activities.

Long story short; in general, when in a residential setting, sidewalks are appropriate and improve the quality of life and the walkability/mobility through town (historic district or not). When are they not appropriate? When the population of an area is dispersed and sidewalks would not connect logical places. In those situations, it is time to consider safer pedestrian and cyclist transit lanes.

What are your thoughts on sidewalks? Love? Impartial? Unnecessary? Vital?


7 thoughts on “Livability Essentials: Sidewalks

  1. Jim says:

    Where I live next, I want there to be sidewalks. Not because sidewalks themselves are cool — but because it will mean that where I live is connected to other things reachable on foot. Where I live now, reaching anything requires a car.

    • Kaitlin says:

      I grew up in a neighborhood that had wide streets, which wide enough & quiet enough for playing kickball and riding bikes, but I always wished that we lived in a neighborhood with sidewalks. Now I live in a town with sidewalks, and they are crucial to the livability here.

  2. Heidi says:

    The three-foot-wide sidewalk in Jamaica is just fine as it is thank you. What they are now proposing is to make all sidewalks 5 feet wide in Jamaica in order fulfill some sort of a grant requirement. Five feet is visually more like a mini-road and Jamaica is just a little town where 5 feet just doesn’t feel right or look right. There really aren’t any crowds of tourists to warrant such an expenditure. And perhaps most importantly for some people –when you widen a sidewalk, you take away from somebody’s lawn –then there’s less green grass to enjoy. And many of the houses along the main street closer to the General Store only have about 5 feet of lawn anyway. Take away 2 feet from those little lawns and you’re left with about 3 feet of lawn. Just to satisfy some grant requirement.


  3. John Hlumyk says:

    The township next to mine, in the years following WWII, made a bid to become the areas commercial corridor. Its now full of malls, plazas, chain restaurants and big box super stores. All of it spread out all over the place. The old town of Hickory was either bulldozed or suffocated in housing developments. Here and there you come across structures like a Gothic Revival tripartite devoid of ornament and completely vinyl sided over or a two story brick Federal insolently facing a stream instead of the road like all the rest of the houses, but these links to the past are getting harder and harder to find.
    A few years ago the township mounted a campaign to have sidewalks installed throughout the commercial district at the expense of those who own the property. The sidewalks have been there for a while now and I think I have seen them being used once or twice. The truth is they are miserable looking affairs that are nothing more than a buffer between the blacktop on the road and the blacktop in the parking lots. There aren’t any trees lining the roads anywhere, so walking them in the summer would be the equivalent to hiking in Death Valley, only less visually interesting. In the winter nobody keeps them shoveled. So you asked where sidewalks are not appropriate? In automobile oriented urban sprawl. Those places have made their deal with the devil and there isn’t any going back to a small town after that.

    • Kaitlin says:

      Excellent points. There are many places where sidewalks would not be prudent — sprawling suburbia and not the good kind of suburbia. I suppose I was thinking of villages and towns where people should walk. What about sidewalks in super huge parking lots of malls, etc? Sometimes I walk on them — it seems safer than strolling through lines of cars.

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