Thursday, May 22, 2014

Sidewalks are Thoroughfares Too

I've been doing a lot of walking and bike riding around Four Corners in the past two weeks since my summer break started.  I've walked down all of the sidewalks along the major roads, and I noticed some common themes.  First of all, most of the sidewalks are way too narrow and close to the road, which is nothing new, but that's a topic for another post.  The thing that annoys me is the way that the existing sidewalks are treated.

Sidewalks are too frequently viewed as an afterthought.  As I've walked along Colesville Road and University Boulevard, I've seen all sorts of things blocking or obstructing the sidewalks.  Examples include: trashcans, utility poles, parked cars, road signs, and overgrown vegetation.  When I see a particularly egregious obstruction, I take a photo of it.  Here are three of the worst offenders. 

Stay focused when using this sidewalk so you don't walk into this Ford Focus. 

This Ford Focus was parked on the sidewalk in front of the Oceanic gas station on University Boulevard at Sutherland Road.  The car doesn't have any rear plates on it, which means it was likely undergoing repairs at "Joe's Auto Repair" which is the name of the gas station's garage.  This car was probably placed here by one of the mechanics who works at the shop.  As you can see in the photo, there is a utility pole and some shrubs to the right of the vehicle, preventing someone from walking by it on the safer side.  This means that anyone walking past it must pass it on the left, in that narrow space between the vehicle and the right lane of University Boulevard.  After taking this photo, I did just that, walking between the car and the road as a tractor trailer passed by in the right lane.  I was close enough to reach out and touch the trailer of the passing truck.

Parking a car on the sidewalk like this is unacceptable.  The mechanic probably put it here because there was not enough room on the station's property to fit all the cars they are repairing.  If that that is the case, then they should not have agreed to repair more vehicles than they could accommodate on their property.  If this vehicle had been causally parked in the travel lanes of University Boulevard, it would have been ticketed, towed, and impounded within half an hour.  But it was on the sidewalk, and it remained in this spot for several days without consequence.                  

Right lane closed ahead... but the sidewalk is closed right here thanks to this obnoxiously placed sign.  

Here's another offender.  This is almost worse than the parked car, because this sign was placed here by the State Highway Administration; the people who are supposed to be professionals when it comes to managing transportation infrastructure.  This is on northbound Route 29 between Lorain and Southwood.  This sign is here to advise motorists of the long term right lane closure that resulted from the flood of April 30th.  This photo was taken on a Sunday. before repairs began, so there was no construction preventing pedestrians from walking to Trader Joe's (the sidewalk was washed out down by the creek, but everyone just walked past the damaged section in the closed right lane.  I witnessed dozens of people do this during those two weeks after the flood).  My point is that the sidewalk was never actually closed, so this sign was placed in the middle of an active pedestrian route.         

There is a retaining wall right next to the sign, which meant pedestrians had about two feet to squeeze between the corner of the sign and the wall.  The other corner of the sign stuck out into the road a little bit, so there was no room to pass it on that side.  This sign was terribly placed, not only because it effectively blocked the sidewalk, but because there is a spot 50 yards up the road where the SHA could have put this sign on grass within full view of the road without blocking the sidewalk.  The sign should have been placed along Colesville Road just prior to Lorain Avenue, where there is plenty of space next to the sidewalk with great sight lines (which are needed so drivers can read the sign).  But the SHA employees who placed this sign didn't think about that because pedestrian safety and community convenience is of little or no concern to them (lots of people from Woodmoor and North Four Corners walk down this sidewalk to go to Trader Joe's for groceries).  The SHA should set an example when it comes to respecting sidewalks, but the actions of their employees demonstrate the agency's attitude towards pedestrians.

In case you needed a reason to dislike Pepco.
The final of the worst offenders is this utility pole along Colesville Road between Lanark Way and the Beltway on-ramp.  Unlike the first two cases, which included objects that could be moved fairly easily, this one is permanent.  I'm not sure who to blame for this: Pepco for putting a utility pole in the middle of the sidewalk, or the SHA for purposefully building a sidewalk with a pole in the middle of it.  This is the worst case scenario for a pedestrian or someone trying to ride a bike on this sidewalk for several reasons. 

There is little room to get around this obstruction.  There is a fence with a bunch of overhanging vegetation on one side, so if you try to pass it there and you're taller than 6 feet, you will get smacked in the face by some branches and leaves, unless you crouch down a little.  If you try to pass this obstacle on the other side, you will be within 2 or 3 feet of vehicles often travelling 50 MPH (not an exaggeration, go out there with a radar gun sometime) as they travel downhill towards the Beltway in that right turn lane which becomes the on-ramp.  When I rode down this sidewalk on by bike, I couldn't fit past the pole, so I waited for the right lane to clear of motorists and I traveled down the road to the next curb-cut, where I got back on the sidewalk.

If you want to cross Colesville Road to avoid this obstacle, you have to walk at least 2,100 feet out of your way to do so legally and safely (although crossing a major road like this is never exactly "safe" whether you're in a crosswalk or not).  The closest crosswalk north of this spot is at the Four Corners intersection, and to the south, it is at Colesville Road and Indian Spring Drive.  The sidewalk on the Blair side of the road is excellent, but if you live in South Four Corners, you cannot access it without a lengthy detour.  A crosswalk at Lanark Way could remedy this situation, as would utility pole relocation and sidewalk widening.

- - - - - - - -  

While not often viewed as such, sidewalks are an important piece of transportation infrastructure.  Good sidewalks make getting around on foot a comfortable and experience.  Obstructed sidewalks make it a stressful and inconvenient one. While most of our sidewalks are far from ideal, we should keep them as clear and pleasant as possible.  This means trimming back shrubs, moving trashcans, not parking cars on them, and keeping them free of sign posts and poles.   Sidewalks are like highways for people, and any obstructions should be reported and removed as quickly as possible.  Sidewalks are not a random piece of concrete next to a road for storing private property and roadside infrastructure.  They are transportation thoroughfares just like train tracks or travel lanes on a road, and we should treat them as such.                            


  1. I agree with you 100%. Who should we go to with complaints about sidewalks being blocked? Overgrown vegetation (poison ivy?) blocking the sidewalk on a busy street is my biggest peeve.

    1. Thanks,

      Overgrown vegetation is one of the most annoying obstructions, and it exists for 5 or 6 months out of the year at least, so its not a temporary thing.

      As far as complaints, the State Highway Administration is probably the best place to start, since they have jurisdiction over most of the sidewalks on major roads. We could also try MCDOT, but they may deflect to SHA.

      Honestly, the best way to draw attention to this issue would be to contact a county council member and have them bring it up with the SHA and maybe introduce a piece of legislation that outlaws sidewalk blockages. That would probably be the quickest way to get this resolved.