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Takoma Park Seeks Rational, Pro-Environment Sidewalk Policy

Takoma Park City Council debates instituting a thoughtful policy on evaluating the benefits and costs of sidewalk projects.

Many of you know that sidewalks have been discussed extensively here in Takoma Park.  The Task Force on Environmental Action, or TFEA, recommended the following:

"The City should work hard to Improve human-powered transportation accessibility including pedestrian and bicycle access and ensure robust enforcement against cars infringing upon pedestrian and bicycle access."

As part of that recommendation, the TFEA further noted:

"In neighborhoods with no sidewalks, build ADA- compliant sidewalks on at least one side of the street if desired by community. Construction should be done in a manner to minimize negative secondary impacts including increased stormwater runoff." (emphasis added)

The TFEA was acutely aware that sidewalks needed both community support and environmental impact mitigation.  To provide mitigation, the TFEA created a stepped approach to sidewalk design where the least impactful approach is tried first, and only when that approach didn't work, should the more impactful designs be tried.

The TFEA recommendations addressing the environmental impacts of sidewalk construction looked like this:

(1) Where appropriate, build sidewalks and/or bike lanes in existing roadways. This approach eliminates [the] need for additional right of way and eliminates creation of new impervious surfaces. This solution also can reduce roadway size, thus acting as an effective traffic-control measure;

(2) If insufficient road width exists to build sidewalks and/or bike paths in current roadway, ensure that any constructed sidewalks are separated from streets by at least three feet to minimize runoff from new sidewalks. Also incorporate rain gardens or trees/vegetation in that three-foot space between new sidewalk and road;

(3) Where neither option (1) or (2) is possible, stormwater should be captured in detention or retention ponds and infiltrated, evaporated, or released in a controlled manner.

Takoma Park has many wide streets that exceed 29 feet curb-to-curb.  It is possible to install sidewalks in these wide existing streets, creating zero new impervious surface and eliminating most of the tree-root impact.  This creative in-street design also has the excellent effect of providing traffic calming that residents so desperately desire.  

While residents clamor for ineffective, car- and bike-damaging speed bumps, narrower streets are one measure that are guaranteed to slow cars the entire length of the street while simultaneously not slowing emergency vehicles.  

The design benefits from an odd trait of human psychology.  When drivers perceive a road narrowing, they slow down.  The design is good for pedestrians who walk the street and good for residents who live on it.

The City Council is considering, tonight, instituting a "sidewalk policy" that will guide future City Councils and employees on how to work through the pros and cons of sidewalk installation.  While the City staff did not exactly adopt the stepped approach the TFEA recommended, City staff have incorporated recommendations very similar to those of the TFEA.

As the former co-chair of the TFEA, I appreciate the City's efforts, and particularly Daryl Braithwaite's, the City Public Works Director, to incorporate our recommendations.  Because of this, I support the City's revised sidewalk policy, and will so state at tonight's Council meeting.

I encourage you to come out and support these efforts.  While sidewalks are not appropriate in all locations, this policy will bring a rational approach to the City's efforts to evaluate where sidewalks are appropriate.  And where they are, guide the City in minimizing or eliminating the environmental impacts.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

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