Where soccer moms fear to tread Sidewalk gap: Residential-business areas can't be a pedestrian wasteland.

March 12, 1998

FOOTPATHS have existed from time immemorial, but in the past half-century many suburban builders did not include this simple amenity in their subdivisions. Most of these residential developments were designed so that cars provided the only mobility, much to the chagrin of residents who like to walk through their neighborhoods.

Even though all of us are pedestrians once we leave our automobiles, the lack of this basic amenity in many communities didn't stir protest -- certainly nothing compared with the outcry over congested roads or when parking spaces are eliminated. However, after decades of giving scant consideration to the needs of pedestrians, state and county planners in the Baltimore region are mounting a belated effort to address this weakness.

Anne Arundel, Howard and Baltimore counties are strengthening requirements for sidewalks. Part of the reason may be traffic congestion. With cars the only means of mobility in too many communities, even common errands such as picking up a newspaper or a gallon of milk at a nearby store can't be accomplished on foot. The other issue is safety. A federally financed study last year entitled "Mean Streets" showed that being a pedestrian in suburbia can be hazardous to one's health. A person walking along a road in the suburbs is 11 times more likely to be struck and killed than one walking on city sidewalks.

When it approved the transportation funding act in 1991, Congress for the first time enabled communities to use these dollars for sidewalks and bicycle paths. In the past two years, Maryland has financed sidewalk construction out of its transportation budget. Baltimore County, for example, is working nine state-financed sidewalk projects; Anne Arundel, seven; Carroll, six; and Howard, three.

Sidewalks are a key component of Smart Growth, the governor's program to curtail residential sprawl. Placing communities and business centers near train stations and bus routes works only if people can walk from these transit hubs to their homes or jobs.

The same kind of careful analysis and study that goes into road-building should be applied to building footpaths in the suburbs, or this initiative to reduce our reliance on automobiles would be wasted.

Pub Date: 3/12/98

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