Newest subdivisions lack key amenity sidewalks


March 15, 1998|By BRIAN SULLAM

I TOOK a spin last week through Woodberry at Severna Park, a new luxury tract of imposing homes.

Located off Ritchie Highway, south of Magothy Bridge Road, it is typical of developments being built nowadays with edifices costing $350,000 or more. With huge brick fronts, these are immense structures. They boast all the amenities a person could want -- from sprawling, fully equipped kitchens to whirlpool bathtubs to walk-in closets as big as a backyard shed.

However, this pricey subdivision lacks one amenity that used to be taken for granted.


Humans have been walking for tens of thousands of years, yet many suburban builders seem to think Homo sapiens have lost the ability to do so.

While just about every suburban development comes equipped with smooth, wide asphalt roads, many of these communities are laid out without sidewalks.

This is not a recent phenomenon. For four decades, sidewalks have been scarce in suburbia.

Mobility in suburbia has meant traveling by car only. Whether a person wanted to go to work, shop, worship or see a movie, driving a car was the only option. Only the brave or the foolhardy attempted to walk or bicycle in the roads.

Indeed, a study last year by something called the Surface Transportation Group and Environmental Working Group estimated that a suburban pedestrian is twice as likely to be killed by a stranger driving a car than by a stranger packing a gun. The study, "Mean Streets," pointed out that nearly 6,000 Americans are struck and killed by trucks and autos each year. Another 110,000 are injured.

Much of this carnage is caused by street designers who give no consideration to people on foot. Compared with pedestrians in urban communities, which usually have sidewalks, they increase their chances of injury or death 11 times by walking in suburban "sprawl" communities, the study said.

Newer suburbs, with wide, flat, curbless streets encourage drivers to speed. These environments are built for 3,000-pound automobiles, not 150-pound humans.

In the older suburbs, with narrower streets, right-angle intersections and sidewalks, the environment is kinder to pedestrians.

Baltimore County's older suburban neighborhood of Rodgers Forge, a community of rowhouses laid out in a grid with sidewalks, follows a more traditional model. The strip of grass and large mature trees that separate the street from the sidewalk creates a subliminal barrier. It defines a space cars can't enter.

As a result, the sidewalks -- protected from speeding cars -- bustle with activity. On evenings and weekends, they are full of couples strolling, parents pushing strollers, kids riding bikes.

By contrast, newer developments don't have such a protected zone, save perhaps for the ubiquitous cul-de-sacs, where playing children scatter when a car approaches.

The problem isn't limited to new developments of single-family homes. Townhouse communities are generally built in clusters. If sidewalks exist, they are generally narrow concrete strips that separate the parking lot from the entrance to the houses. The only pedestrian link between one cluster of townhouses and another is a road or a parking lot, neither of which is people-friendly.

As a result, residents of these developments spend little time in the community's public spaces.

How the other half lives

After driving through Woodberry, I decided to check out another subdivision, Cypress Landing. It is a similar, albeit less exclusive, development on the opposite side of Ritchie Highway. This group of houses, which start at $190,000, does have sidewalks.

Perhaps it was mere coincidence, but as I drove in, I saw a man accompany his granddaughter out the front door of a house. He toted her tricycle. After he zipped her jacket and gave her a peck on the cheek, the girl merrily mounted her trike and started pedaling energetically down the block. Her smiling grandfather followed.

Too bad that same scene is harder to find in communities without sidewalks.

Brian Sullam is The Sun's editorial writer in Anne Arundel County.

Pub Date: 3/15/98

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