Walk this Way

Out for a stroll, a jog, or just trying to get from one place to another on foot? As a pedestrian you have the right of safe travel on your designated portion of the road, called the sidewalk. A sidewalk is defined as a pathway that runs alongside a road and is designed to provide a separation between the vehicular portion and the pedestrian portion of the street or avenue. 

The concept of sidewalks dates back to 17th century England. At that time there was an overwhelming concern in urban areas about the safety of pedestrians travelling in the streets. This concern for safety became so great that a number of different laws were passed in Parliament known as the ‘Paving Acts’. A variety of laws made up the Paving Acts, but collectively, they dealt with the construction and maintenance of streets and sidewalks within the communities. One example of such laws required home owners to pave the street in front of their home and ensure that their portion of the street was kept cleaned. Other community bylaws required the homeowner to sweep the street in front of their house every Saturday evening. Due to the variety of different Acts and local bylaws, streets and sidewalks were built to varying degrees of quality and the cleanliness of streets differed greatly between neighbourhoods. In 1762 the Westminster Paving Act was passed. This Act marked a significant change in the way streets and sidewalks were to be constructed and maintained. The enactment of the Westminster Paving Act brought uniformity to the otherwise hodge-podge of designs and materials used to build streets and sidewalks. 

The streets of 17th century England served as more than a pathway for pedestrians and vehicles (horses and wagons), the street was also the disposal site for virtually anything anyone did not want. In other words, the street was the dumping place for any garbage and sewage. One can only imagine being a pedestrian wading through the narrow streets filled with garbage and sewage while avoiding horses and wagons. Despite the extremely poor conditions of the streets and sidewalks, it took close to twenty years of debate and study to conclude that the lack of uniform surfaces, poor construction methods, and the lack of sidewalks on narrow streets posed significant safety risks to pedestrians. 

The Westminster Paving Act removed the responsibility of construction and maintenance of the streets and sidewalks from local citizens and placed it with the local government. Long gone are the days of throwing garbage and sewage into the streets, and in modern communities there are collection systems that keep the streets clean of garbage and sewage, so then one may ask what is the purpose behind the modern day sidewalk?

In 2004, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities and the National Research Council of Canada released a report titled Sidewalk Design, Construction and Maintenance. In this report sidewalks are described as “… an integral component of the municipal landscape that should be safe and universally accessible. They should be capable of accommodating all users, including mobility and visually impaired users. The use of sidewalks should be encouraged as an alternative to using the automobile and to promote a healthier lifestyle”. While the modern day definition of sidewalk is more inclusive than the 17th century definition, the purpose of sidewalks remains the same, to provide the sidewalk user with a safe path of travel. 

The Federation of Canadian Municipalities found that safe accessible sidewalks provide numerous benefits to a community, especially if the sidewalks are well designed, constructed, and maintained. These benefits include: the promotion of healthy lifestyles, the reduction of vehicular transportation, facilitating movement by community members who are mobility and visually impaired, and it greatly reduces the risk of injury to pedestrians. In addition to the benefits, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities discovered that communities without sidewalks or that have poorly designed, constructed, or maintained sidewalks experience an increase in the number of injuries sustained by pedestrians and more frequent replacement of poor quality sidewalks at higher costs to the community. 

Modern sidewalks are constructed of poured concrete, asphalt, or interlocking paving stones. Each of these materials have advantages and disadvantages and vary in construction and maintenance costs. However, regardless which material a community uses to build its sidewalks, all sidewalks are prone to heaving, tilting and cracking and will eventually need to be replaced. Similar to other types of infrastructure, sidewalks built and maintained to high standards have an extended service life. It is estimated that a poured concrete or interlocking paving stone sidewalk has a service life of approximately 80 years, whereas asphalt sidewalks have a maximum service life of approximately 40 years. 

Most public sidewalks in Canada are constructed of poured concrete due to its long service life and low maintenance costs. Asphalt sidewalks have a much lower initial construction cost but also have a much shorter service life than poured concrete. Paving stone sidewalks, the most visually appealing of the three materials, construction cost exceeds that of poured concrete or asphalt. 

When constructing sidewalks the requirements of all users (strollers, skaters, seniors, and the visually and mobility impaired) should be considered. It is recommended that the minimum width of a sidewalk is no less than 1.5 metres, or 1.8 metres when the sidewalk is located adjacent to a curb on a major roadway. However, the preferred width of a sidewalk is 1.8 metres as this allows for easy passage between an adult, a person pushing a baby carriage, a person using a wheelchair, or a child on a tricycle. 

Canada has approximately 100,000 kilometres of sidewalks. It is estimated that approximately 15,000 – 20,000 kilometres are in dire need of replacement. The replacement cost is estimated at $1.5 to $2.4 billion (or $100,000 to $120,000 per km). The Federation of Canadian Municipalities recommends that communities experiencing some of the following conditions should building sidewalks: poor accessibility for the elderly and persons with disabilities, increased pedestrian volumes, new facilities (including schools, institutions, parks, and sports complexes), other pedestrian generators (including library, community centre, church, hospital, shopping precincts or malls), increased traffic and truck volumes, increasing population density, and poor continuity of sidewalks (including missing sections of sidewalk or abruptly ending sidewalks). 

The Federation of Canadian Municipalities also recommends that municipalities and communities where no sidewalks exist and where pedestrians are required to walk on the roadway should construct sidewalks, as it will decrease the likelihood of pedestrian injuries. The minimum amount of sidewalks that should be considered is on at least one side of the street for arterial and collector roads. 

Most sidewalks in Langdon are made from poured concrete and most pathways are made from asphalt. A quick tour will show that nearly all sidewalks are located on only one side of the street (with the exception of two very limited stretches at the entrances of Boulder Creek and Van Horn Court). Of the existing sidewalks, Langdon has approximately 45 sidewalks that end abruptly, this forces the sidewalk user to either cross the street or walk over grassy areas to get to the next sidewalk. The pattern of alternating locations of sidewalks from one street to the next requires a pedestrian to cross the street three to four times when travelling around most one block areas. Nearly all cul-de-sacs have a sidewalk that only goes around halfway of the cul-de-sac and ends at someone’s lawn. 

Nearly all of the 45 sidewalks with abrupt endings have no pedestrian crossing signs or markings. The newer neighbourhoods are being built with some sidewalks but the older neighbourhoods and the original neighbourhoods of Langdon have no sidewalks at all. During the summer months this may not present as such a safety concern since pedestrians can travel on the grassy areas adjacent to the streets, however, the lack of sidewalks becomes a greater concern during the winter months, when all pedestrians are forced to travel in the streets. 

A great example of the lack of sidewalks or continuity of sidewalks is in the area around the new Sara Thompson Elementary School. Once completed there will be an increase in vehicular and pedestrian traffic along 4th Street which contains no sidewalks, and as pointed out by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities will increase the risk of pedestrian injury. In order to provide a sidewalk along the entire length of 4th Street (from Glenmore to Centre Street which is approximately 1.5 kilometres) could cost upwards of $150,000 to $200,000 dollars. Is reduction of risk of injury to the sidewalk users who will be coming and going from the Sara Thompson Elementary School worth it? This is the question that the Municipality needs to consider and answer. 

The issue of sidewalks in Langdon is certainly not a new issue, in fact, according to the Hamlet of Langdon Area Structure Plan (1999) it states that the Municipality is supportive of community based initiatives to enhance developed residential areas within the Plan Area and is prepared to consider local improvement bylaws to provide or improve the following: sidewalks and pedestrian pathways, street lighting, etc. The current sidewalk situation in Langdon and our rapidly growing population, certainly any community-based initiative or local improvement bylaw would certainly be welcomed, unless any community-based initiative or local improvement bylaw requires homeowners, like in the 17th century, to pave and maintain their own sidewalks in front of their house and ensure it is swept every Saturday night.

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