Sidewalk creeps

[PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT]  Last week, I witnessed a visually impaired man with a cane walk right into some overgrown hedges while he was heading into town.  Clearly surprised, he decided to cross the street before continuing on his way.  So I thought I’d post a plea for all of us who have sidewalks to please hack back any creeping shrubs, hostas, and dandelions so that our public walkways are fully walkable by all — not just for the visually impaired, but also for those with twin babies in double strollers, and for couples who just want to hold hands while walking next to each other. Currently, double-wide strollers and hand-holders need to walk in the street, which is crazy given that our town has fairly wide sidewalks.  A further benefit of keeping your plants out of the sidewalk airspace is that the foliage doesn’t provide the perfect lurking spot for deer ticks, questing for a host with their hungry little arthropod arms. Yea, that last reason is far-fetched, perhaps, but we have lots of deer and mice and dogs, so it’s just something to think about as you brush by the leaves.

Hedges partially obstructing a sidewalk.  Residents with double strollers, with vision impairment, and with wheelchairs cannot easily use sidewalks like this.  Also, couples who might want to take a walk while holding hands are forced to abandon their true love to navigate the stretch, which is sad. Finally, in areas with deer and mice, overhanging foliage provide the perfect questing site for ticks.

2 thoughts on “Sidewalk creeps

  1. Michael Kilcullen

    Hi Colin,
    I’ve been working on sidewalks & walkability mapping for about 2 yrs now as one of my consultant projects.
    1st, I’ve been doing my maps and layers in ArcGIS. another project on our campus has been using Google Maps. We chat some and share some data, but generally we are working on similar but different projects. I’m not too familiar with google maps, other than that I know you can create your own layer, say of walkability lines, and have them overlay into google earth somehow. the files have to be in .kmz format, I believe. I’d have to put you in touch with the other group of guys if you want more details. but if you use ArcGIS, I can help you.

    2nd, as for overgrowth, or other obstacles for that matter, on sidewalks – yes that is a problem too, and in many cities. first, you need to find out who even has jurisdiction – is it a city/town, or a township, or a university campus, or a private townhouse or corporate development, etc etc. then, find out what the city’s policies and ordinances are about sidewalks (ie, does the city maintain them, does the property owner, etc etc). while you’re at it, find out about snow removal policies too, as snow and ice are even worse than vegetation, again for blind people, wheelchairs, pregnant moms, strollers, couples, elderly, children, etc etc – basically everyone.

    if the policy is that the city is responsible (but this is unlikely), then try to get them to clean it up. if they still have a public works budget. if it is the property owners responsibility, then there might be a city office of code enforcement, or a neighbourhood relations office, or something similar that you should complain to, with pictures, and they might get the property owner to clean it up. but again, in these days of budget cutbacks, sidewalks are a lower priority than streets it seems. call about a tree in a street, and they are all over it, but call about a tree on the sidewalk, well, it probably will stay there a while.

    another tact you could try, but exhaust others first, is a “media blitz”, with your local community members who want to make a point about sidewalk impassability – get someone blind, get someone else in a wheelchair, get a pregnant mom, get a guide dog, get children, even someone walking with groceries – get a mix of people that use sidewalks, and get them there at a designated time. but do a press release to the media to invite the media to an event and your press conference – tv cameras are great, but newspapers will do too – and get visuals of disabled and elderly people trying to navigate these bad spots. and you make a statement that you have done such-n-such, and the law says such-n-such, and that it is time for the problem to be fixed.

    it’s a way to be unpopular at the city hall, but it gets the point across, and when I’ve used that approach, it is amazing how much faster things get done. In general, the reporters and the anchorpeople are sympathetic to “the vulnerable” of the community, and when they see people struggling, they like to put it on the news to hold the city’s feet to the fire, so to say.

    I’m not sure where you live, so you may not have snow/ice issues like us in the north do. but I can tell you, most cities give short shrift to their sidewalks, and in worse ways than just overgrowth. It’s an uphill battle, but it can be fun battle too – and it gets you and others out walking more, so better for exercise and for meeting new people!

    1. Colin Purrington Post author

      The media blitz would be really fun. I’d also love to mount a video camera on a wheelchair, at wheel level…that would be hilarious. In a bad way, of course, since the camera would show sidewalk cracks/cliffs and shrubs in the way. But if edited and equipped with good music (Frogger tune?), it would be very effective, I think. Thanks so much for you great ideas.


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