City and county bureaucracies can be a challenge to persuade to make changes. You can get the ball rolling by identifying problem areas and calling them to public attention. In the meanwhile, identify alternative routes that can keep you and your community walking, moving and thriving.
- Rally your neighbors to work with the appropriate local traffic and transportation officials and with local government to add new walkways and sidewalks and help improve the safety and accessibility of your community.
- Contact your local public works and your county department of transportation or elected community representative to report broken, cluttered or otherwise unsafe sidewalks. Give them copies of your survey report and photos that demonstrate the problems.
- Ask city or county officials to install pedestrian and traffic signals to mark crosswalks and to add traffic-calming devices (such as speed bumps and traffic circles) to help control the speed of traffic. Make sure the timing of traffic signals is long enough to accommodate older pedestrians, people with disabilities and other slower-moving pedestrians.
- Organize a neighborhood watch group to prevent crime from taking place in your community. More awareness of activity in the neighborhood can reduce crime so your community can have safer streets that everyone can enjoy.
- Advocate for raised medians with curb cuts to easily accommodate all pedestrians and wheelchair users.
So Just Who Are the Players Who Can Help You Make a Difference?
City or County Public Works or Department of Transportation:
- Your public works agency can address concerns about placement and width of sidewalks and sidewalk maintenance. Responsibility for specific sidewalk issues may vary. For example, even though the city public works department often addresses sidewalk maintenance, the maintenance may actually be the responsibility of property owners. Adding a new walkway may require negotiating with the respective property owners about paying for it. This process is easier if a gap can be filled in, as opposed to installing a completely new walkway that crosses a number of private properties.
- Trimming bushes that overhang the sidewalk is the property owners’ responsibility, but the city or county will send an official notice to request that property owners take care of it. If a property owner does not comply, a public works crew may trim the bushes and bill the property owner. In some neighborhoods, the homeowners’ association is responsible for sidewalks.
- Some communities or neighborhoods have ordinances restricting installation of sidewalks or curbs for aesthetic reasons or to make the area appear to be less urban. In these communities, you must present the need for sidewalks to the city or county council, and it can be quite challenging. Consider directing your energies more effectively toward ensuring that neighborhood streets are well-maintained.
- If action on sidewalks is not possible, your group can still help make it safer to walk along the streets by urging that the city install traffic-calming measures such as roundabouts, speed tables or speed humps to reduce cut-through traffic or speeding cars. You can also organize a neighborhood watch group to deal with any criminal activity in your community. More awareness of activity in your neighborhood can reduce crime, which means the streets are safer for everyone to enjoy.
Other Community Partners:
- Contact your local public works department or elected community representative to report broken, cluttered or otherwise unsafe sidewalks. Consider forming an alliance with downtown merchants or others who may be interested in advocating for more effective streetlights, benches and shade trees to improve your community’s appeal. Contact the planning department, which would be involved in improving streetscapes, or the parks department, which might be involved in planting trees. Local parent-teacher associations (PTA's) may also be interested in ensuring safe school routes.
- The traffic manager in the city or county department of transportation is responsible for controlling the speed of traffic through traffic signals. Make sure the timing of traffic signals is long enough to accommodate older pedestrians, people with disabilities and other slow-moving pedestrians.
- Signalized crosswalks with flashing lights or special signals activated by a walk sign are safest because they help reduce the number of pedestrians stranded at crosswalks when the light changes. New types of crosswalks that feature a striped path that lights up when activated by a pedestrian demonstrate the potential of technology to enhance pedestrian safety. Older residents particularly benefit from these types of improvements at major street crossings.