Paving the way
Sidewalk backers push to make area more pedestrian-friendly
Pedestrians trying to get from one part of Hanover to another - or even from one mall to the next - quickly find that the sidewalk ends before they reach their destination.
Walkers can see McDonald’s on Route 53 from nearby Panera Bread, for example, but they can’t get there on foot without going in the street or trudging through grass or gravel on the right of way.
A sidewalk appears farther down Route 53 and goes all the way past Target, only to suddenly disappear again.
Traveling by foot on Route 53 toward Norwell is even trickier, with no sidewalks and a perpetually under-construction bridge crossing Route 3 that has no sidewalks or shoulders.
“In certain places, it’s very difficult to walk there,’’ acknowledged Hanover’s public works director, Victor Diniak, who noted that Route 53 is under state, not local, control.
The same scenario plays out across the suburbs south of Boston, where sidewalks often end abruptly or are absent altogether.
Some communities have begun addressing the problem, though questions of cost and aesthetics can be an obstacle. In the meantime, walking enthusiasts bemoan missed opportunities for cutting down on auto emissions, improving personal health, and even increasing property values - one 2009 study found that homes in walkable neighborhoods sold for more than comparable homes without that amenity.
And, on Halloween, roads without sidewalks often mean neighborhoods without trick-or-treaters.
“No kids ever come to our house on Halloween,’’ said Christopher Jones, who lives with his wife and two young children on Highland Street in North Marshfield, which has no sidewalks. “All the kids go down to the Hills, where the sidewalks are.’’
The situation was documented in a recent report by the Metropolitan Area Planning Council, which found that 54 percent of the roadway miles in the region lacked sidewalks. The region covers 101 communities in greater Boston, as far south as Duxbury. Sidewalk coverage on main roads ranged from a high of 90 percent in Boston to one percent in Duxbury.
“The presence of well-maintained sidewalks is widely considered to be perhaps the most important element of a good walking environment,’’ the report said.
Just having sidewalks isn’t enough, though, if they don’t connect, and the report puts closing the gaps in sidewalk routes high on its list of ways to improve life for pedestrians.
In Dedham, about nine of the 85 miles of public roads have no sidewalks, according to town engineer David Field. But those nine missing miles are in annoyingly strategic locations, according to local walking advocate Carol Hills.
Her kids can’t walk to school, her friends can’t walk to the commuter rail, and she can’t hike to some of the biggest shopping areas in town, including Legacy Place - all because the sidewalks don’t go there, Hills lamented.
“We have a lot of acreage in Dedham devoted to giant plazas, and if you’re not in a car, there’s no way [to get there] right now,’’ she said.
Hills said it’s also hard to walk to Dedham Square. She said some tell her that Dedham can’t be remade to be more pedestrian-friendly without hurting its historic character. “But a lot of old towns have sidewalks; the issue is will and the issue is finding money,’’ she said.
The cost of building a sidewalk varies but can be considerable; Field said he uses a base figure of $100 per square yard for a concrete sidewalks and $40 for asphalt. Dedham has no sidewalk plan beyond “trying to repair and maintain what we have now, primarily because of finances,’’ Field said.
The town has applied for $19,400 from the state to create a plan for making the town more accessible to walkers and bicyclists, according to Environmental Coordinator Virginia LeClair. She said Westwood is applying for a similar grant and there’s talk of a regional plan.
“We feel we are pretty behind the game here [in Dedham] when you look at most communities,’’ LeClair said.
In Hanover, where there are about 90 miles of street and 35 miles of sidewalk, mostly in subdivisions, there’s no formal program for sidewalk construction and a fair amount of opposition, said Diniak.
“There’s a group that wants Hanover to be more rural and avoid sidewalks,’’ he said. “Our long-range goal is to get something to link neighborhood to neighborhood, and to other parts of town - but there are a lot of issues. It’s not easy.’’
Norwell has been studying ways to make the rural town more pedestrian-friendly for the past four years, and just put its first project out to bid. The 0.7-mile sidewalk on Main Street/Route 123 is the beginning of a safe path between the middle and high schools, said Town Planner Chris Diiorio. The estimated cost is $700,000, with the money coming from the town’s Community Preservation fund, he said.
“The big goal is to connect all [four] schools, and the town center, Wompatuck State Park, the commuter rail station in Scituate, other points of interest in town - to make the sidewalks work as a transportation option,’’ Diiorio said. “Everybody in the suburbs is a slave to their cars, and this would provide an alternative for adults and be safer for kids.’’
Wendy Landman, executive director of the nonprofit advocacy group WalkBoston, said other towns also are actively encouraging walking.
She cited Walpole and Braintree, which hired her organization to draw maps of good walking routes in their towns. Scituate will build a sidewalk in the spring using state money from one of the first “Safe Routes to School’’ grants; Brockton is heavily involved in the program. And Quincy is incorporating pedestrian travel into its elaborate downtown makeover.
State law also requires that the needs of pedestrians and bicyclists be considered in highway projects, she said.
“I’m not trying to be Pollyanna-ish and say that everything is hunky dory, because it certainly is not,’’ Landman said. “There are plenty of places that are unsafe for pedestrians on the South Shore, and plenty of places that are not accessible to pedestrians. I don’t want to gloss over that, but there are places that are working on these issues.’’
Johanna Seltz can be reached at email@example.com.