EDITORIAL: A sidewalk grid

By NEMS Daily Journal

Tupelo’s consideration of an ordinance requiring “Complete Streets” – including sidewalks – is an issue rising from appropriate development standards and long-term quality-of-life issues.
Tupelo’s oldest neighborhoods, including some where properties are among the city’s most desirable, have sidewalks.
Neighborhoods farther from the city’s historic center – and newer – mostly don’t have sidewalks, and that’s unfortunate because sidewalks are practical, safe and attractive, all value-adding features.
The concerns about increased costs are understandable from the viewpoint of developers, but the mandate for sidewalks would take effect after a period in which the cost of sidewalks, curbs and bike lanes could be factored in before developments are started.
Retrofitting existing streets to include sidewalks would be a long-term process in which the city would bear the cost.
The City Council, unless plans change, will vote Feb. 2 on an ordinance requiring Complete Streets, a national model that includes sidewalks and bike lanes, handicap access and benches.
Tupelo would become the first Mississippi city to adopt the standard, but it is spreading in other southern states.
The idea basically makes pedestrians and bicycle users larger stakeholders in every street built. Streets, built and/or maintained with everyone’s taxes, and with costs recouped if paid by developers, maintained with all taxpayers’ money, should serve the interest of all users.
Streets without sidewalks don’t fully meet the needs of pedestrians, and without bike lanes, streets aren’t optimally safe for bikers.
Two age groups in particular need sidewalks:
n Roads without sidewalks don’t meet the needs of the growing population of older Americans. Census statistics project that by 2025, the portion of Americans over 65 will increase from 12 percent to nearly 20 percent, 62 million people. Their mobility becomes more limited as many give up driving, but not necessarily walking. Sidewalks obviously increase the mobility of older people for a longer time better than the uneven, unshouldered edges of streets.
The Complete Streets organization Website says that 47 percent of Americans over 50 say they cannot cross main roads near their home safely. Almost 40 percent of neighborhoods do not have adequate sidewalks, while another 55 percent reported no bike lanes or paths.
n Similarly, the lack of sidewalks pushes kids to play, run and bike in streets, an invitation to injury.
In the long term, sidewalks promote better health because they are an invitation to exercise walking as well as walking for errands and other personal appointments.
A complete grid of sidewalks, of course, becomes another citywide network of public transit.