When you get to the fork in the road, take it

Friday, December 14, 2012

I like sidewalks -- most of them, anyway.

Most sidewalks function well, following streets here and there, going from Point A to Point B.

Some sidewalks, however, are problems. Take the sidewalks along Broadway, for example. They tend to be weed-infested during much of the year. That's the result of too few pedestrians and too many property owners of vacant buildings who don't care what their sidewalks look like.

For now, much of that problem has been solved. The city has spent millions of dollars installing new, weed-free sidewalks up and down Broadway. These new walkways look slick. It will take a couple of years for the weeds to reappear. So enjoy the scenery while you can.

The city has, in recent years, pushed for more and more sidewalks all over the city. Some of the sidewalks are part of what the city calls its trail system, connecting the walking-biking trails along storm-drainage creeks to parks all over the city. The walking-biking trails are heavily used. As a matter of fact, there are so many bikers and walkers that the need for separate trails has become apparent.

A few weeks ago, heavy equipment moved to the north side of William Street and began removing a big part of the hill whose summit is paved with Gordonville Road. There was a lot of speculation about this project, which turned out to be a Missouri Department of Transportation project to create a paved trail from the creek near Kingshighway all the way west to Silver Springs Road.

There has never been a safe place for walkers along that busy stretch of William Street. It could be argued that there wasn't a need, because there were so few walkers. Or, you could argue that there were so few walkers because there was no safe place to walk.

This catch-22 is being resolved by the new trail, at considerable cost and minus one hillside.

Question: Those who use the new trail will be going from where to where, exactly?

Should the mall ramp up for a huge influx of pedestrian or biking shoppers? Will the new mall employees be likely to walk to work? Will the line of cars at Chick-fil-A be replaced -- or matched -- by a long line of hungry walkers?

Another question: Walkers or bikers who use the new trail going west will wind up at the Silver Springs Road intersection with William Street. OK. Then what? Where will they go from there?

There is one other possibility. With the city's ever-growing trail system, won't it be easier for the unchecked deer population to get access to what, up till now, have been considered deer-free zones? Won't the new trail mean it will be easier for the famous albino buck to terrorize traffic zooming over the William Street hill? Or along Kingshighway?

I know I have raised some weighty issues that will make it a mite harder to digest your Cheerios. But that's my job: making you think.

Maybe you have some thoughts of your own about the new William Street Trail and Cycling Gateway. Or maybe you don't care one way or the other. Or maybe you think if you build still more trails, they will come. They who?

OK. I know there are perfectly good reasons for trails and sidewalks. I'm sorry I couldn't come up with more of them today.

Here's what I do know: Every motorist in town can tell you the exact location of his or her favorite pothole in our vast street system. If you left it up to vehicle operators, the money spent on some of the trails might go to repairs beyond throwing a few shovels full of asphalt in a hole to replace broken concrete.

But that's just me. What do you think?

Joe Sullivan is the retired editor of the Southeast Missourian.

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