Do you have materials for dealing with opposition against building neighborhood sidewalks?

This is not an uncommon issue that Safe Route to School teams face. Not everyone sees the value in providing sidewalks for children and others to use. Overcoming opposition can be challenging once it has arisen.

If you are confronting opposition, strive to understand the issue from the other person's perspective. Listen respectfully and carefully to their concerns. It may be helpful to revisit the problem, and make sure they agree there is a problem. In this case that problem is that students do not have a safe pathway in which to walk to school. If the opposition doesn't agree that there is a problem, your first task is to get them to understand your perspective: that there is a problem.

One way to do this is to let them see the problem for themselves. Meet them at the site during the time of day that will demonstrate the lack of a safe pathway for children. Sometimes homeowners oppose sidewalks because they do not believe that students will walk there once sidewalks are built. Show them that there is interest in walking and biking to school. It may even be helpful to have a student speak a meeting about how he/she would like to walk but does not have a safe pathway to do so. If you're able to get the home owners to agree on the problem, you can revisit the solution. They may be more willing to go along with the idea once they understand the issue.

Often opposition surfaces as a "showdown" at a public meeting of a decision making body. Having supporters of the idea on hand to provide positive testimony will ensure the deciders have a clear picture of the pros and cons.

There are well crafted arguments that support providing sidewalks for popular walking routes to school. Here are some below:

* Sidewalks significantly reduce pedestrian collisions with motor vehicles: For instance, one study found that in residential and mixed residential areas, pedestrian crashes were more than two times as likely to occur at locations without sidewalks than would be expected on the basis of exposure. (Source: Knoblauch RL, Tustin BH, Smith SA, Pietrucha MT. Investigation of Exposure-Based Pedestrian Accident Areas: Crosswalks, Sidewalks, Local Streets, and Major Arterials. DOT publication FHWA-RD-87-038. Washington, DC: US Dept of Transportation; 1987. Killing Speed and Saving Lives, U.K. Department of Transportation, London, 1987.)
* Sidewalks provide a safe and level walkway, especially during wet weather and for people using wheelchairs, the elderly, or people pushing a cart or stroller. For these people, it is particularly important that sidewalks have well-designed curb ramps and level driveway crossings.
* Sidewalks provide safe places for children to walk, run, skate, ride their bikes, and play.
* Sidewalks improve the ability for people to get around by providing ways for them to get wherever they need to go: work, parks, schools, shopping areas, transit stops, and home.
* Sidewalks enhance the appearance of individual properties, neighborhoods, and the entire community.
* Sidewalks help protect property frontage from damage due to erosion and parking.
* Sidewalks provide separation between motor vehicles and pedestrians. (You can find these arguments and resources at www.walkinginfo.org)

The following should be considered when supporting the construction of new sidewalks:

* Patience is a virtue: It may take some time to get sidewalks installed in your community. Town or city responses sometime take awhile to work their way through the system to review and rank your project, secure funding, project design, as the design and bidding phases.
* Funding is limited: Sidewalk installation programs are generally limited by available funds. Depending on the topography, drainage needs, and necessity of purchasing additional space (i.e., right-of-way) to construct the sidewalk from property owners, some sidewalk installation projects may be quite expensive. To augment available funds, some planning programs have found a variety of potential sources, both state and federal, which may be used to fund future sidewalk installation projects. The National Transportation Enhancements Clearinghouse has a helpful web site for municipalities looking for funding options. Additionally, some communities have formed improvement districts where residents have agreed to pay for sidewalk improvements over several years through a tax on the property owners who benefit from the improvement projects.
* Build support within your neighborhood: Your elected officials will be more willing and likely to support a sidewalk project that has wide support from the community. Homeowners associations or a school Parent Teacher Organization (PTO) can often be a formidable and persuasive ally. Some residents may oppose a sidewalk in front of their homes, sometimes for hard-to-understand reasons. Some may think the sidewalk may cause them to "lose" property in front of their homes, when it is often already public right-of-way. Some others may oppose a project if they think the project is proposed and sponsored by the town or city. Sometimes these people can be swayed if they are shown that support for the project comes from the neighborhood via a neighborhood association (instead of the town or city) or if there is a special plea from a nearby school principal or PTO representative.

The National Center also has a resource that might be helpful to you. One resource is a piece that address some of the policies that are barriers to walking/bicycling to school, but it has some ideas that could help you in your efforts, also. Other resources that might be of interest to you include one on liability and one that provides a list of existing tools to assess walking and bicycling routes

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