Would you trade some lawn for a sidewalk?


According to this in the Washington Post, "Adding Walkways Threatens Lawns and Trees but Mostly Neighborhood Peace." Seems that my county is responding to cries for greater pedestrian safety and neighborhood walkability by budgeting for new sidewalks here in the burbs, but people are up in arms over the loss of some lawn.

Opponents of the sidewalks have raised a host of objections: fears of
liability, the loss of trees and the irony that homeowners will be
required by law to shovel snow from sidewalks they didn’t want.  Some of the anti-sidewalk sentiments: "I moved here because it didn’t have sidewalks; I like the suburban atmosphere." One opponent said he saw no reason to pave over the lawn, uproot the
Bradford pears and generally "change the character of the neighborhood"
that he found so appealing as a homebuyer 30 years ago.

A county spokesman noted that "While they may know that the county has the right of way for a sidewalk, they’ve mowed that grass for 20 or 30 years, and now all these people are going to be walking on what they have thought of as their yard."

The first neighborhood meeting on the subject was SO contentious that the citizens association brought in professional mediators for the next one.

Readers, how would YOU feel if a few feet of what you consider your garden were paved over for a sidewalk?  It’s easy to ridicule people clutching angrily to a few feet of lawn or a crappy Bradford pear but isn’t it usually the case that people object to the taking of their land – even when it really isn’t – no matter what’s on it and no matter the purpose?  If it were for a super highway I’d cheer them on, of course, but being against sidewalks is just uninformed, if you ask me.  I bet anything they’ll end up liking ’em.


  1. Last summer the city was doing roadwork in our neighborhood and had meetings to determine whether to put in sidewalks at the same time. Same thing! Original homeowners standing up and shouting about how they’ve lived here for fifty years and gotten along just fine without them – in the end the city did’nt put them in. I think they would have been useful, but on the other hand we have quite a few very large boulevard trees (elms that escaped Dutch elm disease) that I would have hated to have seen go.

  2. I’m a hardcore pedestrian, and I resent it when there aren’t sidewalks. I walk to the store, to nearby restaurants, to nearby special events, to the bus stop, between bus stops because the next bus won’t be by for a good 15-20 minutes, from place to place because it’s nice out….

    I think the people fussing about giving up some yard for a sidewalk need to pull their crania out of their collective backsides.

  3. If the homeowners know that there is a sidewalk allowance set aside, then they have no grounds for complaint when the county decides to put in the sidewalk. The only people who would complain about a sidewalk are people who drive cars everywhere. So let’s green up, leave the cars at home, walk and hope that there are sidewalks to walk on.

  4. This kind of reminds me of how the people of Indiana got all up in arms over the Daylight Saving Time issue. Some are still whining about it, but an awful lot of them have been surprised by how much they like it.

  5. I definitely feel a sidewalk serves a better purpose than lawn. I would not like trees removed to make way, but I’ve seen sidewalks that go around trees, so trees don’t have to be uprooted to make way for sidewalks and pedestrians. I also think it’s important to provide access for people in wheelchairs. Anything that encourages people to walk and not drive is a good thing.

  6. HUH ? ” but being against sidewalks is just uninformed, if you ask me. I bet anything they’ll end up liking ’em.”
    Uninformed ? … just whom is uniformed ?
    Seems to me that the homeowners are plenty in the know and site several important legal , economic and environmental reasons.
    Don’t misunderstand or mistaken the ideals nor the planning intent of what distinguishes a suburban area from a rural appellation , a city-scape to an urban environment , as well as all types of land holdings in between.

    Understanding preservation is one important aspect of knowing how to correctly manage, design and re-design the urban , suburban and city landscape.
    By changing and rearranging the built character of an established built community IS changing the social quality of life and all that it encompasses.

    This misconception that the homeowners will be merely losing a few feet of their lawn to accommodate a sidewalk is just “uninformed”.

    Suburban sprawl anyone ?

  7. addendum
    I find Sandra’s comment rather oxymoronic ” let’s green up….” – yeah right and put in sidewalks !

    rich. ( eye’s rolling )
    Hey paradise put up a parking lot, and while your at it add some more non pervious concrete to that jungle.

    Here’s a thought for the city planners : why not reduce the width of the asphalt street to put in the sidewalks rather than taking away a green zone ?

  8. In 1973 my parents bought a home in a housing development located in an unincorporated area of their central California town. No sidewalks, but there was the understanding that the area in front of their yard (which they mowed) was not part of their actual real estate and was reserved for future sidewalk installation. Likewise about 15 feet of yard at the extreme rear of the property was reserved to be used for an alleyway at some point. None of these two areas was assessed as part of the actual real estate. Thirty-five years later those areas are still being maintained by my mother, the town has now incorporated, many new housing developments have gone in (all with developer-built sidewalks) and the city promises sidewalks as revenues allow. Mom wants the sidewalks.
    For the naysayers I submit this: In a community near Placerville, California a group of concerned citizens raised the money to have a sidewalk installed on a stretch of busy road after a boy was hit by a car and killed between home and school. The sidewalk is named in memory of him.
    I vote for sidewalks.

  9. Susan, you ought to find the article Mary Battiata wrote some years back for the Washington Post Magazine about trying to walk through the suburbs. Of course there was no place set aside for pedestrians, so her hike was more like a walk on the dark side of the moon.

  10. Ed, I remember that article in the Post Magazine! I grew up in the NoVa suburbs. We carved out paths in yards, median strips, and swales to stay out of traffic. Not ideal.

    Now I live in a sidewalk-filled neighborhood. My kids can bike and scooter safely away from traffic. They decorate the sidewalks with chalk and tuck fairy houses into the trees that border them. I can walk safely to my children’s school, to the store or library, or just to a neighbor’s house.

    So regardless of the legal/environmental issues, I have a strong preference. Whether the walks come from eliminating lawn or narrowing the road, I vote for sidewalks!

  11. I’m for sidewalks, too. I love to walk, and it is very unpleasant to walk in a high-traffic area without a sidewalk.

  12. As a preservationist and someone who lives in a ca. 1940-55 neighborhood built without sidewalks but which is incredibly pedestrian friendly, I agree with Michelle Derviss’s point of view that sidewalks are NOT the universal answer. On busy roads, new development, etc., absolutely put them in. Within walking distance of schools and shopping areas, put them in, if appropriate. My neighborhood, a residential subdivision added to a small size city, the streets were planned so cars would not travel fast (only two or three blocks to a stop sign or dead end), the streets were made wide so people can walk safely, two or three across with pets and strollers; it is the most conducive area for walking and biking I have experienced because the walking area is much wider than a traditional sidewalk. Also, because it seems so unlikely that the street will be widened or sidewalks added (please, no), I planted a mixed border along a fence, in the city’s r-o-w, approximately 50 feet long, and six-to-eight feet deep, that I would hate to lose and which people purposely walk by to see.

  13. I walk everywhere, and the differences between places, even in the same city, with regard to sidewalk upkeep and availability is interesting (and often frustrating). My least favorite stretch of road is narrow, curvy, and ends in a lovely ditch full of brambles. When cars come too fast, your option is to stay put and risk being hit, or to step into the tangle of thorns.
    I think developments ought to invite walking. Sidewalks in themselves don’t do that, but lack of sidewalks is distinctly discouraging most places. (Nancy’s place perhaps excepted.)

  14. I agree with previous comments that there’s no one right answer. I wouldn’t mind if the city put sidewalks on our street, but it’s a similar neighborhood to Nancy’s so they’re really not necessary. My husband and I frequently walk the neighborhood and don’t feel at all crowded by cars. Driving, there are plenty of stop signs and good lines of sight, so you drive slowly and all the kids playing out in the street are easily visible.

    Two suburbs out, where friends of mine live, the roads are curvy and hilly, and traffic moves a bit faster. I would not ever walk there without sidewalks.

    At the same time, I instantly reject the idea of putting sidewalks in the neighborhood where I grew up. It’s an old, inner suburb with a gorgeous canopy of boulevard trees: almost every front yard has at least one. My parents have a beautiful old elm. When you fly over, the residential areas look like a forest, not a city. The streets are kept so cool in summer that you can walk on the asphalt in bare feet (much to the chagrin of my mom, when I would then track those gross black feet into her nice clean kitchen…). The idea of mowing down those hundreds of mature, lovely trees for a strip of concrete makes me sick at heart.

  15. We have boulevard trees and sidewalks – that’s what the “hell strip” is for. Mind you, our sidewalks were put in when the neighbourhood was developed in 1947, so it isn’t exactly an issue here.

    Me, I like sidewalks, and the few times I have visited neighbourhoods without, I’ve not liked having to walk on the road or on what seems like someone’s private property.

  16. Hi Michelle D,
    I am not talking about parking lots, and I think that that is obvious. I am talking as someone who walks everywhere or takes a bus. Also I am talking as someone who lives in a small town where there are neighbourhoods without sidewalks, and without super-wide roads to allow for sidewalks, and where there are problems with traffic and pedestrians, particularly youngsters. Sidewalks can go around trees – much more fun to walk a curvy path than a straight one – and trees can be planted along the outside edge of sidewalks.
    Sidewalks are a good deal less wide than most people’s hard top driveway, and I don’t hear people complaining about that.

  17. I say put the side walks on the road. The road is narrowed, traffic tamed and people get to keep their grass, trees etc.
    I live in a small town with no sidewalks. Everyone walks on the roads. Works for us.

  18. In my experience, a narrower street does not necessarily equal a safer street. My folks used to live on a suburban street in S. Fla that did not have sidewalks. It was narrow (2 cars just fit but there was no room for street parking or pedestrians). Most of the street was relatively straight and flat (this was S. Fla, one of the flattest places around) but there was one section in front of my folks’ house that had a little hump and a curve. The street was very popular with teen and young 20’s drivers who loved to drive it very fast. In the 2 1/2 years I lived at home, there were at least 5 serious car accidents in front of my folks’ house, due to drivers losing control when they hit the hump at the curve. Amazingly, despite the severe damage to the vehicles (one hit a tree and was ripped apart at the middle), there were no fatalities. However, if there had been any pedestrians in the area, they could have been killed. Granted a sidewalk might not have prevented pedestrian fatalities but it would have offered a safety buffer that walking in the road does not.

    We could hope that drivers will be conscientious when pedestrians share the road with them, but that won’t always happen. Too many drivers today multi-task while driving, which increases the likelihood that they won’t stay in their lane. I’ve had many close calls while driving because of distracted drivers; I know I’d feel safer walking on a sidewalk than in the road.

  19. I was going to come out against sidewalks, but after reading the Wash Post article, it seems clear that in this case, sidewalks of one sort or another should go in.

    I don’t think that is true in all cases. I grew up in a place where the local pharmacy had a hitching post outside as well as a parking lot. The hitching post is gone now and the area is more urbanized, but sidewalks still don’t make a whole lot of sense, aesthetically or practically: They would ruin the rural character, most places are too far to walk anyway, traffic is light, and property lines go to the street.

  20. I If the have lived in the historic district of our town for thirty years. We have no sidewalks, because we don’t want or need sidewalks, and still our neighborhood is pedestrian friendly.
    The same formula doesn’t work for every area, so why do people need to insist on conformity? It should be up to the residents to decide if they want sidewalks in their neighborhood.

  21. I had just the opposite problem in a small, rural town. The city wouldn’t maintain the sidewalk in front of my house. I asked them to fix it or take it out. When they did, I planted a lovely row of roses and basil where the broken pavement had once tripped people. (It was so bad, people walked on the street to avoid the sidewalks anyway.)

  22. I sure would trade some lawn for sidewalks. The ciy nixed some sidewalks by where I live to save a few dollars. Now the young people with children in carriages walk on the edge of a BUSY street to get their walks in. Small chidren ride bikes on the edge of this road getting to and from each others houses. Just crazy.

    Just a few block away the city put in a sidwalk where you could see a trail tramped into the weeds for people walking to and from the businesses for work and shopping. They should have been there for years.

    There are places that should have sidewalks to keep the pedestrians safe.

  23. I’m for sidewalks, we have none, and the school bus actually has to stop at each house because it is deemed too dangerous for children to walk on the side of the road ( or adults!). Our houses are spaced out a wee bit, and I would only say yes to a sidewalk if I was assured I would not have to shovel it in our New England snow storms ( we would have over 200 feet of sidewalk in front of our property, and once the ploughs have been by you can imagine what an impossible job that would be.)
    That said, if it meant chopping down lovely old trees, then i would have second thoughts. although I have seen sidewalks built with trees/ telephone poles smack bang in the middle, making it impossible for wheelchairs or strollers to actually use them!

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