Board to discuss sidewalk safety

Getting around Athens may become a lot easier after tonight’s mayor and commission meeting. The group is set to approve preliminary construction plans for several sidewalks and crosswalks in downtown Athens.

A number of sidewalks in the city are inconsistently maintained or were poorly planned. In some areas, a sidewalk does not even exist, despite the presence of bus stops and businesses. Instead, well-worn footpaths mark the landscape, frustrating property owners and pedestrians alike.

“There’s no consistency at all with the sidewalks,” said Rebecca Kutch, an avid walker. “One minute you’re walking on a nice flat surface, the next you’re tramping through someone’s front yard.”

High traffic areas such as Prince Ave. and Barber St. have benefited from previous sidewalk construction plans. Broken cement, poor drainage, and no wheelchair accessibility caused many headaches for pedestrians in the area. After a meeting about the situation, construction began on the most problematic places. Soon enough, sidewalks appeared where there were none before and handicap accessible ramps were in place.

“It seems like such a simple fix,” said Kutch, “but it takes a lot of fist shaking and shouting to get anyone to pay attention to how important these things are.”

One of the main issues surrounding the sidewalks is one of safety. Without proper paths, pedestrians are forced to walk through yards or on roads, increasing the likelihood of traffic accidents. This becomes especially dangerous during low visibility times at dawn and dusk which are popular with exercising runners.

Proper sidewalks also cut down on jaywalking deaths. National data from various traffic research shows that up to 58% of jaywalking deaths occur in areas with little or poor sidewalk infrastructure. On of the hurdles the board will face with the construction of the new sidewalks is the inconvenience of pre-existing objects such as lampposts, fire hydrants, and signs that must be moved and replaced before the concrete can be poured.

The mayor and commission meet tonight on the issue at 7 p.m. inside City Hall. The meeting is open to the public.

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