A stroll down sidewalk making

Nick Della Volpe
Features columnist

Lots of questions about sidewalks have surfaced lately. Go to any community meeting in this city. Everyone wants more sidewalks: kids walking to school, moms pushing strollers, exercisers completing those 10,000 steps, other folks just enjoying a casual stroll out of harm’s way.

What is holding us back? Money, for one thing. Sidewalks are costly, and budgets are finite. The work is included as part of the city’s budget process. Local tax dollars, not state money, pay for the work.

The mayor has proposed $2.7 million in her recent budget for fiscal 2016-17. What will that buy? Roughly a mile and a half of new sidewalks.

Sidewalk cost is estimated by city engineering at an average $350 per linear foot. Do the math. A mile of new sidewalk (5,280 feet) costs some $1.85 million, with variations depending on site topography, natural drainage, stormwater piping, ADA compliance and other needs. So, the proposed budget could buy roughly 1.5 miles of sidewalk, if the projects were all new ones. The proposal actually includes about three-fourths of a mile of repairs to existing, cracked and damaged surfaces, plus a mile of new sidewalk.

Chilhowee Drive in Holston Hills has sidewalks, but some say they’re virtually impassable. The sidewalk, including the curb, is just less than five feet wide with only two feet between the utility pole and the grassy hill beyond it. Photo by Nick Della Volpe
Chilhowee Drive in Holston Hills has sidewalks, but some say they’re virtually impassable. The sidewalk, including the curb, is just less than five feet wide with only two feet between the utility pole and the grassy hill beyond it. Photo by Nick Della Volpe

How does the city decide which locations get chosen?

I understand Knoxville uses a two-part process. One part is engineering-based, ranking projects under a point system; the other is the administration’s priority. For new sidewalks, the engineers review and rank requests and observed need for sidewalks under a one- to 14-point assignment matrix, using five criteria which ask:

Is it within the parental responsibility zone for schools?

Is it a missing segment in an existing walkway?

What’s the pedestrian usage?

What’s the road’s classification (is it a major or minor arterial, a collector, or a local street)?

Is it on a KAT route?

Armed with that list, the administration considers political priorities in choosing how much money is available and what projects to fund. Private contractors are hired to do much of the work.

Repairs to broken and dangerous sidewalk segments are primarily determined by complaints. Problem areas are examined and assigned a priority level (1, 2 or 3). Small repairs can be done by city’s public service crews. Larger ones are contracted out, along with the new projects.

The backlog of requested new sidewalk projects is huge. My review of the engineering list shows there are 157 projects, covering some 396,315 linear feet of work (that’s 75 miles!), with an estimated total cost of some $138 million. Whew! Takes your breath away. Check back with me in 50 years.

What about new subdivisions?

Should Knoxville require developers to include sidewalks as a part of the plans? It is certainly a desirable amenity and would be a positive selling point. The curb and gutter work is already required as part of the subdivision roads requirement.

As I understand it, MPC staff often recommend sidewalks during their review, but do not compel their inclusion. The full commission, a more political body, acts on these recommendations. It sometimes agrees and sometimes does not.

That policy should be re-evaluated. A community committed to walkability should require new additions to include a sidewalk on at least one side of the interior roads.

Nick Della Volpe represents District 4 on Knoxville City Council.

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