For those who know me, I am pretty quiet when it comes to having strong opinions. Don’t get me wrong, I have opinions but I don’t usually share them out loud. So it was very unusual for me to take a stand on something and be vocal about it especially so publicly.
But in October of 2006, I wrote to our town board requesting consideration for installation of sidewalks on our street. At the time, there were about 9000 vehicles that traveled down our street per day. Our sons where four years old and almost one and for the safety of our children and the children on our street I believed it was a good idea.
What I found was that not everyone on our street agreed. My request was put in front of the Board and was brought up during a monthly town board meeting. All those living on the street were notified of the meeting and they could come and express their thoughts. This was the first time I was a part of some thing so public. The meeting was even taped. My husband and I were quoted in our local newspaper as well.
Prior to the big meeting, I had made calls to the council people trying to drum up support. Many seemed to be on our side until the night of the meeting. Enough neighbors came out to express their unhappiness sighting that they didn’t want to pay for them. Which I think was a valid concern. What I didn’t agree with was the nastiness of some of these residents who suggested that my husband and I move if we wanted sidewalks or to use the money towards our son’s college educations. It became more of a personal attack and I walked away feeling deflated.
I dropped the issue until 2010 and decided with all the new commercial development at the end of our street that had created more traffic that sidewalks should be reconsidered. But this time I had learned about an initiative trying to make towns safer for walkers especially near schools. We are right around the corner from a high school and a middle school. So again, I reached out to the Safety Board and pleaded my case. They again agreed that it should be brought up to the Town Board for a vote. And once again it was rejected because of lack of support. So I felt like I had given it my best shot. I knew there was grant money being used for other neighborhoods but by this time I didn’t have it in me to pursue this anymore.
During this whole process, I had developed a working relationship with the Town Engineer. He understood my frustration but his hands where tied because at that point there was no money available. He had gone so far as to conduct a study of our street and figure out how much it would cost to put sidewalks all the way down the road. At the time it was about $100,000 which would have meant about $4,000 for each house. And because enough were against it the request was denied.
So over the last 5 years there has been no talk about sidewalks. I quietly wished we had them especially when our family takes bike rides and we have to ride in the road. Or when we take our dog for a walk and have to move quickly to get to a side street with less traffic.
So fast forward to 2015, I get a call from a friend who lives down the street telling me that she saw men out in front of her house taking measurements. She approached them but they were being very vague about what they were doing until she told them that she was for sidewalks. Turns out that one of the gentleman was the Town Engineer. He asked my friend if she knew me and that he hadn’t contacted me yet but it looked pretty good that we were on the list to receive grant money to have sidewalks put in.
She quickly called me to tell me. I quickly called my new best friend the Town Engineer to ask him if this news was really true. He said it looked favorable. When grant money was found he had put our street and about four other streets on the list. We still had to have another Town meeting so we needed to bring as much support as possible. So that night my husband and I stood up in front of the board and our neighbors and listed individually why we thought sidewalks were an important thing to have on our street.
My list was to the point. #1. Safety, #2. Living 1/2 mile from a high school and middle school. #3. Living within a mile of a park but not being able to walk there, #4. The fact that we have 9000 vehicles a day pass our house. #5. No usable shoulder on our road for those who ride bikes or walk down our street. #6. And we are the only section of our road that doesn’t have sidewalks.
The reasons why it had been denied twice before: #1. cost to the residents, #2. neighbors said it would raise our taxes, #3. the concern about maintenance and repair.
Cost was no longer a factor, the town denied that it would raise taxes so their was only maintenance and repair as the factor to consider.
The board finally realized that safety was the #1 issue and that our street needed sidewalks. They approved sidewalks for our street. The grant money truly helped out though.
Over the last couple of weeks they have been digging, putting forms down, and pouring cement. The day after the sidewalks were in I was sitting at the kitchen table looking out the window and I watched our elderly neighbor from down the street very slowly walk down the street. As he walked he was looking at the houses in the neighborhood as if he never had seen them up close before. He has lived on the street for many, many years but over the last 15 years that I have lived here I have never seen him take a walk down our street. I had goosebumps and tears in my eyes as I thought about what a long road it has been – 10 years!
I thought to myself – it was worth every bit of repeated rejection because in the end it all worked out. I don’t know if I will ever take on another cause again but if I do I will be more prepared for the long haul.