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Council gets it right as sidewalk battle rages on

You don’t make policy on wishful thinking. Nor do you spend money where few people benefit.

It’s common-sense thinking that frequently eludes both bureaucrats and politicians.

Residents are often saddled with poor planning and decision making that hurts all the more when it comes with an unnecessary price tag, from relatively minor handouts to the white elephants galore, from poorly-attended spectacles to transit boondoggles.

It’s in that light that we have to look at the latest sidewalk debate in Woolwich, which saw residents of Elmira’s Green Warbler Crescent oppose plans to install sidewalks on both sides of their street.

This isn’t the first time Woolwich councillors have tackled this issue – not even the first time they’ve discussed this very project – so a decision should have been self-evident heading into Tuesday night’s meeting.

Luckily for residents, most councillors saw it that way. They quickly removed a second sidewalk from the equation after a stream of residents made their way to the podium calling for common sense to prevail.

In this instance, it did.

The cost-benefit analysis pretty much always rules out installing sidewalks on both sides of any street in the township. Yet every time the engineering department does a reconstruction project, the plan includes just that. It’s policy, says staff, the very people who came up with the policy. Well, not a policy per se, because council hasn’t adopted anything formally. In fact, councillors previously rejected a blanket set of rules, having experienced cases where installing a new sidewalk was a very bad idea indeed – see just about any of the older neighbourhoods where homes are already just feet away from the street.

Still, staff insists that it be standard to install sidewalks on both sides of the street, along with curbs and gutters. This is applied to all new subdivisions, which is a debatable requirement but certainly not overly contentious as the concrete is laid before anyone moves onto the street.

It’s a different scenario in retrofitting existing neighbourhoods, however, where the sidewalks usually prove disruptive. As the residents noted Tuesday night, there would be a significant impact on homeowners.

While it would be easy to dismiss concerns about parking – the sidewalks would go on the municipal right of way, taking away driveway space where residents currently park – because the land belongs to the municipality, the inconvenience and resultant snow-clearing issues would certainly outweigh what staff deemed benefits of the project.

Yes, the property belongs to the municipality, but there’s just something galling about having to deal with a sidewalk bisecting your driveway after years of no such inconvenience.

At this point, it would be much easier to simply scrap any notion of a policy.

Any talk that building more sidewalks would suddenly encourage people to walk more often is so much utopian thinking. It’s the same poorly considered rationale for shoehorning bicycle lanes onto streets – the cost and inconvenience far outweigh the handful of users. The numbers are inconsequential, and such arguments should never come up in serious discussion of policymaking, let alone spending money.

Accessibility arguments also hold little weight. Again, the numbers involved don’t warrant disproportionate retrofitting. Reasonable access – heavy on the reasonableness – is enough. Sometimes good enough is good enough.


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