Sidewalks are a recurring issue in municipal politics and here in Port Hope it’s no different. To better understand the issues, I’ve been walking around Port Hope and, as requested by citizens, visited specific sites such as Beatrice Strong. What I’ve seen in some areas around town validates the concerns of several citizens I’ve talked to.
Having passable and well-kept sidewalks should be a priority for any municipality, and especially one where there is a greater proportion of seniors. For me, the sidewalk issue comes down to two fronts where we are underperforming.
1) Walkable sidewalks improve accessibility. Before starting a family I’d noticed that some of Port Hope’s sidewalks were less-than-desirable. However, since having a child, I’ve discovered that some areas are impassable and inaccessible. There are sections — some of them in our downtown core — that are in such poor condition if feels as though you are off-roading.
I’m able and can navigate to other surfaces (an option which is unavailable for many). When my mother, who is fit and capable, was visiting she tripped more than once and even jarred her back. Since I’ve started walking around town knocking on doors, I’ve found areas where the sidewalks are not even apparently there… and the residents were not amused.
Walkable sidewalks help all citizens access their town and encourages activity and exploration in outdoor spaces. Inaccessible sidewalks marginalize already at-risk groups, and encourage site-specific driving (meaning less foot-traffic for local businesses).
2) Sidewalks tell you about a town. Sidewalks are among the first-viewed items in a town — they signal “Pride of Place” and they signal to the citizens in neighbourhoods whether they matter to the town.
When a town has crumbling sidewalks it can send the wrong signals about how much we care. When sidewalks are not maintained in residential areas it signals how important it is that those citizens walk around and be encouraged to be active in their neighbourhood.
During my site visit to Beatrice Strong I found sidewalks lacking at key points where young students would be crossing the road. It is also clear that cars park on the shoulder reducing the amount of safe walking space for children getting to school. Having sections of sidewalk would benefit students safety; traffic calming measures might also address these issues.
For my part, I’d like to examine how we can prioritize high-use surfaces that increase safety and accessibility (student crosswalks, park entrances and pathways). Moreover, I’d like to review the processes by which sidewalks are marked for repair, how Port Hopers can report bad sidewalks, and what the timeframe for those repairs looks like. Finally, I’d like to work with the town to determine if there are better ways to notify MPH of issues, like the one related to Beatrice Strong, so that we can begin determining workable solutions (e.g., a digital notification system, perhaps).