Residents of Ballantyne Avenue, a tree-lined street close to the Festival Theatre in Stratford, Ont., are angry that work by city crews to replace sewer and water lines will also take away one of the street's two sidewalks.
And because it's now Stratford city policy that residential streets with two sidewalks only get one after reconstruction work, residents warn that other streets in Stratford's older neighbourhoods will face the same fate.
"In this neighbourhood, everyone uses the sidewalks to visit their neighbours," said Ian Brotherston, who lives on Ballantyne with his wife and daughter. "There are several people on this street who need a sidewalk to get to the next house. In losing a sidewalk, it will limit their ability to do that."
As it is for many older neighbourhoods in towns across Ontario, Stratford is dealing with the sky-high cost of replacing aging infrastructure. The clay sewer pipes on Ballantyne were installed more than a century ago.
The city has plans to dig up a few streets each year to install new pipes, curbs, sidewalks and resurface the road.
Last winter, Stratford held an open house to show Ballantyne Avenue residents city plans to reconstruct their street. The work is now slated to begin in the spring.
At the open house, the Brotherstons attended noticed the "after" images showed the sidewalk missing from their side of the street. They were horrified to learn it wasn't a mistake.
Instead, it's a result of a city-wide policy approved by council in 2013. It states that reconstructed streets with a sidewalk on each side will end up with only one sidewalk when the work wraps up.
No second sidewalk saves $28,500
Ed Dujlovic, Stratford's director of infrastructure and development services, said council enacted the policy in 2013 to save money with the city facing big bills to replace aging infrastructure.
The cost to dig up Ballantyne, replace its plumbing and resurface the street will cost more than a $1-million.
Not replacing the sidewalk on the north side of the street will save $28,500, according to a city report.
Dujlovic said with dozens of streets needing reconstruction and about 200 kilometres of sidewalk in Stratford, every bit helps.
"When you look at all the streets as we slowly re-do them throughout the city, it starts adding up," he said.
He said it isn't only about the cost to replace the sidewalk. Each metre of installed sidewalk represents thousands in annual maintenance costs.
When streets and sidewalks are replaced, they're widened to meet today's standards. Dujlovic pointed to a city report that shows a second sidewalk on Ballantyne would mean the removal of between five and 13 mature trees. He also said a city study showed that foot traffic on Ballantyne's sidewalk is not high, averaging about 185 people on a weekend day and 47 on a weekday.
Municipalities pressed by infrastructure costs
Joe Lyons, a municipal government specialist at Western University, said the debate over Ballantyne Avenue shows the budget pressures faced by municipalities with older infrastructure.
"It doesn't surprise me that municipalities are getting creative," he said. "Municipalities talk about an infrastructure deficit and it does exist and it is considerable. This illustrates that the decisions they make do affect people where they live."
Still, Ballantyne residents say going to one sidewalk will reduce mobility for its residents, particularly seniors and others with mobility challenges.
Ian's daughter Justine Brotherston is worried about one neighbour in particular, an 80-year-old woman who uses a walker but makes regular visits to the Brotherston house.
"She would have to walk on the street," said Brotherston. "What if she's trying to come see us and she ends up falling in the street? If she was on a sidewalk, someone would be able to come and help her up."
The Brotherstons petitioned Ballantyne residents, who were unanimous against losing the sidewalk.
Now they plan to take their fight city-wide, arguing that few people in town are aware that for most residential streets, reconstruction work come at the cost of one sidewalk.
"We're going to let the rest of Stratford know that this will happen to them over time," said Ian Brotherston. "Nobody is aware of this policy. Like us, people won't know it's happening until it comes to their street. That's why we're raising this issue. Everyone needs to know about this."
The Brotherstons say as they spread the word about Stratford's one-sidewalk policy, they'll be reminding people there are municipal elections in November 2018.