Windsor might get more sidewalks — but people are divided over the idea
Nearly half of all residential streets do not have a sidewalk on either side
More sidewalks could be in Windsor's future.
Later this summer city council will consider a new active transportation master plan. It recommends sidewalks be added to streets that were built without them, "within a set number of years."
The master plan recommends developing a sidewalk program and budget to connect these locations. On local roads, it suggests the city start "strategically" by first adding sidewalks in "areas of higher pedestrian demand," to provide access to key destinations such as schools, parks, hospitals, seniors centres and community centres.
A 'treacherous' walk to school
Ana Franco moved to Windsor from Stratford three years ago, and immediately noticed the lack of sidewalks.
"Right away, yeah. Yeah, I was like, 'This is so weird,'" said Franco, who tends to bring her children to playgrounds in her car, to make sure they get there safely.
"If there was sidewalks, I'd probably be more apt to walk my child to school in the mornings."
Safety is also on the mind of Marc Frey, who lives on Northway Avenue near Bellewood Public School. He said it can be "treacherous," navigating his street when he's taking his dog for a walk and going to the park with his wife and daughter.
"I'm always mindful that the bus could be coming down, cars could be coming down," said Frey. "I try to walk on the grass if I can. If there's no grass or if there's cars parked here, it makes it challenging."
A neighbourhood at odds
The people on the 2800 block of Northway have thought more about sidewalks than most Windsorites. In April, city council debated building one between Labelle Street and Grand Marais Road. The sidewalk would be 400 metres long and cost $125,000.
It would also cross about 20 front lawns and driveways, including Andrew Stannard's.
"Make better choices than taking people's property that lived here for 30 years, interrupting their driveways," said Stannard, standing on his own driveway, which is barely long enough to park his SUV as it is.
Stannard went up and down the block, asking his neighbours what they think. He said only five support the sidewalk, and the whole thing has created bad blood.
"I think it's horrible that the whole neighbourhood's at odds at this. We don't need a sidewalk. It's unjust. It doesn't make sense," said Stannard. "Taxpayers' money is at risk here."
'An assumption that people would have cars'
The debate around sidewalks goes back to the years following World War II, according to Paul Hess, an urban planning professor at the University of Toronto. Cities all over North America were bursting at the seams and new neighbourhoods popped up on what used to be farm fields.
Hess says the developers were always looking to save money.
"Their regulations weren't very strong, and I think there was a bit of an assumption that people would have cars and it wouldn't be a big issue," said Hess. "We let subdividers build subdivisions with either a sidewalk just on one side sometimes, or without sidewalks at all."
Hess says this kind of thinking lasted for decades, but over the past 30 years, it started to change. As concerns grew about congestion, the environment and even fitness, people — and planners — started thinking it would be nice to move away from driving everywhere.
In 2000, Windsor's official plan was changed to require sidewalks on one side of all local streets, and on both sides of collector and arterial roads.
How many gaps are there in Windsor's sidewalks?
Currently, 47.4 per cent of all residential streets do not have a sidewalk on either side. Even on arterial and collector streets, there are 78 kilometres with no sidewalks, and another 62 kilometres with sidewalks on just one side.
This amounts to 42 per cent of arterial streets and 46 per cent of collector streets.
The decision comes down to dollars
When the active transportation master plan comes before council later this summer, it has the potential to shake things up on the sidewalk scene.
But walkers should not expect results in the near future.
John Revell, the city's chief building official, also oversees transportation planning. He said the master plan is intended to be "very high-level," and any decisions about what gets built and when come down to dollars and competing priorities.
"The infill will be largely driven by the capital budget, and it would occur over a number of years," said Revell. "It's broadly a 20 to 25-year time horizon, and it's a nice vision for the city, and hopefully, we can achieve some of those fundamentals."
There has never been a successful petition to add a sidewalk
The Northway situation is unusual. The only reason the sidewalk was considered is because a new crosswalk is being built leading to Bellewood School at the end of the street.
People who want a sidewalk added to their streets typically have to petition the city for a local improvement. It would mean everyone on the block has their share of the cost added to their property taxes. For a typical home with a 1,500-metre-wide, that would be about $1,500.
The City of Windsor says the last time anyone even bothered to do this was in 2014 — and it never got enough signatures. In fact, there has never been a successful petition to add a sidewalk.
In the end, city council voted in favour of the sidewalk on Northway.
Construction has not started yet, and everyone on the block is nervously waiting to find out which side of the street will get it. While Windsor may take a cautious step toward building "missing" sidewalks, Hess said other cities are doing it.
"It's practical. You have to work with the residents, and you have to fund it. It is not a huge amount of money, but it is real money still," said Hess.
"I think that's just a basic facility that an urban neighbourhood should come with."