A skeptic by nature, I couldn’t believe that sidewalks in town are 5 feet wide. I paced off 5 feet on the living room rug, and was even more certain that the figure in the ordinance must be a typo. So I dug out the tape measure, and Don and I hiked to the nearest sidewalk in our neighborhood, on Piney Mountain Road.
Five feet wide, almost to the inch. I hate being wrong. But having invested this much time and effort in the matter, we got in the car and drove to North Graham Street to case the block between Rosemary and Whitaker streets.
As soon as we turned onto the block, we could see exactly why residents of the east side of North Graham were so exercised about the prospect of a sidewalk. The houses on that block have postage-stamp-size front yards. Although I didn’t get out and measure, I eyeballed that some of the houses were no more than 20 feet back from the edge of the street. Lopping off 8 feet for a 5-foot sidewalk and 3-foot grassy buffer would bring passersby within a handshake of the front porch.
In New York, people who occupy ground-floor apartments live with their blinds drawn round the clock to protect their privacy from pedestrians walking by. It’s not that pedestrians are particularly nosy, but it’s human nature, when you pass an open window, to look in. Install a sidewalk, and the residents of North Graham Street would not only lose their land, they’d lose their privacy as well.
A resident who presented a petition to council bearing 39 signatures in favor of the sidewalk flashed a photo of cars parked on both sides of the street with another car trying to squeeze through. Certainly that would be a dangerous situation for pedestrians. But the side of North Graham Street proposed for the sidewalk has a “No Parking” sign posted on it, and it doesn’t show that it is limited to certain hours. No cars were parked on the street during the middle of the day, although one car was parked in someone’s front yard (which I believe violates town ordinance). Put in the sidewalk, and there goes that parking space.
The fairest way to resolve the issue would seem to be to leave the decision solely in the hands of the people who own the dozen or so houses on that side of that particular block. Even if they are absentee landlords, a sidewalk would affect the quality of life of whoever lives in the house, and that, ultimately, affects the value of the property.
A sidewalk on this block? Council should walk away from this one.
– Nancy Oates