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Community input needed to improve City sidewalks
ATHENS, OH – Do you trip, slip, fall, or have trouble on the sidewalks of Athens? The City and the Pedestrian Accessibility Committee are concerned about the conditions of the sidewalks, as are many Athenians. The Committee, formed by Athens City Council resolution, is charged with providing strategies and recommendations to improve sidewalk accessibility and walkability in the City. The Committee is seeking input through the end of August via surveys and focus groups to best understand our community’s sidewalk issues and priorities for improvement.
The Pedestrian Accessibility and Walkability Survey results will be used to identify issues and set priorities to make our City more accessible, easier, and more interesting to navigate without a vehicle. People can find the survey via https://ohio.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_8faYujai7voPHYG or QR code distributed around town and in a utility bill this summer. People who need or prefer an alternate format for the survey may contact Debbie Walker, Athens City Clerk of Council, at firstname.lastname@example.org or (740) 592-3342.
The Americans with Disability Act requires that public spaces like sidewalks are accessible for everyone. Carolyn Lewis, member, Athens City Commission on Disabilities and director and general manager emerita, WOUB Public Media, reflects on her experience. “Independence is important to me,” she says. “I have found myself turning around in circles in my wheelchair on some of our City's sidewalks trying to determine my next move without asking for assistance, especially when a sidewalk ends with no warning or when I can't get over a break in the cement. Improvements to the sidewalks are imperative if we are to have safe and easily navigable City paths.” Sidewalks with overgrown vegetation and driveways with cross slopes also create issues for wheelchairs and strollers alike.
In December 2021, Athens City Council passed Resolution R-14-21 which established the Ad Hoc Pedestrian Accessibility Committee to review pedestrian accessibility, with the goal of improving sidewalk infrastructure. In addition to gathering baseline GIS data on sidewalk conditions and reviewing the findings from the 2010 Bicycle and Pedestrian Plan and the City’s 2020 Comprehensive Plan, the Committee is drawing on best practice data from around the country. A series of targeted focus groups, as well as the city-wide survey will complement this information.
“Walking through different neighborhoods and Uptown in Athens is so revealing – many streets have intermittent sidewalks or have sidewalks in need of repair. Periodically, curb ramps are missing at intersections. Very few pathways have shade trees or benches for resting, which would make walking more enjoyable. By default, when no sidewalk exists people use the street, which raises issues around accessibility and safety,” said Dianne Bouvier, Committee chair and Disability Commission representative. She added that the Committee is inspired to learn how other communities have addressed these same issues.
In addition to Bouvier, other Committee members are: Mayor Steve Patterson; Solveig Spjeldnes, City Council member; Rob Delach, community member; and Neil Ryan, Ohio University Geography graduate student; with support from Stephanie Hunter, community member.
The City of Athens and Athens City Council want to know about your sidewalk and crosswalk experiences. The survey results will be used to identify priorities for making our City’s sidewalks safer, more accessible, easier, and more enjoyable to use. “As a member of the Athens Committee, I really need comments and suggestions from our community,” says Mayor Steve Patterson. “Citizen input will allow us to put forward the best possible ideas for making Athens pedestrian friendly for all who walk, roll, stroll, and bicycle.”