REGIONAL – Times are changing again. The verities that had everyone driving everywhere because that's all they wanted to do are changing back to what they were in earlier times. Now the cry is for "walkable" communities. That means sidewalks are a necessary part of town planning. Which is why sidewalks and how you pay for them have again become an issue in so many places right now.
Of course, wanting sidewalks is one thing, while financing them is another. County planners Dennis Doyle of Ulster and Dave Church of Orange recently weighed in for us on some of the ways this can happen, as well as other issues involved with getting sidewalks installed.
"There's no one way to finance sidewalks," said Doyle from his Kingston office. "For any development proposal where pedestrian access is needed, sidewalks must be considered. They can be paid for by the business, or funds can be found through transportation funding channels."
Dave Church, commissioner of planning for Orange County, added that, "Common sources of money for this are transportation, and sometimes community development funding."
Doyle brought up the "Safe Routes to School" program that can provide funding for things like sidewalks. It's a federal program and has been used successfully in our area to put in sidewalks and safety railings.
"There's a patchwork of sources," he added. "It can all be used to close gaps or make connections for sidewalks."
"In these cases the original source of funding is federal, typically matched at the state level," noted Church. "Then there's some local matching requirement to be filled in by the county, the town or developer, whoever is lead on the project."
The desire for sidewalks and walkable towns represents a change in attitudes. Doyle recalled how "we have made recommendations for sidewalks since the 1970s." And they were ignored.
"They called them 'sidewalks to nowhere' in the 80s," he added. "It can be difficult to envision growth in the corridors unless you actively think about it in a strategic way. Now that's happening more and more."
Of course, it is much better to have sidewalks in the plan from the beginning.
"If you're retro-fitting them into a neighborhood that was built without them it's noticeably more expensive," said Church.
Our towns are all taking different approaches to the growing new sidewalk problems. For some it's all in their zoning. Doyle pointed to Plattekill, in Ulster County, as a town with sidewalk zoning districts established.
"Plattekill does this in Clintondale," he said. "Communities are now trying to find ways to move development forward with all transportation methods committed."
In Orange, Church added, "It depends on the local municipal code. It's often part of a site plan approval where there's a requirement to address pedestrian needs, and that is often about sidewalks and crosswalks."
Another aspect to this subject is placement of bus stops. Dave Church explained, "In village settings, the trend is that appropriate bus stops are needed more and more. We're dealing with a lot of this in Orange County."
The other pot of money that can sometimes be accessed for this is community development funding, although that's one of the areas that have come under threat of complete cuts from the Trump administration in Washington. Church warns that there is a bar that comes with such money that has to be cleared to qualify, pointing out how the recommendations for sidewalks by the county were honored on Boniface Drive in Crawford, but not always along route 52 in the same community, where transportation has long been doled out by the state on an "if and when" basis.
The only thing that appears clear as Wawarsing battles on whether to charge its businesses to extend sidewalks to its shopping center a few miles from the village center in Ellenville, or Stone Ridge figures out whether it wants pedestrians headed out regularly towards Emmanuel's, comes down to how adamantly municipalities want to enforce what state law says it needs, yet doesn't supply means of paying for. Unless you hire a grantswriter, it seems. Or call your county planning departments for help.