Possible Policy Change Could See Money Heading for Sidewalk Repair

Photo: Sidewalk in need of repair.

Town Meeting member Catherine Bowen came to the microphone to ask a question on the Capital Budget at the annual gathering on Wednesday, June 3.

If the town was spending in fiscal 2016 the largest amount ever on road resurfacing at $2.55 million – so much so, said Capital Budget Chair Anne Marie Mahoney, that it couldn’t spend “one more penny” because it had met its construction limit – why not dedicate a few dollars over to repair and reconstruct several miles of dilapidated sidewalks rather than roads that service a few homes with little traffic?

“I have been in Belmont for a few years so if you told me that roads were being repaired, I would naturally assume that sidewalks were part of that [reconstruction],” Bowen told the Belmontonian.

“But when the roads were being repaired in precinct four, I discovered that was not the case,” said the Bartlett Avenue resident.

After a few seconds, Belmont Board of Selectmen chair Sami Baghdady answered Bowen’s query and made news at the same time.

It’s time the board looks at the town’s policy on funding sidewalks as part of the road resurfacing account; he told the body.

And with that suggestion, Baghdady said the selectmen will soon debate possibly reintroducing an annual expenditure for sidewalks, reversing a decade-long practice of haphazard funding during the best of times.
“It was a good suggestion that came from the Town Meeting floor, and it is a policy that the board should discuss and reconsider,” said Baghdady.

With the rare exception of this and the coming fiscal years in which $200,000 in each year will be targeted for sidewalk repair using one-time funds, the town’s decade-old policy has been to forego sidewalk expenditures. As Mahoney stated earlier in the night, the need for road repair has been so pressing since the mid-2000s while money from state and local sources for resurfacing and reconstruction has dwindled over the years.

As a result, a walk on most Belmont sidewalks is interrupted by concrete slabs displaced by tree roots or broken by cars parking on them or by the weather. In all neighborhoods, the lack a well-defined sidewalk with curbing results in vehicles parking on the walkway.

The impact is that many residents – especially the aging or those pushing carriages – find the path daunting and will move in the roadway to walk.

As a member of Safe Routes to Schools at Butler Elementary and Sustainable Belmont, Bowen said as a “green” community the town should be interested in increasing transportation with a lower carbon footprint such as walking as well as encouraging healthy activities.

“There is an increasing awareness that people want to use their sidewalks, that we are using our sidewalks, but we don’t necessarily feel safe doing so,” said Bowen.

The call to review the current policy is due to the simple fact “that our sidewalks need repair,” Baghdady told the Belmontonian.

“Sidewalk replacement should be looked at at the same time. We are always looking for better practices and it seems personally that there might be some economies of scale if we do the work at the same time,” said Baghdady, saying that the board will be asking direction from the Department of Public Works and Community Development on writing a new policy.

“A practice should not survive just because it’s been there for years and years,” said Baghdady.

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