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Saturday, December 28, 2013

No Sidewalks: Can't Get There From Here

While I was writing my previous Streamhugger post about Black Friday Parking, I began to to digress about another issue that was glaringly evident when looking at an aerial photo of the mall where I took photos of vastly underused parking lots. So I figured I better save that rant for a different post. So here is that post about sidewalks, as inspired by the lack thereof around South Mall at the south end of Allentown, PA.

 South Mall property, as currently developed, literally straddles the municipal line between the city of Allentown, and Salisbury Township. Originally farmland, it was first developed commercially in the early 1970s with a lone department store, and the mall grew around that anchor store through the 70s and the 80s.
(Image from Google Maps, annotated by author)
The residential development abutting the mall to the north, Allentown’s Alton Park, was built mostly in the 40s and 50s. The residential development to the west was built in the early 1990s, and the homes to the southwest were built in 1980s. I’m sure the developers for the neighboring homes built in the 80s and 90s used the proximity to a shopping mall as a selling feature. So why then would the developers not have the foresight to build sidewalks connecting to the neighboring shopping mall?

Sidewalk-less residential streets in the neighborhood
immediately west of South Mall.
Dead-end street in the Alton Park neighborhood immed-
lately north of South Mall. There is no pedestrian cut-
through. Only a tree line to separate the neighborhood
from the mall.
The answer to that question is probably that the municipality (Salisbury Township, in the case of the homes to the west and southwest) did not require sidewalks along their residential streets even though they were built adjacent to a large retail destination. With no sidewalks existing in the adjacent neighborhoods, I can almost understand why no one built sidewalks to connect these residential streets directly to the mall. Although, I do not think that omission was justified. In the case of the Alton Park homes, which lie north of and pre-date the mall, I’d assign that blame directly to the mall owner. They chose to plant a treeline along their common property boundary with the Alton Park homes rather than building short walking paths connecting three dead-end streets to the mall property. Blocking neighborhood access with dense vegetation – that seems like a pretty unwelcoming strategy for a retail shopping establishment.

For a municipality to not require sidewalks throughout residential developments and to not connect residential developments to shopping districts (or, in the case of South Mall, to an otherwise extremely conveniently located shopping center) is both short-sighted and incompetent. Not requiring sidewalks for whatever reason is like making the hugely inappropriate assumption people would prefer to rely on automobiles to make even the most basic shopping or social trips. That assumption strips residents of the ability to choose to walk or bike instead relying on automobiles, and 21st century Americans deserve to have the ability to make that choice. The only parties who are served well by development decisions that make walking and biking inconvenient are the automobile and petroleum industries.

This woman is walking on the sidewalk-less street behind South Mall with her back to oncoming traffic. She is either brave or naive. Considering that she was wearing ear buds and apparently listening to music on her phone, I think that calling her naive might be sugar-coating it.


  1. In Whitehall Township's Route 145 Safety Improvement project, PennDOT failed to provide connecting sidewalks to school district property. They installed sidewalks along specific section of MacArthur Road, however failed to connect this sidewalk to the public library on school district property along Mechanicsville Road, another State Road. Students sometimes walk the driving lanes of the street on their way to a nearby convenient store. Guess Safe Routes to School concepts did not apply because it was not in a traditional neighborhood of core community.......

    I won't mention that PennDOT will be installing sidewalks on both sides of the Route 412 widening project for the entire length.

    1. Sadly, that doesn't surprise me. PennDoT is the poster child for state bureaucratic rectal-cranial inversions. PennDoT has made it clear in other instances that Safety Improvement applies only to vehicular traffic and does not consider pedestrians or bicycles. Here is a great example of PennDoT logic from my friend Ron Beitler's blog: http://www.ronbeitler.com/2013/10/17/penndot-in-a-nutshell/