Getting sidewalks built can be a tricky business. Last year, residents on Falls Chapel Way were divided over a proposal to build a sidewalk there, and in Potomac Village, the county remains deadlocked with businesses over easements needed for a sidewalk between the U.S. Post Office and Falls Road.
But sometimes the system works.
Persimmon Tree Road area residents and county officials met Sept. 17 to celebrate the completion of a sidewalk there that moved from community suggestion to completion in less than five years — light speed in construction terms.
The 1.6-mile sidewalk, beginning at Holly Leaf Lane and stretching to MacArthur Boulevard in Cabin John was completed this spring. It connects with an existing sidewalk along Persimmon Tree between Holly Leaf and Oaklyn Drive, which was built when Avenel was developed.
In the last 10 years, several accidents — including at least two fatal ones — have occurred on Persimmon Tree, which is narrow and hilly with short sight distances, although none of the fatalities have involved pedestrians.
That was all the more reason to push for the sidewalk to be built quickly, residents said.
“I always had concerns,” said Malcolm Stevenson, president of the Carderock Springs Homeowners association. His daughter and her friends often used the side of the roadway to bicycle down to the shopping center on MacArthur Boulevard and the C&O Canal.
The need for the sidewalk was clear during the sunny weather Saturday morning : even as politicians and residents socialized, children on bicycles sped precariously through the group and joggers and walkers made their way around it.
Stevenson acknowledged that not all sidewalk projects materialize.
“It’s a good project. That’s why it got done — because it was a good project,” he said.
THE PROJECT GREW out of a suggestion by Avenel resident Ken Reisenfeld in a 2000 Avenel homeowners meeting.
Avenel Manager Robin Warsaw took up the project and found that she had only two days to submit the request to the planning committee that was preparing to update the Potomac Subregion Master Plan in 2001.
Residents helped document the need for the sidewalk and submit the request, by fax, just before the deadline, with help from Potomac Team Leader Callum Murray at the Park and Planning Commission.
The request became part of the master plan recommendations and was approved by the County Council the following year. Warsaw and others said the county was extremely responsive to the request. Then-director of the Department of Public Works and Transportation Al Genetti visited the site several times and County Councilmembers offered support by telephone and e-mail.
The current Public Works and Transportation Director, Arthur Holmes, said the project was particularly special to him because he was on the Planning Board when it was approved and in his current job when it was constructed.
“This is the third leg of our transportation system and we forget it so very, very often,” Holmes said. “There are buses, we need them. We need the roads. But we must get our pedestrians, our folks around safely.”
Warsaw said the sidewalk was not an Avenel project but the result of a collaborative effort.
“This happened because of a group of homeowners associations that got together to do this jointly,” she said. Among them were Avenel, the Persimmon Tree Homeowners Association, the Carderock Springs Homeowners Association, and the Cabin John Homeowners Association, all of which had representatives on hand Saturday.
Murray said the unanimous neighborhood support for the sidewalk was rare.
“This is one of the few sidewalk projects where there was little or no opposition,” he said.
“It was so clearly a good idea, and there was space for it,” said Burr Gray of the Cabin John Homeowners Association. “When it came up in front of our association. Everybody supported it. It seemed like it really fits in nicely.”
“We politicians love to come out to ribbon-cuttings related to enormous buildings,” he said. “We don’t come out to enough sidewalk dedications.”