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Sidewalks on Town's 'Wish List'

Vienna looks to address growing resident demand for neighborhood pedestrian access.

For years, when Mark Schroeder looked down at his front yard towards the line where his lawn roughly met the road, he knew something needed to be done.

The marketing consultant and 10-year resident of Ayr Hill Road in Vienna was concerned about the safety of his family as they walked down the heavily trafficked side road in the town’s Northeast district. The problem was only compounded during community events when cars would line his street, more traffic would flow through the neighborhood and people were forced to walk precariously down the middle of the street.

And while the town is presently home to about 374,000 linear feet of publicly-constructed sidewalks, according to Vienna Public Works figures, there was no sidewalk on Ayr Hill Road.

"It was this one right here, and another one inside," said Schroeder as he stood outside his home, referring to his 8-year-old daughter Jordan and her sister. "It’s a level of safety for my kids and the other kids in the neighborhood … you just can’t have people walking down the middle of the road."

Schroeder joined with his neighbors who had expressed similar concerns for their neighborhood, which is less than a mile from the town’s downtown. In time they banded together to form a petition and lobby the Town Council for the sidewalk.

The same desire struck eight-year Vienna resident Sandra Allen of Owaissa Road, who wanted to see her children have a safer morning walk to nearby Cunningham Park Elementary.

"The sidewalks were disjointed, you would be walking along and then all of a sudden there would be somebody else’s yard," said Allen. Six years ago, the stay-at-home mom joined with like-minded residents to petition Vienna’s Town Council for a sidewalk.

IN 2006, Schroeder’s and Allen’s efforts came to a successful conclusion when the Town of Vienna completed construction on concrete sidewalks to line their streets. It’s an end result that the two community activists said they would like to see in more of Vienna’s neighborhoods.

"I wish we could have sidewalks everywhere," Allen said. "Safety for the kids was my biggest priority, but we use it a lot and can now walk back and forth to lots of places."

"It just makes it a lot safer for you and your family," Schroeder said. "And being able to walk to other people’s houses … it brings a little more connection to the community."

The desire for more sidewalks lining Vienna’s streets has been a growing trend over the course of the last 10 years, according to council member Maud Robinson.

When several subdivisions of the town were first constructed, there was less of an emphasis on promoting a pedestrian community and a concern of the town impeding on residential property lines that held back the construction of

sidewalks in many of Vienna’s neighborhoods, Robinson said.

But resident sentiment has changed.

"We live in the walking generation, we’re seeing it everywhere," Robinson said. A more health-conscious, younger population has mixed with a number of new downtown destinations and activities as well as a growing concern to reduce energy consumption to propel sidewalk demand in Vienna, she added.

THE DEMAND FOR new sidewalks is increasing in virtually every neighborhood in Vienna according to survey results, said Steve Kenney, co-chairman of the town’s sidewalks subcommittee. The sidewalks subcommittee, a temporary task force established by the town council last year, had the objective of finding priority areas for sidewalk construction in Vienna and is staffed by town officials and community representatives.

In March, Kenney and the subcommittee released the findings of its study of the need for sidewalks to the Vienna Town Council. A survey conducted throughout the town asking residents about their perceived need for a sidewalk in their neighborhoods netted approximately 200 responses.

"We didn’t have very many [neighborhoods] that did not want them," said Kenney. The group worked to assemble data on the necessity of new sidewalks that included the streets’ access to main roads, resident demand and the proximity to local schools, he added.

In their conclusions they identified 15 streets to be listed as high, or "first" priority, 15 to be listed as a second priority and 20 as a third priority, according to the study.

The committee is waiting on a date for a town council work session in which they will draft a plan to initiate the first phase of new sidewalk construction, Kenney said.

"It’s not meant to be a one-year or even a two-year program, it’s meant to be an eight- to 12-year program," he said. "And frankly it all depends on available funds and what the town can put together."

FINDING THE FUNDING for the installation of the 50 streets identified in the sidewalks subcommittee’s report is the largest obstacle towards seeing their completion, according to Vienna Town Manager John Schoeberlein. The completion of sidewalks on all of the subcommittee’s streets would cost the town "millions," he added.

The town’s designated sidewalk construction fund totals about $500,000, including approximately $100,000 allocated to it in this year’s budget, according to Schoeberlein.

The sidewalk subcommittee testified to the council that sidewalk construction would cost approximately $120 per linear foot, at a rate of about $700,000 a year for 12 years, according to town documents. But that number doesn’t always take into account extra engineering costs, according to Holly Chu, director of Vienna’s Department of Public Works.

"It’s not as simple as just walking to a street and laying some concrete down," Chu said. "You could have a number of different issues that you need to contend with," such as grading, public easement limits and curb and gutter work.

More obstacles arise when a property owner has a fence or landscaping that would need to be relocated or removed in order for a sidewalk to be placed bordering their property, she added.

VIENNA HAS CONTINUED to search for new ways to ensure that sidewalks are created in town, including a recent measure that will be heard by the Town Council in August that would require certain developers to construct sidewalks on their properties, according to town documents.

As more activities and businesses come to Vienna’s growing downtown, residents need to feel more encouraged and comfortable walking to the events that the town offers, according to Vienna Mayor M. Jane Seeman.

"This town can be so walkable, really almost all the people in town are within reasonable walking distance of the downtown," Seeman said. "It really makes me feel good that we’ve at least come this far, but we need to do more."

Doing more may require more creativity and funding sources to see fruition, according to Robinson.

"We all have our wish list but we need to face the fiscal reality … that sidewalks cost big bucks," she said. "No one is aware of this demand for sidewalks than the mayor and Town Council, and all I’m saying is that we as a community need to look at more ways of finding sources for this funding."

"This is a collective community issue."