Durham: Where the Sidewalk Ends

They end abruptly. They dont exist in places where they are needed. They are cracked and broken. You should want better sidewalks in Durham because the improve the lives of all residents, not just those who can’t afford a car.

For too long, the South has been known for its urban sprawl and reliance on cars. This has come to the detriment of walkability. There are many benefits of having a complete walkable sidewalk network. In fact, residents of Durham should champion sidewalk improvement projects for the city’s Participatory Budget initiative.

Why Sidewalks Matter: Vulnerable Residents

Many of your neighbors can’t afford to own a car. Nearly one in 10 Durhamites have to rely on walking, cycling, or getting rides in order to run errands, get to job opportunities, and do all the activities necessary to live (Governing.com, 2016). Not only does a lack of sidewalk infrastructure create challenges for these residents, it hurts the citys economy when people cant get to work or to the store (Benfield, 2013).

Other vulnerable members of our society suffer from lack of sidewalks as well. According to a national poll, 47% of people over the age of 50 claim that it is unsafe to cross the street near their home (Steinfeld & Maisel, 2012). As a result, they often dont feel safe walking, which limits their ability to get out into their neighborhoods, make social connections and integrate into their communities. Residents who ride in wheelchairs or electric assisted vehicles are also severely limited when there isnt sufficient sidewalk infrastructure available.

Source: The Herald Sun (https://www.heraldsun.com/)

Non-vulnerable Residents

Sidewalks are particularly important for our vulnerable populations but benefit all Durham residents. Many people who own cars often find it more pleasant to walk and do so for recreation frequently. Plus, there is a social benefit. As David Sucher puts it in his book, City Comforts, “The sidewalk is important because it channels pedestrian movements and forces people into closer proximity where they may bump into each other and act neighborly(Sucher, 2010). When Durhamites go from their house into their garage and directly into their car, there are few if any opportunities to interact with neighbors and build the strong social fabric of a community.

Additionally, many studies have shown that the presence of sidewalks can induce more walking (Frumkin, Frank, & Jackson, 2010). In addition to more walking being great for health, it also replaces short car trips. A reduction in miles driven has positive effects on environmentally dangerous CO2 emissions (Mashayekh, Jaramillo, Chester, Hendrickson, & Weber, 2011).

Current State of Durham Sidewalks

Durham sidewalk infrastructure is poor, particularly in areas of the city that have more renters than homeowners (Sorg, 2016). Important streets such as South Alston Ave, North Roxboro Street, University Drive, and LaSalle Street have incomplete sidewalk paths (Sorg, 2016). In early 2017, the City identified over 400 miles of sidewalk construction and repair needs, 480 intersection improvement project needs, and 450 miles of bicycle infrastructure maintenance and implementation needs (City of Durham, 2017). However, due to a lack of funding, they could only prioritize 75 projects in this plan (City of Durham, 2017).

Path that has seen pedestrian traffic, but does not have a sidewalk
Source: Bull City Rising (www.bullcityrising.com)

Sidewalk that ends abruptly by Durham-Chapel Hill Blvd.
Source: North Carolina Health News (www.northcarolinahealthnews.org)

One of the main reasons that Durham is slow to address sidewalk concerns is that they rely on federal funding and NCDOT approval for sidewalk projects (Flamini, 2018). Both North Carolina and the federal government prioritize automobile and highway spending of transportation budgets, and as a result, sidewalks are woefully underfunded.

Former local Durham blog, Bull City Rising had a great video showing the difficulty of walking using current sidewalk infrastructure in South Durham.

Another Way to Pay

There is a little bit of hope. In 2018, Durham City Council implemented Participatory Budgeting, an extremely exciting initiative that allocates $2.4 million dollars to projects directly voted on by the residents of Durham (City of Durham, 2018). We have been given the power to address the sidewalk problem and make Durham a better city for everyone in the process. Residents were able to submit projects and other Durhamites want to see sidewalks improved as well. Many of the submissions have to do with sidewalks or crosswalks.

With a coordinated effort, residents of Durham can show that sidewalks are important. What you can do:

Step 1: Take a look at the projects that were previously submitted on this map
Step 2: In May, 2019, vote for the sidewalk projects in your neighborhood and across Durham
Step 3: When the next round of participatory budgeting is announced (hopefully either end of 2019 or 2020), make sure to submit the sidewalk projects that YOU want to see addressed!

More on the participatory budgeting process can be found on their main website.

Benfield, K. (2013). The Case for Walkability as an Economic Development Tool - CityLab. Retrieved February 24, 2019, from https://www.citylab.com/design/2013/01/case-walkability-economic-development-tool/4317/
Carruthers, J. I., & Ulfarsson, G. F. (2003). Urban sprawl and the cost of public services. Environment and Planning B: Planning and Design. https://doi.org/10.1068/b12847
City of Durham. (2017). Durham Bike+Walk Implementation Plan. Retrieved from https://durhamnc.gov/DocumentCenter/View/14559/Bike_Walk-Draft?bidId=
City of Durham. (2018). Participatory Budgeting | Durham, NC. Retrieved February 3, 2019, from https://durhamnc.gov/3747/Participatory-Budgeting
Flamini, D. (2018). Why Durham residents must wait for sidewalks | Durham Herald Sun. Retrieved February 3, 2019, from https://www.heraldsun.com/news/local/article223679725.html
Frumkin, H., Frank, L. D., & Jackson, R. J. (2010). Urban Sprawl and Public Health: Designing, Planning, and Building for Healthy Communities. Island Press. Retrieved from https://books.google.com/books?id=Xk06al1sAmUC&source=ttb
Governing.com. (2016). Vehicle Ownership in U.S. Cities Data and Map. Retrieved January 27, 2019, from http://www.governing.com/gov-data/car-ownership-numbers-of-vehicles-by-city-map.html
Mashayekh, Y., Jaramillo, P., Chester, M., Hendrickson, C. T., & Weber, C. L. (2011). Costs of Automobile Air Emissions in U.S. Metropolitan Areas. Transportation Research Record: Journal of the Transportation Research Board, 2233(1), 120–127. https://doi.org/10.3141/2233-14
Melosi, M. V. (2010). The Automobile Shapes The City: Automobiles and Sprawl. Retrieved January 27, 2019, from http://www.autolife.umd.umich.edu/Environment/E_Casestudy/E_casestudy9.htm
Sorg, L. (2016). Bull City Rising: The sorry state of Durhams sidewalks; take the bike/ped survey. Retrieved February 3, 2019, from https://www.bullcityrising.com/2016/05/the-sorry-state-of-durhams-sidewalks-take-the-bikeped-survey.html
Steinfeld, E., & Maisel, J. (2012). Universal Design: Creating Inclusive Environments. Design and Culture (Vol. 5). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13398-014-0173-7.2
Sucher, D. (2010). City Comforts. How to Build an Urban Village.

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