Deputy County Manager Carol Mitten discussed the change during last week’s Arlington County Board meeting. She said the problem isn’t county policy — which was updated in 2011 — it’s the application of that policy.
The county’s Master Transportation Plan calls for 4-5 foot wide sidewalks in residential neighborhoods, with the narrower sidewalk in areas where it would preserve mature trees, parking, slopes or structures.
County staff’s approach, however, has been to design and “start the conversation” with a five-foot-wide sidewalk, even in areas that would otherwise call for the four-foot-wide sidewalk. That led to conflicts and neighborhood consternation.
“There are important accommodations to preserve neighborhood character,” Mitten said. “We think that the policy the Board passed strikes the right balance, whereas our application of the policy perhaps has not.”
While “it is desirable to have a five foot minimum width where possible in order to comply with ADA regulations and for general ease and safe accessibility,” Mitten said, the new approach — of starting the conversation with a four-foot-wide sidewalk where appropriate — “maximizes the opportunity to provide sidewalks along streets where now there are none without compromising the integrity of the overall policy.”
County Board member Jay Fisette said the issue was first raised more than a year ago, after a five-foot-wide sidewalk plan led to the cancellation of some potential Neighborhood Conservation projects.
Libby Garvey, County Board chair, said the county shouldn’t let perfect be the enemy of good, especially in areas where there currently are no sidewalks.
“There are too many streets where to get the perfect sidewalk they’re getting no sidewalk, and that’s not safe for anybody,” she said.