Lunch hour on a Thursday afternoon and traffic on Magnolia Drive, between South Meridian and Apalachee Parkway is light, but in the afternoons, it gets busy. Traffic is a problem for Indian Head Acres resident Doug Martin, who says a sidewalk on Magnolia has been an issue for 20 years.
“This is a narrow, busy road, and it’s almost impossible to walk beside it in several places without being in a ditch," Martin told the Tallahassee City Commission.
The Magnolia project is one of several approved by commissioners earlier in the week during a heated debate over how, when and where sidewalks should be built. The debate was jump-started through the plea of Live Oak Plantation resident Virginia Dailey, who says she’s been working to get a sidewalk on her street for five years, and notes the city hasn’t been following its own rules.
“There are projects on the currently in place list ranked lower than the three projects you identified and approved yesterday that have been funded, been spent, have been completed or are proposed for funding in the coming year," she says.
The city has a process for deciding where to build sidewalks, but it’s unclear, even to members of the commission. Tallahassee Mayor John Marks says the way the group has gone about approving sidewalk projects is wrong.
“It’s obvious under these circumstances in my opinion, that we don’t have a clear process. That we don’t understand how we put sidewalks on a list to be developed," he said.
“It’s as simple as calling in and letting us know there’s a need out there for a sidewalk, and we’ll evaluate it and put it on the list in proper ranking order," says Gabriel Menendez, Director of Public Works for the City of Tallahassee. The city has a list of sidewalks that need to be constructed and it’s in the process of revising the document which is due out in September. Menendez says there’s a greater need for sidewalks than the city has money to pay for.
“For those that are strictly city-owned and operated, we’ve identified 141 miles of sidewalk needs. Which translates to $141 million dollars of need.”
That’s more than the $104 million the city plans to spend on all its maintenance and construction projects for the next fiscal year put together. Meanwhile, Magnolia and Live Oak plantation aren’t the only roads vying for attention. Another project called Southside CARES—has a list of several different roads in the Southside area that are also in need of sidewalks.
It’s part of a larger initiative aiming to improve the quality of life in the neighborhood. But Chris Edwards, the city business advocate, says infrastructure can make an immediate impact in the area, especially when it comes to pedestrian safety.
“When you think about open drainage ditches, and kids lining up going to school or walking to school, it makes people say, ‘okay, let’s see what we can do'. I think children are like driving forces in neighborhoods and I think that’s one of the things we can do," he says.
Back on Magnolia Drive, a three-person City of Tallahassee crew walks down a side street that happens to have a rare sidewalk—even though its cracked and uneven.
They're surveying the area, taking measurements for a new sidewalk, trying to determine if there's enough room. That leads to another issue—drainage ditches. The deep grooves running alongside of many Tallahassee roads are vital to controlling flooding. They also take up a lot of space. And they could become a big problem for proposed sidewalks on roads like Magnolia and Live Oak Plantation—since there may not be enough room for them.
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Correction: In the original version of this story, Virginia Dailey's name was misconstrued as Victoria Dailey.