In the midst of rush hour, Barbara Philip’s Prairie Village neighborhood remains quiet and peaceful.
Looking out at the empty street, green grass, and calm trees, it saddens the schoolteacher to think that a few months from now slabs of concrete might be thrust upon her lawn, diminishing the rural charm she’s grown to love about her home over the past 35 years.
The majority of residents living on her street, 70th Terrace between Nall and Monticello, don’t want sidewalks installed. But their protestations might not be enough.
Over the past 15 years, Prairie Village has been gradually installing sidewalks onto every residential street throughout the city.
“We feel it’s important to have a network of sidewalks for pedestrians to use,” said Keith Bredehoeft, a project manager for the public works department. “If there isn’t a sidewalk, people are walking in the street and that’s not safe, especially for kids. Sidewalks are a good thing to have for every neighborhood.”
Last year, because of numerous complaints, however, the council passed a vote petition process, allowing residents to decide whether they wanted sidewalks installed in their neighborhood.
The catch, however, is that 75 percent of the homeowners on both sides of the affected street need to vote against it by Friday. Residents who do not vote will be counted in favor of sidewalk construction.
Bredehoeft said the city crafted the petition policy that way because the city wants sidewalks in neighborhoods.
After attending council meetings last summer, Philips knew the voting process was going to be implemented this spring. But she’s shocked by the terms of the process, which was only outlined to affected residents in a letter last month.
“I’m frustrated that the fate of our front yards lies in the hands of non-responders,” she said. “That’s my biggest problem. The city is counting people who simply don’t care.”
In her area, there are 30 homes affected. So far, 19 homeowners have voted against sidewalks, four have voted yes, and there are seven homeowners who haven’t responded.
The non-responders are a mixture of residents who simply don’t care either way or haven’t had time to mail in their vote, Philips said.
Each resident in her neighborhood who is against the sidewalk installation offers different reasons. Some will lose trees. Others don’t want the responsibility of snow removal or the liability if someone gets injured in front of their home.
All of them, however, think a sidewalk is unnecessary for their little street, which is rarely driven on by people who don’t live there.
And although Bredehoeft emphasizes it’s a safety issue, Philips and her neighbors don’t get it. Since she moved to her home in 1978, Philips has never seen or heard of anyone being injured from walking or running on the side of the road.
“Let’s put those dollars where they’re needed, like fixing up parks or paving streets,” Philips said. “It infuriates me, really.”
Her neighbor, L.J. Fanning, agrees.
As a commercial superintendent working in Kansas City, he understands why sidewalks are important for arterial streets and connector roads, but he doesn’t think the city should waste time and money installing what he calls a “concrete jungle” on slow-paced residential streets. Especially if they’re going to erode quickly anyway, he added.
“There are sidewalks everywhere on the other side of the state line,” Fanning said. “Tree roots have buckled them and they’re slanted and cracked. People can’t even walk on them. They’re dangerous, because they deteriorate fast.”