This weeks ‘Town Topics’ features a letter from a local resident claiming to represent the ‘Poe Road Preservation Associaton’, a group of neighbors who have organized to oppose a municipal engineering project that will complete a key section of Princeton’s sidewalk network. The letter makes several arguments against building the new sidewalks, but understates the importance of building them.
Princeton’s engineers made a presentation to Poe Road and Random Road residents in August, about a plan to upgrade water mains in this area. As part of the project, new sidewalks are due to be installed along the section of Poe Road between Random Road and Route 27. Residents are opposing the sidewalk, arguing that it would ‘destroy the rural character’, impose an economic hardship on residents, and place an unfair burden on elderly neighbors to scrape sidewalks in times of snow and ice.
Of these objections, the question of who should pay for new sidewalks seems the most reasonable. In Princeton, homeowners have to pay part of the cost of sidewalk construction. That is not true of road paving, which is always paid for out of tax dollars. A sidewalk benefits the entire community- a classic public good- so it’s not clear why the adjacent homeowner should bear a disproportionate share of the costs. The policy of making homeowners pay for sidewalks sets up regular battles between residents who think it’s unfair that they should have to pay so much, and engineers who are trying to achieve the quite reasonable goal of constructing a joined-up sidewalk network.
But the other objections seem unreasonable. Poe Road is hardly a rural environment. That description conjures images of fields of corn and cows, none of which are present on or near Poe Road. And adding sidewalks does not ‘destroy the neighborhood’. In fact, there are already sidewalks on the other blocks of Poe Road. Rather than spoiling the environment, the neat Belgian blocks and sidewalks enhance the area and certainly add to property values.
Even setting aside the question of aesthetics, there is a fundamental reason why it’s a good idea to add sidewalks on Poe Road- safety. Situated a few blocks from Littlebrook Elementary, the block of Poe Road between Random Road and Route 27 is a missing link between sidewalks connecting to the school and on the other side of Route 27. Pedestrians, including children, are forced into the roadway, where cars can turn at any moment at high speed from Route 27. We owe it to walkers, as a community, to provide a safe environment. And people are walking here, and jogging, and taking their dogs for exercise. We should not preserve a dangerous condition.
Keeping a sidewalk free of snow and ice is a burden, but it is a burden that homeowners all over town accept as part of our community spirit. Owning a home brings responsibilities, including mowing the lawn, cleaning out the gutters, and clearing the driveway. Scraping sidewalks is no harder than these other tasks, and is something we should step up to willingly as a contribution to making a safe, walkable environment.
What are your thoughts on buildout of the sidewalk network? Let us know in the comments section below.