Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Sidewalks of Maynard

According to the Town of Maynard, MA, population 10,000, the town maintains roughly 50 miles roads and 30 miles of sidewalks. The latter includes wide sidewalks on both sides of streets in the downtown district, 3-5 foot wide sidewalks on both or only one side of some of the other roads, and no sidewalks on less traveled roads.

The first mention of sidewalks is in an Annual Report from 1880 as a comment that $150 was spent on labor and gravel. Back then an unskilled laborer was paid about $1.25 per day. Subsequent reports had budgets covering highways, bridges and sidewalks that gradually increased from $1,000 per year to $2,500 per year. The report for 1893 mentioned concrete sidewalk for Nason Street, but most years described sidewalk expenditures as for labor and crushed stone. Starting with 1902 there were budget breakouts just for sidewalk work: $500 per year for the early years, increasing to $2,000 to $2,500 per year by 1925.  

Without a curb, a grassy strip was needed to separate the
sidewalk from the street. This has different names in
different parts of the country: parkway, citygrass, tree lawn
(if wide enough to include trees), etc. The city owns it
but the homeowner is responsible for upkeep.
As noted, sidewalk materials in the early years were typically gravel, crushed stone, stone dust or cinders. Roads were often of the same composition, so to distinguish road from sidewalk there was either curbstone or a grassy strip separating one from the other. Road surface science progressed from macadam to tarmac to tarvia, to present-day asphalt or concrete. The town's 1921 report mentioned that streets were graded and oiled, bridges replanked, and sidewalks repaired with cinders, gravel and stone dust. Same year, sidewalks were upgraded to asphalt on Walnut, Thompson, Nason and Summer Streets.

The primary purpose of sidewalks is to provide pedestrians with a safe means of getting from one place to another. Today, that means not sharing space with cars, but circa 1900, Maynard had nearly one horse for every ten people, so sidewalks kept people away from horse-drawn wagons. One reason etiquette called for a man to walk on the street side of a woman was to protect her clothing from horse manure spattered by passing vehicles.

Sidewalks have other purposes - places to meet people one knows and see people one does not, to peer into store windows, sit at cafes, for children to jump rope or learn to ride a bicycle, and just to be outdoors when indoors is too crowded or confining. A double plus for Maynard is that sidewalks actually go somewhere (downtown), and by walking, residents avoid the need to find parking and get exercise, too!

Texting while walking creates problems. People are more likely to walk into traffic when distracted. Even when away from street corners, texting-distracted walkers are 10-25 percent slower than people trying to get somewhere, and more likely to drift to one side or the other. Some urban sites are putting padding on light posts and telephone poles.          

Back to Maynard: In parts of town sidewalk replacements are overdue to the point that people consider it safer to walk in the street. This year saw new or rebuilt sidewalks and curbing on portions of Concord, Thompson, Parker and Acton Streets. Next year will see beginning of paving of the Assabet River Rail Trail, which in effect will be a wide sidewalk and bicycle and skateboard path bisecting the town.

The mystery of bumpy yellow (sometimes orange)
metal plates at street crossings is solved.
 A note about sidewalk upgrades: The American Disabilities Act of 1990 requires that when sidewalks meet streets there be no curb, and instead a ramp that will accommodate a wheelchair. However, for blind and severely visually impaired people, the lack of a curb took away the cue for a street crossing. The solution was to install a bright-colored steel plate with bumps, so as to provide a visual and tactile signal.

With sidewalks come responsibilities. The Massachusetts Supreme Court ruled in 2010 that property owners are responsible for keeping all sidewalks along their property clear of snow and ice. For an apartment building, that means the landlord. The Town clears snow in business districts and along major streets. Additionally, all building owners are obligated to remove plants, tree branches, construction materials or debris that infringe on sidewalks from either side, and maintain clearance to a height of eight feet.

The grassy strip between street and sidewalk is also a place to pile snow
Maynard residents are to refrain from parking on sidewalks, including parking in their own driveway so as to block the sidewalk. From the town by-laws: "This can create a dangerous situation when people, particularly children or parents with baby carriages, are forced into the street to get around an illegally parked vehicle. There is a $15 fine for parking on the sidewalk and it will be strictly enforced."

Another town regulation, more often in abeyance than observed, is that every building shall have displayed a street number at least four inches in height, visible from street, and be of a contrasting color to the surface to which it is applied - either the building or a roadside mailbox. If the latter, on both sides.  

1 comment:

  1. Great post. I just bought a house in Maynard and have been enjoying your info. Thank you!