At the beginning of 2007, Mary Cheh introduced a bill (cosponsored by Barry, Brown, Wells and even, yes, Schwartz) to require sidewalks be installed on at least one side of a street when it’s being reconstructed or resurfaced.

Yes, there are streets in DC without sidewalks, and sometimes it’s even controversial. For example, Ordway Street in Cleveland Park lacked a sidewalk on one side, a particularly glaring omission given that the NCRC nursery school is on the sidewalk-free side. When, recently, the school fought with neighbors over plans to increase enrollment, some opposed adding that sidewalk in the hope that by keeping the area unsafe for kids, it would make it easier to oppose more kids.

Fortunately for the kids, DDOT believes in sidewalks, and put the second one in on Ordway. That might be an argument why we don’t really need the Sidewalk Assurance Act of 2007. (Besides, since Ordway already had one sidewalk, this bill wouldn’t have applied.) The bill would be really useful, however, if it required not just sidewalks, but pedestrian-friendly ones.

Remember the 17th Street reconstruction, where the intersections with Q and R Streets widen (and the sidewalks narrow) near the corner? If we want a real sidewalk law, it could require DDOT to remove any of those anti-bulb-outs (bulb-ins?) when redoing a street, or provide a written explanation as to why that’s impractical. Likewise, we could even require bulb-outs on any corner where the curb lane is used for parking 24-7, or a written explanation why not.

We could have a minimum sidewalk width, with justification needed to build or keep anything narrower. We could require a minimum number of street tree boxes. Really, what we need is a comprehensive set of road standards that contain pedestrian improvements by default, instead of having to push each time to add suitable pedestrian facilities after engineering designs are already partially complete.

Ideally, DDOT would develop a good set of standards themselves, and follow transparent decisionmaking practices to give communities clear explanations when they’re not feasible (if the turning radius might have to be larger for emergency vehicles, for example). But we don’t have that, and unless we get a visionary leader to run DDOT, perhaps legislation is the only way to fix what ails our street designs.

If you’re interested in bringing up this or other sidewalk issues at the hearing, it would be great for Jim Graham to hear from residents. (I’ll be in Charleston, South Carolina.) It’s at 10 am tomorrow (October 31) in the Wilson Building (1350 Pennsylvania Ave NW), Room 500.