2003.12.17 Our walks don't measure up

Written by David Green.

By DAVID GREEN

Do you ever get the urge to talk about sidewalks? I don’t suppose it’s ever happened to me, either, except that I developed an urge to write a column and get on with life. The burden of filling this space every week sometimes prevents other adventures.

I’ve marvelled at Morenci’s new downtown sidewalks. I don’t complain and criticize. I just look and marvel at their size. I think narrower would be better, but it doesn’t bother me that much.

It’s a little more snow to shovel for the Main Street business owners, but it’s probably worth it. Some day Morenci might be the site of a major demonstration against human rights violations. There could be a mass march on City Hall in which throngs of people meet at Wakefield Park and head downtown along Main Street’s south sidewalk. The width will be important to help facilitate the movement of citizens in an orderly fashion.

I think the only disparaging remark I’ve made about the new walks is in relation to New York City. I’ve often wondered if our walks are as big as those in Manhattan. I’ve walked sidewalks in Manhattan that were completely filled with people. When the crowd moves, you move. One big flow of humanity, pausing only for a stoplight.

It’s nothing special. Just a typical busy day in that part of town.

In Morenci, the sidewalks seem to be pretty busy right after the Town and Country Festival parade. The candy is all collected from the street and people head west to the park. Sometimes a person has to pause for a fraction of second to avoid running into someone. That’s about as hectic as it gets here.

SEVERAL CITIES in California are using rubber sidewalks in some areas. The idea for a flexible walk came to a Santa Monica street inspector one night in a dream.

“In my dream, sidewalks were all bending and twisting, but there was no cracking,” Valeriano told a newspaper reporter. “I woke up and said, ‘Wow! Elastic sidewalks! I wonder how we can make them?’ “

He noticed the rubberized floor tiles at a fitness center and talked to a company about producing sidewalks. The company grinds up used automobile tires, bakes them under pressure and dyes them a desired color. Santa Monica goes for brick red.

Now, when tree roots push the sidewalk up, the walk is removed, the roots are trimmed, and the sidewalk is replaced. The rubber walks are said to be durable enough for skateboards and high heels, but softer than concrete to cushion falls. They cost twice the amount of a concrete walk, but they’re expected to last for decades.

In many California cities, sidewalks are steam cleaned several times a year. In Winthrop Harbor, Ill., it’s illegal to launch a missile onto a sidewalk. In Frederick, Md., sidewalks must have a grade toward the street that’s between one half and one quarter of a inch. Oren, Utah, has a document called the Missing Sidewalk Report.

MORENCI’S NEW walks, at their widest, must match New York City’s, I figured, so during a visit to the city last month, I remembered to check out the width. This probably isn’t a fair comparison since I measured only once, when I was standing at the corner of Broadway and 72nd. That’s not an exceptionally busy part of town.

The Manhattan walk measured 24 shoe lengths. When I got back to Morenci, I searched out a wide portion around the Bank of Lenawee and measured a little over 19 shoes. I was wearing a different pair of shoes back in Morenci, but a quick analysis determined the NYC walk was about 25.3 feet wide. The new Morenci walk measured only 19.3 feet. That’s quite a difference. We’re never going to be able to handle the crowds of Manhattan without some jostling, but better to jostle here than in the big city.

I feel that I should apologize to someone about my crude reference to Morenci’s wide walks now that I’ve discovered that they aren’t so wide after all. I stand corrected, but I’ll still walk with a swagger. There’s plenty of room.

    – Dec. 17, 2003
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