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Why are there virtually no sidewalks in Wilmington or New Hanover County?

Chris Mazzolini
StarNews

The simple answer is that city planners have only required developers to build public sidewalks in the last few decades — and that county planners have been limited by the fact that they don’t own and maintain the streets like the city does.

The N.C. Department of Transportation, the other variable in this equation, generally doesn’t build sidewalks along its roads, though they can work with local governments to get some walkways built. But more on that later.

Wilmington started requiring developers to build sidewalks in new subdivisions in the 1980s and has since expanded its sidewalk rules, said city planner Ron Satterfield. For example, developers building along an already developed road now have to build sidewalks along the front of their property.

The city has been doing some aggressive planning for walkways. They have been setting aside capitol funds every year for sidewalks and recently adopted a pedestrian plan. The city has also been planning and building “greenways” to connect neighborhoods to parks, schools and other public amenities.

County planning director Chris O’Keefe said the county has required developers to build sidewalks in subdivisions for the last five or six years, which has helped neighborhoods become more pedestrian friendly. But the county often runs into right-of-way issues since the counties in North Carolina aren’t involved in handling – or paying for – transportation. That’s the DOT’s job.

O’Keefe said the county and the Wilmington Metropolitan Planning Organization has worked with DOT to forge maintenance agreements. In essence, if the DOT builds a sidewalk, the county or city or whoever will be responsible for maintaining it into the future. Local officials have used this process to plan sidewalks near Mary C. Williams and Ogden elementary schools.

But the big picture is that urban sprawl has made our communities generally unwalkable for anything beyond exercise or taking a leisurely stroll through the neighborhood. As O’Keefe pointed out, it’s sort of problematic to build sidewalks in a residential area only to have them lead pedestrians out to a dangerous major street without sidewalks.

O’Keefe said the county is working to address this in the new, “exceptional design” planning district it plans to put before the county commissioners in the near future. That district will promote smart building to make communities more “walkable” by building sidewalks, but also placing important amenities, like the grocery store, within walking distance.

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2 Responses to “ Why are there virtually no sidewalks in Wilmington or New Hanover County?”

  1. On September 23, 2011 at 3:33 pm Lee B wrote:

    If the city would quit trying to spend every dime they get downtown and remember that it’s just a small section of the city of Wilmington it would help a lot.

    I’ve been trying to get a couple of wheel chair ramps cut on sidewalk corners for over 10 bleeding years! You know the ones the law REQUIRES! But nooooo…. if it’s not downtown they are not interested.

    Maybe they WILL be if I start filing a lawsuit over every corner without a ramp at it they might get the message. Nothing else has ever worked. My patience has ran completely out with ‘everything downtown’ Wilmington is more than just those few blocks!

  2. On September 28, 2011 at 9:44 pm Krys Lefler wrote:

    The same could be said for safe bike lanes in this town. Safe walking (or wheelchairing), biking and the like is virtually nonexistent in this town. I mean yeah, a cross town leisure bike ride is available, but some of us with no car (for whatever reason) have no safe path.



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