A sidewalk meant freedom for me one recent day. A lengthy car repair could have stranded me at the shop, but the sidewalk along 3rd Street gave me the opportunity to walk downtown, do some shopping, and stop in at the Whistle Stop for a pumpkin spice latte. The sidewalk began at Independence, which exactly matched how I felt when I found it: independence! I was grateful for the opportunity for active transportation. I hope the students who use our community’s sidewalks on Walk-to-School Day feel that same joy as they make their way to school under their own power.
Being a fan of our City’s sidewalk system, I asked Vince Schmoeger, Project Manager in the Lee’s Summit Public Works Operations Division, to walk me through details of the sidewalk program. Mr. Schmoeger explained how sidewalk construction and repairs are prioritized, the kinds of sidewalk issues there are, how the sidewalk program is funded, and the tools and technology used to enhance this concrete system of connectivity that runs 353 miles around and through our city.
As with my walk downtown, a gap in the sidewalk network could have meant not enjoying safe passage from the car-repair shop to all the shops downtown, a limitation of my independence. For others, a gap can mean a more serious limitation. Public Works has a system for assessing these gaps in the network.
Gaps are prioritized by tiers. Tier I encompasses ¼ mile around elementary and middle schools. Think of a satellite view of a building around which you draw a quarter-mile radius. That’s what Public Works does with the software programs ArcGIS and Google Earth. Within that radius, sidewalks in the surrounding neighborhoods are also assessed. Tier II is a radius of ½ mile around elementary and middle schools and ¼ mile of high schools and parks. Tier III is a radius of ½ mile around high schools and parks. Tier IV is all areas not in Tiers I-III.
The City moves outward from Tier I through Tier IV as money allows. The City has funds from the 2007 bond issue. Also, some of the 2010 bond money is designated for the sidewalk program.
As to sidewalk maintenance, Public Works looks for cleanliness along with these types of defects: cracking; cross slope; horizontal fault; obstruction (as with trees and shrubs); ponding; palling (chipping, flaking); and vertical fault. Vertical fault is the highest priority of all the defects, with repairs coming first for vertical fault of greater than 3". Next in line, vertical fault of 1" to 3". After that, attention is given to vertical fault of less than 1".
Mr. Schmoeger explained that the clay soil in this area means shifting of concrete, in both directions of detriment and improvement as the soil expands and contracts. Often a crack or vertical fault appears but then corrects itself as the soil changes.
Once a sidewalk project is defined, Mr. Schmoeger and his group work backward from the proposed work completion date in order to send out bids and then get various approvals through the City. The work on larger projects is completed by outside contractors.
Sidewalk projects often include railings, lighting, cross-walk activators, and compliance to American Disabilities Act.
Recent projects include work along Coral Drive, Ball Drive, Mulberry Street, Ridgeview Drive, Rice Road, Deerbrook Street, Tudor Road, Murray Road, O’Brien Road, 3rd Street, Chipman Road, and around Pleasant Lee Elementary and Pleasant Lea Middle School.
The City’s sidewalk program means safe, active transportation and greater connectivity between the people and parts of our community. In 2011, Lee’s Summit was designated the first walk-friendly community in Missouri. Walk Friendly Communities is a national recognition program developed to encourage cities across the U.S. to commit to supporting safer walking environments. The WFC program recognizes communities that are working to improve a wide range of conditions related to walking, including safety, mobility, access, and comfort. Lee’s Summit is in the lead in Missouri, and even though most of us walk around not thinking much about sidewalks, our sidewalks are yet another reason for community pride.
Kathy Biagioli is a Lee’s Summit resident, middle school teacher, and Chair of the Education and Encouragement Subcommittee of the Lee’s Summit’s Livable Streets Advisory Board, a Mayor-appointed volunteer board whose goals include working to make the community and streets livable -- safer and accessible for all citizens.