Fletcher: Taking a look at city sidewalks, curbs

Some 50 or so years ago I was invited as a high school junior to go to my roommate’s home in Rye, N.Y., for the weekend. George Lashnits was his name and unknown to everyone at the time was that he had an undiagnosed cancer that killed him two years later as a freshman in college.

Upon arrival in this toney New York City suburb I noticed there weren’t any curbs or gutters on the streets. I mentioned this to George, who said it was a purposeful exclusion because it made the high income community look more rustic. Folks, he said, liked the ambiance. I never had heard of such a thing.

I thought about George the other day and remembered the visit. I started thinking about Alpena and our own infrastructure. I remembered a conversation I had in elementary school with then City Manager Bob Scott about, of all things, curbs. I couldn’t understand why the sidewalks didn’t curve down to the streets so bicycles could get over the curb without dismounting. Scott blew off my question as kid’s stuff. That’s just the way things were.

Today, I look at sidewalks on both sides of the streets in residential neighborhoods and think: “Why do we have sidewalks on both sides of the street?” The kids I come across are playing as we did, in the street and along the front yards. If pedestrians don’t really care on what side of the street they walk, why have two sidewalks if one could do the job? In commercial areas, of course, we need two to get to businesses, but not in residential neighborhoods. What would the savings be if there was just one sidewalk instead of two?

There are several hundred miles of streets within the city and about twice as many miles of sidewalks. If city crews continue to plow and maintain the sidewalks, it would be a savings of about one half of the sidewalk budget. There would be half as many assessments for building sidewalks. The same service would be provided for half the cost.

Some places, like State Avenue, Chisholm, and Washington, probably need two sidewalks due to pedestrian traffic. The same be true around schools.

And, the same logic applies to curbs. Take a look at N. Second as to how the asphalt was sculpted to create a gutter without a curb. As I ride my bike along there it looks like that system works just fine. While examining the gutter design, please take a look at the traffic signal at Second and River and N. Second at St Mary’s Church and tell me why we still have them in operation. I contend neither intersection has so much traffic as to require traffic signals, only stop signs.

Finally, can we stop referring to downtown as the central business district? With the exception of automotive, about 90 percent of retail sales by dollar volume is done within a quarter mile of the intersection of M-32 and Bagley. With Alpena Township landing Meijer in that area, the sales percentage only will increase.

We often hear about Northeast Michigan residents going to other areas to do shopping but let’s understand that Alpena still is the shopping hub for everyone living in a radius of 40 to 45 miles. The center of that hub is out on Radio Hill The vast majority of the jobs associated with retailing reside throughout the region. In thinking about our retailing market, there probably are more retailing jobs at this hub than in all the rest of the market area combined.

I apologize for the rambling. I had column idea notes all over my desk but now, thanks to you, the desk is fairly neat.