Municipal budgets should reflect ongoing sidewalk extensions

Most if not every municipal and First Nation council on Manitoulin Island is certainly contemplating its 2012 budget just now as the year-end draws closer. This always starts with a series of wish lists offered by individual departments in a First Nation or municipality in addition to projects that have particular appeal for elected officials. The next step is prioritizing the wish lists, putting off some projects for other years and discarding still others completely. Sometimes suggestions for projects also come from the public for budgetary consideration. In this context, this newspaper is suggesting that every municipality and First Nation should consider an ongoing budgetary line that would be used to construct a minimum number of metres of sidewalks in their residential areas each year. Little Current, for example, has only three east-west residential streets that enjoy sidewalks on virtually their entire length. (A fourth street, Water Street, had a sidewalk constructed this year that runs the entire length of the waterfront from Low Island to the tourist information centre but its construction was funded as part of the waterfront renewal program and so was eligible for grants.) Little Current can be used as the example because there are so many streets where pedestrians must share the road with vehicular traffic, summer and winter. One street, Hardbargain Road, counts nearly 20 children in a two-block stretch. But it cannot boast any sidewalks. A street like this one is a good example: there are ditches on both sides and clearly no provision for sidewalks was made when the road was built. But in a situation like this one, the budget could be designed to install a culvert in place of the roadside ditch on one side of the road and then construct a sidewalk on top of the enclosed ditch to a maximum length of, for example 325 feet in a budget year. That would give some sidewalk access to the five neighbouring properties on each side of the street so up to 10 households would have a safer passageway, at least on part of the street. The next budget year, another 325 feet of culverts and sidewalks would be added and, bit by bit, every residential street would be eventually accommodated in this way. It might take 20 years or more but, eventually, the project would be completed and the entire community would benefit. This is especially relevant because people are clearly rising to the challenge of increasing their exercise programs in order to remain as healthy as possible through lives that are growing increasingly longer. Walking is the exercise of choice for many baby boomers and, now, post baby boomers. An appropriate sidewalk grid makes it possible for both children and older people to be as active in the outdoors, in a safe environment, and an annual budget line for a short section of sidewalk in all of our communities with built-up residential areas will be a lasting legacy for the municipal leaders with the foresight to set this as a modest and ongoing priority.