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Gainesville's goal: Build sidewalks to somewhere
City wants to build footpaths where they are needed most
This footpath along Queen City Parkway near Aviation Boulevard is another area the Gainesville Public Works department has planned for a sidewalk. - photo by Tom Reed

Abigail Cruz takes short steps in the noon heat, marching down each minute of her half-hour walk to work.

Her face bejeweled with beads of sweat, her dark eyes silently search for speeding cars as she nears Atlanta Highway on Hazel Street.

She is always on foot, and with few sidewalks -- "aceras," as she calls them -- between her Bowman Avenue home and her job at Mission Foods, Cruz's feet are forced to share the same path with the wheels of others.

Speaking Spanish through an interpreter, she tells The Times that she feels it is dangerous for her to walk in the street, but that there is no other choice. She hopes someday there will be a safe place to make her daily trips.

Adrian Niles, director of Gainesville's Public Works department, has a plan and said help is on the way. This year, the city will install some sidewalks very near Cruz's path to work.

Most of this year's improvements will connect foot travelers with retail businesses between Jesse Jewell Parkway and Dawsonville Highway, while others will be in more residential areas. The biggest project planned for the coming year will pave 2,100 linear feet of walkway on Shallowford Road from Skelton Road to Washington Avenue.

A worn walking trail beside West End Avenue between Jesse Jewell Parkway and Shallowford Road also put the commercial road on this year's list of priorities, along with slightly smaller projects on Dorsey, Myrtle and Hazel streets.

"On all of these areas, there's evidence that people are walking," Niles said.

This year's projects are part of a bigger plan -- a master plan as the officials call it -- to install sidewalks where they are needed throughout the city.

The master plan for city sidewalks revolves around connectivity: Linking people to medical resources, government buildings, schools, shopping centers and parks.

"Those are the areas that we looked at when we looked at connecting Gainesville," Niles said.

For starters, the department wants to install sidewalks that connect with those that already exist. Niles said it is hard to move pedestrians from Point A to Point B without connectivity.

"Well, you can't do that by just putting a sidewalk in the middle of an area that has no other sidewalks," Niles said.

Adding a sidewalk in the upcoming year on the stretch of Dorsey Street from Holland Avenue to Pearl Nix Parkway Extension is all a part of Niles' idea of connectivity.

"It's a portion of sidewalks that's been left out. There's about 650 feet from Holland out to Dorsey Street where there is no sidewalk," Niles said.

The same goes with the upcoming Myrtle Street project; about 320 feet of sidewalk is missing from Central Avenue to Auburn Avenue.

"That's a space that's been left out for whatever reason," Niles said. "Again, we're connecting the sidewalks."

In the grand scheme of sidewalks, Niles tries to connect a little bit of each category -- medical, government, schools, shopping and parks -- each budget year. The expansive department has to spend its money on more than pedestrian comforts, however. Niles also has to budget some of his money and manpower to traffic engineering, street maintenance, Lee Gilmer Memorial Airport and the city-maintained Alta Vista Cemetery.

"We have to look at manpower, we have to look at availability. ... We can't just, you know, throw everything to sidewalks, but we try and schedule everything in proportion to all of the other work assignments that we have," Niles said.

Niles would like to complete his master plan in five years, but his proposed sidewalks may go by the wayside if something else becomes more important. How jobs affect residents' safety determines each project's priority in the Public Works' list of things to do.

And "of course, it is always contingent upon funding," Niles said.

But despite citywide budget cuts this year, sidewalks stayed in the list of Public Works projects with $100,000 funding an additional 4,155 linear feet of sidewalks along five city streets.

If all goes according to plan, the department will have spent $695,000 installing sidewalks where Gainesville needs them most by 2012. The line of need has already been drawn by pedestrian dirt paths.

"As we've looked at doing these sidewalks, we've looked at areas where people are walking. You know, you can see a walking trail," Niles said.

Still, some of the areas that need sidewalks most, like Atlanta Highway, are on the waiting list.
Most days, Rosa Garcia has to walk to Atlanta Highway carrying her infant son as she watches out for another toddler. When school is out, she has the help of her 12-year-old daughter, Amelia. As Garcia walks down Carter Street on a warm afternoon, she worries about the safety of her family.

"Sometimes the cars are passing and they don't see anything. They can run over somebody," Garcia said.

Atlanta Highway is on the master plan, but as of yet, there really is no goal to add sidewalks on the road that crosses from city to county and city again more than once.

"That's one that we've got to work out with Hall County because portions of Atlanta Highway are city, portions are county, so we've got to do a collaborative effort with Hall County," Niles said. "We'd do that together."

The master plan cites the area as one needing sidewalks, but Niles said the two governments have yet to even talk about it.

Without sidewalks in the area heavily concentrated with Latino businesses, Hall Area Transit has a hard time expanding its routes to better serve that community.

"We're looking to expand transit (on Atlanta Highway), but we need sidewalks and places for people to sit on benches or stand and wait for the buses to do that," said Phillippa Lewis-Moss, director of the Community Service Center.

And transit expansion may have to wait until the two governments get together on sidewalks and road improvements on Atlanta Highway.

"All these things are tied together," Lewis-Moss said.

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