Residents along the Forest Avenue corridor from Apawamis Avenue to Grace Church Street have often wondered why sidewalks are non-existent in this area.
By Gretchen Althoff Snyder
Residents along the Forest Avenue corridor from Apawamis Avenue to Grace Church Street have often wondered why sidewalks are non-existent in this area. School children, runners, dog walkers and other pedestrians have reported near misses with cars along this section of Forest Avenue for years. Anyone walking or running along this stretch must either stay within the bike sharrows or walk along the grassy areas on other people’s properties. Although there have been attempts in the past to remedy this safety concern, little progress has been made.
Rye resident Kelsey Johnson hopes to change all that and has organized a group of neighbors to push for an extension of the Forest Avenue sidewalk from Apawamis Avenue to Manursing Avenue and down to the corner of Manursing Avenue and Davis Avenue. The proposed new sidewalk would be one-sided, and would accommodate pedestrian traffic from the 15 streets and approximately 170 homes blocked in by Forest Avenue, as well as anyone else wishing to walk or run along this corridor.
After living in an area of Rye that has ample access to sidewalks, Johnson was struck by how difficult it was to navigate Forest Avenue from her new home on Rockridge Road. “Pushing a double stroller down Forest is very challenging and dangerous,” says Johnson, and the issue was only highlighted by all the recent construction along this stretch of road. Johnson was concerned that whether walking her kids to school or walking to town, there were no accessible sidewalks in either direction.
Last winter, Johnson and other residents attended monthly Rye Traffic and Safety Committee meetings and spoke with City Planner Christian Miller to get a better handle on the steps needed to make a sidewalk or widened path along Forest Avenue a reality. On May 1, 2015, the group launched a door-to-door campaign to canvas neighbors whose property abuts the proposed sidewalk. A public petition was also circulated to gauge residents’ interest in the project. Originally, says Johnson, the proposed sidewalk was to extend from Apawamis Avenue to Grace Church Street, but based upon some resident opposition, challenging geographic issues, and input from Christian Miller, the scope of the project was scaled down to exclude the stretch from Manursing Avenue to Grace Church Street.
During the June 10 City Council meeting, several Council members expressed concerns about the feasibility, impact, and potential costs of the project. Among their concerns was rock chipping, which may be required if the road needs to be widened to accommodate a pedestrian right of way. Brian Dempsey, Chairman of the Traffic and Pedestrian Safety Committee, stated that “from a pure pedestrian standpoint, [the sidewalk] makes sense.” He did note, however, that his committee has heard concerns from some residents about the costs associated with such a project for homeowners, specifically sidewalk repair and snow removal. Other residents expressed concerns about changing the visual landscape and “country feel” of Forest Avenue.
On August 3, Christian Miller addressed the City Council to present the 2016-2010 Capital Improvements Program. The proposed sidewalk project was included in the CIP, and Miller recommended that the Council approve $50,000 in funding for the Forest Avenue Pedestrian Improvement Study. This study would evaluate different alternatives for some type of pedestrian enhancement in the designated area, and provide a full survey and cost estimates for the proposed options.
Johnson believes the need for a sidewalk on Forest Avenue has become more urgent in recent years since all three “cut throughs” from this area to the schools (Ann Lane, Eve Lane, and Community Synagogue) have been and will likely remain closed to pedestrian traffic. As of September 1, the petition to fund a study for the sidewalk has 420 signatures, 89 of which are from residents living in the general vicinity, and 21 from residents who live on Forest Avenue and would be directly affected by the project. At this stage, two residents who would be directly affected are opposed to the project.
Johnson points out that this is not the first time residents have expressed their concerns about pedestrian safety on this stretch of Forest Avenue. This issue has come up every few years dating back to around 1998. In fact, a study to evaluate to the feasibility and costs associated with a sidewalk or widened path was funded in 2010, but the money was reallocated to another project and the study was never completed. Christian Miller confirmed that there has been “on again, off again dialogue” about this issue for years, but there was never a real consensus regarding the need, feasibility, or what actual improvement residents were seeking.
Based upon Miller’s recommendation, as well as safety concerns for pedestrians, Johnson hopes the City Council will approve funding for the Forest Avenue Pedestrian Improvement Study so the city can gain a better understanding of the options and costs associated with this project.
For more information on the proposed Forest Avenue sidewalk, email ForestAveSidewalk@ gmail.com.