Indianapolis neighborhoods press city for more sidewalks

Mary Milz walks with Amy Herman
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Many neighborhoods across the city still lack sidewalks.

Even though the city's made headway with RebuildIndy funds, Leslie Gordon with the Department of Public Works says, the city has "more need for new sidewalks than resources."

That hasn't stopped a north side neighborhood from pushing the issue.

In fact, Ann Allen with Elder-Friendly Communities has made getting sidewalks, particularly along Hoover Road, one of her top priorities.

Allen's group serves a mile-and-a-half-square area bordered by 64th, 77th, Spring Mill and Ditch roads, where a third of the residents are 60 or older.

"The older community is very car-dependent and they need alternatives," she said. "They really need other ways to be mobile."

Allen began pressing the city to install sidewalks following an AARP walkability study in 2009, which found the area very pedestrian unfriendly.

She's focused primarily on Hoover Road between 64th and 79th, where you'll find the Jewish Community Center, two synagogues and two schools.

She said it's not just an issue for the senior population but families in the area and members of the Orthodox Jewish community, like Amy Herman and her family. Observing the Sabbath requires they walk to synagogue.

Herman said, "it's pretty scary."

Though the walk from their home to B'Nai Torah is only a few blocks, they have to walk the narrow shoulder along Hoover to get there.

"I usually have 3-4 (children) with me and a stroller, and a couple are right next to me, so it's very tight," she said. "and if it's really busy, I have them walk in the ditch because I feel it's a little safer."

Herman said they've had "a number of close calls" where drivers aren't paying attention "get really close and we have to veer to the side."

Hanz Oesterreich, 39, who has Down Syndrome was hit by a car last year as he walked down Hoover to his job at Hooverwood, where he's worked for 16 years.

His co-worker Sandy Miller wasn't far behind.

"I was scared," Miller said. "When I got there, he was on the ground, I knew he had to be trying cross the street and a car just hit him."

Hanz dislocated his knee but wasn't seriously hurt. His parents said it's important that Hanz walks and not just for exercise.

His mother Doris said having a job and walking to work (when the weather is good), "is part of his independence."

She said Hanz is very cautious, hugging the shoulder, especially as he approaches the intersection where he was struck.

Still she doesn't understand why there aren't sidewalks on the busy street, a bus route and a road where drivers often exceed the 30 miles per hour speed limit.

"A sidewalk would make us feel more comfortable," Doris said.

Allen said she and others have contacted city officials and written letters to the mayor.

"How long does it take to get something fixed?" she said.

Councilor Angie Mansfield, who represents the area, agrees it's a big issue.

"Any time I go to a neighborhood meeting, it comes up as a main priority," she said, noting she hears "complaints about Ditch and Hoover all the time...We have real needs here, something (residents) would use every day. (Sidewalks ) would make this a much more livable community."

Mansfield said she she's brought up the need for sidewalks numerous times and was told it would take $1 million each to do Hoover and Ditch Roads.

In an email Thursday afternoon, DPW's Gordon said, "We are aware there are areas of our city that need attention like Hoover Rd. We work with our councilors to prioritize this need and have been able to increase Hoover Road's priority based on community and constituent input, DPW inspections of the area and work with councilors. We tackle these important areas as we are able to identify resources to fund them. Rather than just pulling money from our RebuildIndy fund, we use the RebuildIndy dollars to fund our Capital Improvements Program by leveraging as much as we can to secure federal dollars and grants. Most of these roads on the priority list don't fall within those guidelines."

Gordon said other streets that have made the priority list include Troy Avenue from Carson to Keystone and Girls School Road from Rogers to Ben Davis.

She couldn't, however, say when Hoover Road might get sidewalks. Allen hopes it's not long.

"It's time," she said. "It's time to help our parents, our kids and our older adults."