Post #235: Please keep the sidewalks open

Posted on April 11, 2019

I got an email today from a reader asking about the sidewalks.  Specifically, is the Town going to keep the sidewalks open as developers build the three (four?  more?) MAC buildings on Maple?

Turns out, all I can say is, that’s a great question, I can’t even come close to an answer, and please start asking the Town about this. This has the sound of one of those decisions that might (e.g.) be made by Fairfax County months before we even know there’s a decision to be made.  It would be nice to think that the Town of Vienna was on the case and acting on our behalf.

Sidewalk closure on the west end of Maple will (e.g.) inconvenience students walking to Madison.  If 444 closes the sidewalks,  students walking to Madison from my neighborhood will first have to walk away from Madison (to Nutley/Courthouse or to Maple/Pleasant HAWK light), cross the road, and the continue to Madison.  Not the end of the world, but clearly a disincentive to walking.

It’s a fair guess that every developer will want every sidewalk abutting their property closed during construction.  That’s a consequence of buildings that fill the lots.  When you do the math, the wall of the Chick-fil-A-car-wash sits 13′ from the edge of the pre-existing sidewalk.  And for 444 Maple West, if I recall correctly, the corresponding figure along Nutley would be 8′.  Not a lot of room to maneuver, no matter how you slice it.

And yet, my initial reaction was that of course the Town will keep the sidewalks open.   After making such a big deal about walkability, clearly keeping the pedestrian paths open will be a priority in the Town of Vienna …

… and yet, we’re now  past the half-year (?) point for having the Maple sidewalk closed at the Chick-fil-A-car-wash.  So, clearly the Town either didn’t care about that one, or could not keep it open.  Or, possibly, it’s not even the Town’s decision to make.

A quick search of the Town of Vienna website revealed no written policy on sidewalk closures during construction.  The Town does issue permits for work in the Town’s right-of-way (.pdf), and those have provisions for road closure.  But permits appear to be for (e.g.) sewer line connections and such.  And in any case, they don’t even mention sidewalk closure (only road closure).

Because construction permitting is handled by Fairfax County, this aspect of it — sidewalk closure — may be handled by Fairfax, not the Town.  But I can’t find any policy document there, either.

I can find occasional reference to policies about sidewalk closure during construction for other governments.

Alexandria (.pdf) just issued a policy last year that says, in effect, blocking sidewalks for construction should be the rare exception.  Language there is pretty clear:

Effectively immediately, protected access within the public right-of-way must be maintained to support pedestrian mobility adjacent to construction sites. Applicants must consider and propose options in which pedestrians do not have to cross the street to maintain their paths of travel

Falls Church (.pdf) did not have a policy that I could find.   All I could find was:

Pedestrian detours shall be provided when sidewalks are closed for construction.  Contractor shall submit pedestrian detour plans as part of the MOT Plan for approval by the Project Manager.

For Fairfax County — whom I suspect will make the decisions here — I could not even find that much.

Going further afield:

In the District, it appears to be the law that sidewalks must be kept open whenever possible.  But this law is not routinely enforced.  The same goes for DenverSeattle apparently decides on a case-by-case basis.  In Nashville, all it takes is paying a small fee, and so blocked sidewalks are the norm.  Apparently Toronto routinely allows sidewalks to be blocked for construction.

The upshot of all of this is that I’m not even sure who issues the permit to close the sidewalk.  While some localities have clearly stated policies, others — including Vienna and Fairfax County — do not.  At this point, I don’t even know whom to ask about this.  Those of you with an interest in this question, I suggest that you start by asking the Town.