WILMINGTON—At locations all over the city, the sidewalk just ends. If you’re looking to build a more walkable city, that’s a problem.
There are lots of reasons to want a walkable city. Walking cuts down on vehicle traffic, is good for your health, and helps create a sense of connection between parts of the city that might otherwise seem isolated.
That said, walking is definitely easier and safer where there are sidewalks, something not every part of the region has. Here’s why there are–or are not–sidewalks in your neighborhood, and what the city and county are doing to expand the existing networks of walkable paths.
Back in the day
Prior to 1945, much of the development in Wilmington was residential. According to Spokesman Dylan Lee, sidewalks, while not a municipal requirement, were standard practice.
“Back in the day, developers built sidewalks, it was what people expected,” Lee said. “They weren’t required, but many of the original neighborhoods in our 1945 corporate limits had sidewalks.”
That changed after World War II. Sidewalks were less frequently included in the neighborhoods and subdivisions that began to fill out Wilmington’s acreage. Commercial development during this time also commonly lacked sidewalks.
Then, in the early 1990s, Wilmington began requiring developers to include sidewalks or multi-use paths.
“In the early 90s, we started requiring sidewalks; basically anything bigger than a duplex is required to have them,” he said. “So, any commercial, sub-division or multifamily development, it’s required.”
Lee said that included neighborhoods like Carriage Hills, Pine Valley, Long Leaf and the midtown area.
Newer development, like The Avenue, are required to retain or improve multi-use paths or sidewalks, or, as with the Airlie Road subdivision, build new ones.
The city doesn’t rely exclusively on developers to build out new sidewalks.
“It’s great when developers can expand our sidewalks, but we also work with the state to get grant projects.
Using a combination of state and city funds, the city is able to add about a mile of sidewalk every year, prioritizing areas near schools and hospitals. The city also looks to connect other segments of sidewalks and multi-use paths.
A major factor in where the city builds sidewalks is also how far it can stretch its budget.
“We try to get the most bang for our buck,” Lee said. “There are places where we’d run into issues with easements, drainage, or utilities. So, then we’re having to go through eminent domain and buying land, or we’re getting into drainage projects, or negotiating with Duke Energy.”
The city is also still working on projects funded by the 2014 transportation bond, including walking trails on South College, Greenville Loop and Masonboro Loop roads.
New Hanover County
Outside the city limits, New Hanover County has its own policies based on zoning district.
According to Spokeswoman Jessica Loeper, the requires developers in its denser residential districts – R-7, R-10, R-15 – as well as the riverfront mixed-use (RFMU) and exceptional design zoning district (EDZD).
The county doesn’t require developers of less dense R-20 residential districts to build sidewalks. It also doesn’t require commercial developments to build sidewalks, but does include them as part of rezoning or Special Use Permit negotiations.
According to Loeper, “The county’s Zoning Ordinance does not require sidewalks for commercial developments, although there has been success getting rezoning or SUP applicants to agree to a 20-foot-wide easement for future multimodal use.”
Send comments and tips to Benjamin Schachtman at email@example.com, @pcdben on Twitter, and (910) 538-2001