COUNTING CRACKS in the sidewalk might sound like a euphemism for a boring and useless activity, along the lines of "watching paint dry," but in Ardsley Park these days it’s a purposeful part of a serious initiative.
Last month the Ardsley Park Chatham Crescent Neighborhood Association launched Ardsley in Motion, an effort to improve safety and mobility, and promote beautification efforts throughout Ardsley Park and Chatham Crescent. (Disclosure: I serve on the neighborhood association board).
APCCNA President Nick Palumbo developed the concept, organized events, sought guidance from subject matter experts, and recruited more than 75 volunteers to systematically assess the condition of streets, crosswalks, sidewalks, bike lanes, signage, trees, and other vegetation.
The goal is to develop a guide for making the neighborhood safer for people of all ages and abilities by removing barriers to safe passage, improving access, and reducing potential threats from trip hazards to speeding traffic.
“Residents have had concerns about our neighborhood’s infrastructure over the years, but it’s a difficult project to tackle because to do it fairly you have to include the entire 450 acre neighborhood,” he said.
Yet that’s exactly what Palumbo intends to do.
Residents in Baldwin Park and Thomas Square have undertaken similar efforts, but the size of Palumbo’s project is larger.
“Because of the project’s ambitious scale and scope, we knew Ardsley in Motion would require an ‘all hands’ volunteer posture to mobilize the entire community to support the project,” he said.
And it’s not just the geographical area that is daunting.
“Our challenges stem from having a 100-year-old neighborhood with 100-year-old infrastructure,” he said. “Much of it is crumbling or needs repair or was designed in a bygone era of the Model T when motor vehicles could reach a maximum speed of only 40 miles per hour. Today, Ardsley Park often sees speeders dangerously reach interstate level velocity on our neighborhood streets. So part of the initiative is to evaluate strategies for minimizing the effect.”
Palumbo has divided the neighborhood into sectors and has empowered residents to take responsibility for documenting conditions block by block, using a standardized form.
During the first week of Ardsley in Motion, his volunteers cataloged 42 instances of uneven sidewalks, 15 instances of broken sidewalks, 27 instances of cracked sidewalks, 22 instances of overgrown vegetation in the public right of way, 35 locations where ADA ramps are needed, 19 locations that could use crosswalks, eight places where street trees should be planted, and three unnecessary or redundant signs.
Obviously some of the needed improvements would require significant financial investment from the City to correct and would need to be programmed into departmental work plans. Others, such as overgrown vegetation blocking a sidewalk, could be addressed immediately, perhaps even by volunteers.
“I love the opportunity we have here to take our neighborhood’s fate and direction into our own hands, and to empower neighbors to positively shape its future,” Palumbo said.
“In the past, neighborhood improvements have been piecemeal, sporadic, or incomplete. What’s exciting about this initiative is that it’s a snapshot in time of what our community says needs improving.”
Caila Brown is Complete Streets project manager for Georgia Bikes, the statewide advocacy organization, and one of the subject matter experts Palumbo enlisted as a consultant. She said the grassroots nature of Ardsley in Motion makes it different than similar initiatives she’s seen in other areas of Georgia.
“Typically they are citywide, multimillion dollar efforts completed by outside agencies,” she said. “While these studies create unified plans across a city or county, they are often unable to focus on the so-called smaller issues that directly affect residents.”
She called AIM a “street-level look” at important details such as damaged pavement, lack of crosswalks, and faded bike lanes that can make walking and biking unsafe or unpleasant. During her presentation to the neighborhood association on Sept. 27, she urged volunteers to think about street and sidewalk conditions from different perspectives.
For example, they might consider how easy it would be for a person using a wheelchair, walker, or other assistive device — or even someone pushing a stroller — to safely navigate through the neighborhood. She cited the approach used by 8 80 Cities, an international nonprofit, which is summarized on the organization’s website:
“We believe that if everything we do in our cities is great for an 8 year old and an 80 year old, then it will be great for all people.”
Brown said she thinks Palumbo’s model could be used successfully by other neighborhoods in Savannah and around the state, and Palumbo said the enthusiasm displayed by his volunteers makes him hopeful they will be eager to help other neighborhoods launch efforts of their own.
“This isn’t some fancy report generated by a contractor. This is resident-driven project,” he said. “It’s a stepping off point for our neighborhood where we do the legwork to show what residents’ needs are in the community. That’s exciting!”