The case of the missing sidewalk

No sidewalk. Click for Google Maps. Recently, I was driving down Second Street on my way to Pacifica and I noticed something I’d never noticed before: a block without a sidewalk, in downtown San Rafael.

Of course, this isn’t really new, simply unnoticed. It’s a blindness, really, to the needs of pedestrians on a street that has gone from a place to stroll down to a long onramp, but those needs are quite real.

On Second, between Hayes and Shaver, neither side of the block has a sidewalk. It’s a very built-up area, and there are sidewalks on the blocks before and after on Second. It’s a bit like paving the whole length of a road except for one isolated block that stays gravel.

It looks as though this block was an oversight. The transit line ran through here from San Anselmo, and buildings were built to turn away from that line. There wouldn’t be a sidewalk here anymore than there would be one along a BART line. Once the tracks were torn up and it became a road, sidewalks were installed on a lot of the right of way, but not this bit.

Not that people don’t use it. You can see a dirt track where people walk. The only other option is a detour onto First but, as any driver would know, not many people will take a five minute detour to get around a 15 second bit of gravel. If you have a stroller or are in a wheelchair, however, forget it. It’s not just that the dirt track is dirt, it’s also really narrow. There’s a power pole right in the middle of it, which cuts the space down to about a foot or so. Nobody except an able-bodied person would be able to get around it.

We wouldn’t accept this kind of treatment to drivers, so why is it acceptable to pedestrians? This is the most basic infrastructure for the most basic form of transportation available in a place where we want people to walk in the first place: downtown. Nader Mansourian, as an engineer and as director of Public Works at San Rafael, should have fixed this a long time ago. Maybe Mayor Phillips can get the ball rolling.