Building sidewalks in an impoverished area is neither wasteful nor inessential. The state Department of Transportation's construction of new sidewalks along 5 miles of U.S. 301 in northeastern Pasco is an appreciated investment in an area seeking long-term redevelopment.
Regardless, as Times staff writer Rich Shopes reported, the sidewalks are viewed in some circles as unnecessary and likely to be under-utilized. And in other locales, the logic is even more far-fetched. Anything remotely connected to sidewalks, mass transit or sustainability is considered part of a global conspiracy to undermine American freedoms. Remember out-of-county residents protesting Pasco's mobility fees because they wrongly believed it would force people to give up rural living? The same crowd also finds walkable communities objectionable.
Safety statistics should diffuse the opposition. Nationally, approximately 4,500 pedestrians are killed in traffic accidents annually with 360 (8 percent) involving people walking alongside a road, according to the Federal Highway Administration. It explains why the state Legislature requires the DOT to include sidewalks and/or bicycle trails in state road construction projects. That is the case in Lacoochee, where DOT is spending $6.9 million to repave and add sidewalks to U.S. 301.
The Highway Administration also can point to a case study on Dale Mabry Highway in Tampa which found people eagerly using new sidewalks before construction was done. Granted, Lacoochee lacks Northdale's population and traffic, but the need for pedestrian safety shouldn't be construed as an unnecessary luxury in northeast Pasco.
Just as important, the sidewalks are a tangible sign of the redevelopment effort to improve the twin hamlets of Lacoochee and Trilby. The goal goes beyond refurbished residential neighborhoods and includes efforts to lure an employment center to Lacoochee, an area of 1,300 residents where half the adults lack a high school education and the median income is 55 percent lower than the countywide average. The redevelopment's centerpiece - a new community center in Stanley Park that will house the Lewis Abraham Boys & Girls Club, Premier Community Health Clinic, a sheriff's substation, kitchen and other facilities - is under construction and could open by year's end. Meanwhile, sidewalks on Cummer Road, to ease pedestrian travel from U.S. 301 to Lacoochee Elementary School, Stanley Park and the community center are to be built using the renewed Penny for Pasco sales tax approved by voters in 2012.
It means children will have a new, safe place to play and a safe way to get there because of the state and local investment in sidewalks. Who could find fault with that?