Giving Compass' Take:

• David Zipper demonstrates how COVID-19 has revealed major flaws in pedestrian infrastructure throughout the United States, many of which could be corrected with safe sidewalks.

• How does the safety of sidewalks vary across neighborhoods? How can you work to make sure members of marginalized communities aren't responsible for the safety of their infrastructure?

• Learn about funds that support community improvements during coronavirus.

Stuck at home because of the coronavirus, millions of urban residents suddenly became acutely aware of an easily overlooked element of urban infrastructure: their neighborhood sidewalks (or lack thereof).

During the lockdowns, as walking provided a critical antidote to cabin fever, sidewalks become crowded, contested space. With vehicle traffic temporarily in retreat during Covid-19 shelter-at-home rules, many cities claimed street space for pedestrians via quick-fix solutions like traffic cones and Jersey barriers. Meanwhile, retailers and restaurants, desperate for safer outdoor space, are making their own incursions into this increasingly valuable infrastructural  commodity.

With sidewalk awareness ascendant, this is indeed an opportune time to start an overdue national upgrade. Sidewalks play a vital role in city life: Long after the pandemic has ended, better sidewalks can continue to offer a host of benefits, including improving resident health, reducing automobile usage and helping to address historical underinvestment in low-income communities.

Disadvantaged communities are most likely to be burdened with bad sidewalks. Kate Lowe, a professor of urban planning and policy at the University of Illinois at Chicago, studied the quality of sidewalks in New Orleans, where property owners are responsible for them. Pedestrian networks were worse in minority and low-income neighborhoods, she found. Pedestrian fatalities from automobile collisions are also much higher in low-income neighborhoods.

As popular and beneficial as a sidewalk investment campaign could be, cities and states have little capacity to mount even a modest one in the midst of the current recession. But unlike most cities and states, the federal government is under no obligation to balance its budget, giving it more flexibility to spend money on infrastructure. Two possibilities would be to include a pot of sidewalk funding in the transportation reauthorization bill or as part of a fiscal stimulus package.

Read the full article about safe sidewalks by David Zipper at CityLab.