Richard Ahrens moved to Berwyn Heights 47 years ago and like many other town residents, he has longed for a neighborhood with sidewalks.
“It’s a safety issue,” he said. “If I were raising small children in this town, I would want sidewalks.”
Ahrens and about 15 residents in the northern Prince George’s municipality pushed for sidewalks at a public hearing Wednesday.
Berwyn Heights Mayor Cheye Calvo said a sidewalk committee was established 11 years ago as the town only has sidewalks on two blocks, but funding concerns delayed the effort.
But with revenue from speed cameras — installed in December 2009 — bringing in roughly $120,000 total thus far, town officials plan to use those funds and some of the roughly $500,000 town surplus to move forward with sidewalk proposals.
State law dictates that speed camera revenue be used toward public safety improvements, which can include sidewalks.
Under the current plan unveiled during the Wednesday hearing, which the council developed using some of the sidewalk committee’s previous suggestions, sidewalks would be added to one side of 11 blocks in the town. Berwyn Heights encompasses roughly 0.6 square miles of land and about 1,000 households, according to 2010 U.S. Census data.
Calvo said adding sidewalks to one side is more cost effective and seemingly works for residents after evaluating the flow of pedestrian traffic. The blocks chosen were prioritized based on volumes of pedestrian traffic and surrounding town facilities such as a community center and community parks and playgrounds, Calvo said.
The project would cost roughly $500,000. The town also will have to use pervious pavement — concrete that allows rainfall to seep through it to drain directly into the ground — since the Maryland Department of the Environment otherwise would require a stormwater management system that the town cannot accommodate spacewise, though Calvo said the type of pavement is more costly.
Linda Patton, who lives on 60th Avenue, said she’s glad to see the town moving forward with a sidewalk project and thinks it is more needed now than before.
“There are so many more walkers now and traffic is much worse now,” she said. “Foot traffic has increased phenomenally in the last six years.”
Ahrens, who lives on Seminole Street, said he’s found younger families moving into the town recently. According to U.S. Census data, in 2000, 27.5 percent of town households had children younger than 18 living with them. In 2010, 29.1 percent of households had children younger than 18.
“It’s taken us this long to get to this point, to having what you need to make this a dynamic community for younger families,” he said. “I’m very pleased to see the progress that’s been made.”
Councilwoman Jodie Kulpa-Eddy said she supports the plan, but hopes to see some remaining funds available to purchase generators for town offices when storms cause power outages.
“We’re doing this because it’s easier, but it’s not easier when funding for the project in its entirety is coming out of a fund for public safety to help the fire department and police department,” said resident Mike Attick, who lives on 62nd Avenue.
Calvo said the council will look at residents’ concerns before determining the blocks to include and then will begin seeking proposals for designs and engineering studies before beginning construction.
He said ideally, construction for the sidewalk project will begin next fall.