From one of the lowest costs of living to being a great place to retire, Abilene is often recognized for its quality of life – but one area in which the city greatly lacks is walkability.
On Thursday, the Abilene City Council voted in favor of requiring sidewalks in new developments after holding a public hearing on amendments to the city’s controversial sidewalk ordinance.
Many on hand favored requiring sidewalks in areas of new construction.
"As a blind person, I find the lack of sidewalks hinders my ability to travel independently," Abilene resident Mary Kendrick said.
Kendrick lives without something most of us take for granted – the gift of sight.
"As I go to the nearest bus stop or shopping center, I must travel along the curb for several blocks, having to go around parked vehicles, trash cans, and into on-coming traffic, not a safe thing to do," Kendrick said while appearing the council chambers at City Hall.
Council members’ vote in favor of making it mandatory for sidewalks in new developments went against a Planning and Zoning Commission recommendation.
The council, however, did vote in favor of amendments that would prevent requiring sidewalks that, for example, lead to nowhere or sidewalks along rural roads or TxDOT highways.
Council members also voted to allow an option that would delay building a sidewalk, rather that waiving the requirement, when such a move makes sense.
Kendrick wasn't alone at the public hearing on the controversial and complicated issue of requiring sidewalks. Other visually impaired and handicapped citizens were there, some with white-tipped canes and service dogs. They weren't the only ones supporting the sidewalks ordinance.
Abilene resident Beverly Hoover said she believes sidewalks are a benefit for everyone in the city.
"You have people walking, pushing strollers. You have children that are too short to see, coming out between cars," Hoover said.
Sidewalk requirements have been a hot button issue since 2006, when the city first started requiring all new developments to have them.
Since then, some developers have filed for waivers. They often argue the cost is exorbitant.
Tim McClarty, the chairman of the Abilene Planning and Zoning Commission, said he believes “the money is not there.”
“I'd love to have it but I don't think we are going to make it to that perfect place until there are streets paved with gold,” McClarty said. “It's not going to happen here in Abilene.”
Abilene Mayor Norm Archibald said he understands cost is a big factor, but he added so is quality of life.
"Every city with a population of more than 100,000 in the state of Texas has required sidewalks on local new developments,” Archibald said. “I can't imagine a justification on why we would be different.”
The matter will not go back to the Planning and Zoning Commission. The commission had previously worked for months to ease the requirements for developments and public sector.