Chatham Borough will install sidewalks within the month along the west side of lower Elmwood Avenue close to Milton Avenue Elementary School.
The Borough Council made the decision to go ahead with the installation at a meeting Monday. The project has been in the works for two years, according to Council President James Collander.
The borough had heard from Milton Avenue parents and school officials about afterschool safety problems on Elmwood Avenue—a street that many children use to walk home. Cars lined up along the street during the afterschool hour, and parents said the chaos on the street has increased the likelihood a tragedy could occur.
Collander said he feels it is the borough's job to install the sidewalks. They could, he said, decrease the chances of an accident.
"We're not here to legislate behavior," he said. "But we are here to deal with what is potentially an unsafe situation."
The sidewalks will be installed along Elmwood between Milton Avenue and Weston Avenue. The project will cost about $25,000, according to Borough Engineer Vince DeNave, and will be paid for with money set aside for sidewalk projects.
DeNave said it makes the most sense for the project to be completed within the next month. Once construction begins, he said, it should not take more than a week to finish.
"This is a project that needs to be done when school is out of session," he said. "This is the best time to do it."
The sidewalks will run across several properties on the west side of Elmwood Avenue. Four trees that stand in the way of the planned sidewalk will be removed, according to DeNave, though Mayor Nelson Vaughan said they would likely be replaced in the future.
The council, however, did not decide to go ahead with the project without first hearing the opinions of several neighborhood residents who came to the meeting.
The residents encouraged the council to think outside the box a bit more, with regard to its plan.
"It just seems like we're rushing into this," Elmwood Avenue resident Robert Labus said.
Labus said the borough could potentially consider installing the sidewalk two feet into the street, instead of along Elmwood Avenue properties. The council nixed that idea, however, after DeNave said doing so would increase the project's cost.
Brian Mahoney, who lives nearby on Weston Avenue, also said he felt the project was being done too soon.
The borough has already restricted parking along the east side of Elmwood Avenue (see photo at right) and approved a plan to add 23 parking spaces in the area in an effort to get cars off of Elmwood. But Mahoney said there is more that can be done.
He encouraged the borough to consider restricting parking on both sides of the street and said the borough could potentially install a bike/walk lane on the street, instead of placing the sidewalks there.
"We have not had sidewalks for 50 years and have not had one safety incident to date," Mahoney said.
In the end, though, the council chose to go ahead with the project. It heeded the words of School District of the Chathams Superintendent Jim O'Neill, who spoke at the meeting.
O'Neill said the school's enrollment has grown at a much faster pace than district officials had anticipated. The sidewalks, he said, will eliminate some of the risk that is inherently present when the school's small children walk home.
"We really are fearful if there is an accident ... we will all regret (not installing sidewalks)," O'Neill said.