March 1, 2007
REGULATION OF SIDEWALK INSTALLATION
By: Lila McKinley, Legislative Fellow
You asked if there are any municipal ordinances in Connecticut and its neighboring states that specify where sidewalks must be installed.
State law authorizes municipalities to lay out, construct, and reconstruct sidewalks, but very few municipalities have adopted ordinances stipulating where sidewalks must be installed. Densely populated municipalities like Bristol, Wethersfield, Ellington, and Branford have ordinances specifying installation requirements. Some ordinances apply to all streets, some to streets with specific uses (e.g., schools), and some to new developments within specific zoning areas.
More typically, local planning and zoning commissions decide where sidewalks should be installed in their plans of development and conservation (plans of C & D). Some towns prepare separate plans for sidewalks. For example, Manchester's Planning Department developed a plan identifying where new sidewalks and curbs should be installed.
Rhode Island and New York also allow municipalities to decide where to install sidewalks, but it appears that few have adopted sidewalk construction ordinances.
The law delegates the construction of sidewalks to municipalities (CGS § 7-148(6)(c)). (It also authorizes the state to construct sidewalks (1) on any bridge on a state highway when necessary to ensure public safety and (2) during the course of a project on state roads where sidewalks are likely to exist (see OLR Report 2002-R-0308)).
Most municipalities have not adopted local ordinances requiring sidewalk construction. A few have blanket zoning regulations that require sidewalks on all streets, certain streets with specific uses, or in new developments within specified zoning districts.
For example, Ellington requires new developments in multi-family housing zones to include sidewalks (Ellington Code § 230-20(B)(4)). Branford requires sidewalks on all major and secondary streets, local streets near schools and playgrounds, and all other streets where sidewalks are needed to protect public safety (Branford Code § 28-25). Bristol requires sidewalks on all streets not covered under its subdivision regulations and in all commercial and industrial areas (Bristol Code §§ 21-49, 21-124). However, a different provision requires that the city council build sidewalks when it determines it is in the public's interest (Bristol Code § 21-36). Wethersfield requires sidewalks in new developments located in high-density or medium-density zones (Wethersfield Code §§ 167-23(D), 167-32(E)). The zoning commission may modify these requirements where sidewalks already exist or are not needed to protect public safety.
Most towns address the need for sidewalks in their plans of C&D, which are advisory documents. The plans delineate areas where sidewalks should be installed based on population density, traffic, and other factors. Local public works departments consult the plans when planning sidewalk construction and other public improvements.
Some towns prepare separate plans for installing sidewalks. Manchester's Planning Department and Public Works Department identify where sidewalks are needed in its Curb and Sidewalk Plan. The criteria for selecting streets include the need to provide (1) safe connections to schools, shopping, or transit facilities and (2) safe pedestrian walkways in highly populated or traveled areas.
Sidewalks may be built in response to individual requests, or where it becomes apparent that there is an increased need for pedestrian access. This usually occurs in new developments or in areas where new developments increase pedestrian and vehicle traffic. A proper planning process considers demographic, geographic and development patterns, Chris Woods, legislative liaison for Connecticut Planners Association, stated. However, this process is often skipped over, especially when municipalities receive multipurpose economic development grants.
Rhode Island allows municipal legislative bodies to determine where sidewalks should be constructed (R.I. Gen. Law § 24-7-2). Most towns that we surveyed did not have ordinances specifying where sidewalks should be built, but instead relied on their planning and zoning commissions or town councils to make these decisions.
However, Westerly's zoning ordinances specify where sidewalks should be installed. The ordinances require sidewalks on all new public streets in developments located in business and residential districts, including those where cluster and multifamily housing developments are allowed. Sidewalks are also required if the zoning board finds that the development is located (1) in an area within one mile of a public or private school; (2) near churches, shopping areas, playgrounds and other major facilities; (3) where there is a reasonable likelihood of pedestrian traffic; or (4) in an area where high vehicular traffic poses a significant danger to pedestrians (City of Westerly, Code A261-30(B)(15)(a)).
In New York, the power to construct sidewalks is shared between the municipalities, the counties, and state depending upon the type and location of the road. For example, the state transportation commissioner may construct sidewalks, when he thinks it is necessary, on state highways outside of municipalities. County superintendents may construct sidewalks on county roads, but only with the consent of the affected municipalities (NY Highway Law §§ 10, 54 102, NY Town Law § 130(4)). We did not find any state law or county regulations stipulating specific installation requirements.
Some larger municipalities have ordinances addressing where sidewalks should be constructed. For example, New York City requires sidewalks on all streets which are 22 or more feet wide. (New York City Administrative Code § 19-113). Ithaca requires sidewalks on all streets built within new subdivisions (Ithaca Code § 290-27(B)(3)(a)). New Rochelle's public works commissioner decides where to build sidewalks based on pedestrian safety and welfare (New Rochelle Zoning Code 281 § 20(B)(11)).