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Where the Sidewalk Ends: Tucson's walkways still several steps behind

Safety concerns and funding hurdles remain
Sidewalks remain spotty, even on some of Tucson's busiest streets.
Posted at 3:50 PM, Apr 10, 2022
and last updated 2022-04-10 20:46:55-04

TUCSON, Ariz. (KGUN) — Gina Renfroe says it’s difficult getting around her Tucson neighborhood because of the sidewalks, or the lack thereof.

Renfroe, who uses a wheelchair, says the sidewalks near her home have not improved over the years. She says they can be sloped enough where she fears tipping over, calling the situation “dangerous.”

In other spots, sidewalks are missing entirely.

“Some of these areas don’t have ramps,” she said. “And that really frustrates me because I need a ramp. Sometimes I have to take the bike lane just to get around.”

Andy Bemis—Bicycle & Pedestrian Program Coordinator for Tucson’s Department of Transportation and Mobility (DTM)—says the city has been playing catch-up for decades.

“Sidewalks were not routinely installed on major streets in Tucson until like the late 80s or early 90s,” he explained. “So in 1990, the Americans With Disabilities Act for the first time required the construction of sidewalks on all new roadway projects. So since then, you’ll see newer roads in Tucson have more complete sidewalks on major streets.”

But even on major streets, sidewalks end suddenly or are cracked or uneven.

According to the ‘Move Tucson’ initiative's Fall 2020 study, 45 percent of the city’s major roadways are missing a sidewalk on one or both sides of the street. Bemis says that number is far lower on smaller, neighborhood streets.

“When there’s not a sidewalk present, we end up needing to walk in the street,” Bemis said. “Or, if we’re in a wheelchair or mobility assistance device, use a bike lane, if there is one. So yeah, it puts people in difficult situations and choices we wouldn’t want to have to make.”

According to DTM, the city’s sidewalk network has gradually improved in areas with more foot traffic.

“Through Move Tucson, we also prioritized sidewalk segments on our major streets to connect with transit routes, with commercial centers, in areas where people are more dependent on walking and biking to get around,” Bemis said.

But the biggest barrier for the city is funding.

DTM says it costs between $380,000 and $480,000 per mile to install sidewalks on both sides of the street.

And as the city faces a long list of road projects, some Tucsonans worry sidewalks are becoming a side project.

“It’s frustrating and it makes me upset, because they’re not doing anything for the sidewalks,” Renfroe said.