After conversations and concerns about sidewalks in Athens started to take place, the Pedestrian Accessibility Committee was established. Formed through a resolution made by Athens City Council and put forth by former Councilmember Arian Smedley, the committee is currently striving to promote accessibility and walkability of Athens sidewalks through recommendations and strategies.
The committee is composed of five people, all from different relevant, knowledgeable backgrounds and all representing different people and parts of Athens. Dianne Bouvier is the Athens City Commission on Disability representative and chair. For Bouvier, being a part of the committee stemmed from her membership with the Athens City Commission on Disability. From there, she was able to see the issues with Athens sidewalks, curb cuts, intersections and more.
She often finds herself asking, “How are we creating a space that’s really inclusive?”
“I sort of learned that we have the power to make decisions that are either inclusive or they're exclusive and that sometimes just a little more knowledge helps you make a decision that's more inclusive,” Bouvier said.
Like Bouvier, Solveig Spjeldnes, D-1st Ward, — who is Smedley’s successor and the committee’s City Council representative — said she was more than willing to help improve the status of the sidewalks.
“People are really concerned about the cracked sidewalks, the unwalkable sidewalks and getting injured,” Spjeldnes said. “Also, the primary focus of this has to do with people who have disabilities, people who are in a wheelchair or have complications walking. People in (those) situations, obviously, need to have really good sidewalks so that they can get around their community.”
Together, Bouvier and Spjeldnes, and the rest of their committee — Athens Mayor Steve Patterson, the Athens city representative; Rob Delach, the Athens community representative; and Neil Ryan, the student representative — created a survey that would help the committee assess how others in Athens viewed the accessibility and walkability of Athens. The committee also finds additional help and guidance from Stephanie Hunter, an Athens resident.
The committee created an acronym called SPACE, which provides the framework for how to discuss things revolving around pedestrian accessibility. SPACE stands for safety, proximity, accessibility, connection and ease.
Part of the mandate under the resolution is to seek community input, therefore the survey was put into place. Bouvier said it’s important to gain input from anyone and everyone who uses the sidewalks of Athens; the committee goes through “focus groups” to help it find accurate and effective information, and Ohio University students are one of those groups.
The committee hopes the survey will bring about conversation and new ways of discussing sidewalks.
“As students come back, we want them to talk about their experiences with sidewalks and what their priorities are,” Bouvier said. “They might have more observations about Uptown than I might where I live, or staff that like we're away for the summer and are coming back. We really, really value their input because they are an integral part of Athens.”
Spjeldnes said having student input is important, especially when so many students live on the west side of Athens. She hopes a more pedestrian-friendly atmosphere will encourage people to partake in walking, biking or other non-automotive transportation methods, ultimately helping the environment.
The survey closes at the end of August and can be taken using the following link: https://ohio.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_8faYujai7voPHYG.