Pedestrians hampered by city sidewalk gaps

By MATT PARSONS/Montana State News

Newer neighborhoods in Bozeman are without a connected system of sidewalks. And at the current rate of home construction, residents may have to wait several years before their sidewalks are fully connected.

Currently the only way to get down Forestglen Avenue on the west side of Bozeman is to walk on the road.

“We walk with our son down the side of the road.  It’s better than trying to make your way through empty lots. You never know what’s in the grass there,” said Peter Dutkowsky, a resident of the Laurel Glen subdivision. “It’s kind of a mess.”

Dutkowsky isn’t the only one who feels that way.

Andy Kerr, assistant engineer for the city of Bozeman, agreed that the program for building sidewalks in new neighborhoods is messy. “Within three years of platting, sidewalks must be built, regardless of how many lots a developer sells,” said Kerr. 

But the subdivision of Laurel Glen is over eight years old and still there is a patchwork of sidewalks.  In some places, 20 more feet of concrete would connect a city block. But because the lot sits empty, there is a gap in the sidewalk, often forcing pedestrians into the road.

“The developers threatened bankruptcy when we told them they had to finish the sidewalks. So we decided not to enforce the policy,” Kerr said. “The way it’s supposed to work is that the builder is responsible for putting in sidewalks after the structure is completed. We do that because the building process typically destroys the existing sidewalks. So we let the builder wait until the heavy equipment is off the lot to pour the concrete.”

But when home construction comes to a halt, so does sidewalk construction, unless the developer steps up. Kerr said that the city is hoping construction will pick up again in those neighborhoods. Until then there is no plan to hold the developers to the sidewalk regulation.

By law the Bozeman City Commission would have to order developers to complete sidewalks in front of empty land. The last time commissioners did that was in 2004, when real estate prices were climbing according to Kerr.

According to Kerr there are over 300 miles of sidewalks in Bozeman. On average, a mile of sidewalk costs $140,000 to construct, leaving most developers on the hook for less than the cost of a three bedroom condominium to complete sidewalk networks three years after platting.

– Edited by Alex Komsthoeft

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