Sidewalks. These ubiquitous, flat slabs of concrete blend into urban-suburban streetscapes, often unnoticed by community members. That is, of course, until one is not there. It’s at that moment that the critical role sidewalks play in connecting a community comes into sharp focus.
On August 25, 2017, a ribbon cutting ceremony was held at Seneca Valley School District’s Rowan Elementary School. Stakeholders from the community, school district and Cranberry Township attended to celebrate the completion of the Rowan sidewalk: a vital piece of infrastructure that literally and figuratively connects the community.
A Grand Plan
Kathleen McCaig, planning specialist with Cranberry Township, explains that during the past 20 years, Cranberry Township has had three different comprehensive plans. In the late 90s, residents expressed that they wanted to walk more — to parks, schools, shops, restaurants and neighbors.
“We rewrote the construction ordinance to include sidewalks with new development,” McCaig says. “We’re big believers in planning for the future so Cranberry Township is and can become the community residents want it to be.”
That single move expanded Cranberry Township’s sidewalk network, which grew to 106 miles of sidewalks and trails. That’s a significant number considering the entire community is comprised of about 23 square miles.
The third comprehensive plan came in 2009. Again, residents’ voices fueled the change. This time they wanted increased connectivity between the existing network of sidewalks and trails. In response, Cranberry Township analyzed the network to identify the gaps.
“This is where the Rowan Road sidewalk comes into play,” McCaig says. “It’s the result of a lot of positive collaboration with the Seneca Valley School District. It required a good deal of coordination.”
The Rowan Road sidewalk plays a central role in connecting many facets of the community: a neighborhood, commercial building, schools and a church.
Two day cares, the Goddard School and Happy Spaces Children’s Center, now have improved access to Rowan Elementary School. The Goddard School is located next to but behind Rowan Elementary. Happy Spaces Children’s Center is located in Rowan Towers.
“Many of our students attend these day cares for before- and after-school programs,” says Nannette Farmar, Rowan Elementary School principal. “Now staff and the children can walk on a nice sidewalk instead of the grass.”
The sidewalk also links the neighboring Fox Run neighborhood to Rowan Elementary. Many Rowan Elementary students live in the neighborhood as well as families with small children who want to use the school’s playground. The intersection of Rowan Road and the school were installed with enhanced safety features as part of the sidewalk construction. When the crosswalk button is pushed, the traffic lights turn red at the same time making it easier and safer for pedestrians.
Hope Lutheran Church is also located along the sidewalk, effectively connecting it to the Fox Run neighborhood.
“I really see the sidewalks as an initiative to keep communities safe but also as a bridge to connect schools, communities and homes,” Farmar says.
These connections were on display at the ribbon cutting ceremony, which was attended by the full spectrum of stakeholders from township authority, school staff and administration to students, families and church members.
“I heard a lot of positive comments from families,” Farmar says. “It was a nice way to celebrate it together.”