David B. Moye
September / October 2021 Newsletter
Updated: Oct 27, 2021
Circa 1900 EL Lybrand House formerly stood at Meeting and 9th shows one example of the old walkway in between the brick curbing and fence line.
This is a long blog post because it is about a large, important task in our community-sidewalks.
As West Columbia develops into a place where more people want to live, not just visit, we have a growing demand for sidewalks in our neighborhoods.
With sidewalks, our neighborhoods offer a different lifestyle experience, where people do not have to get into their car to go to the same places that people living in further out suburbs are forced to drive to. Sidewalks are good for improving the quality of life for the youngest and oldest among us who may not have access to an automobile. All of this helps entice new residents and makes property more desirable.
Sidewalks are an important part of safely parking. During events and busy overflow times, without sidewalks, cars tend to park haphazardly in rights of way on the side of the street and there's no clear walking path for when people exit vehicles, who will then share the roadway with cars which is not as safe.
Clear sidewalks are good for businesses that have frontages along them.
People often wonder why 100 year old West Columbia neighborhoods lack sidewalks, while in other cities, similar neighborhoods have sidewalks. It's a great question.
I've got the answer-we do technically have "sidewalks"!
Long ago, before the road was paved, it was very impractical for people to walk in the street. It was too muddy and there were very deep wagon ruts. That space in between your road and the fence line on your block is an old walkway!
If you have a house in a neighborhood built before 1950 and look at the front of your house, there are usually clues- the old stone/brick/concrete curb, and the old fence foundation or retaining wall. (Old curbs were sometimes much higher than the roadway), or, simply see your 50+ year old fence in your front yard, that is in line with your neighbors' fences a few feet from the roadway.
Many of our sidewalks were probably paved, just not with concrete. I believe they laid heart pine 2×10 or 2x12 lumber lengthwise on the ground-this is called a "plank road", and long ago it decayed away.
Many places gradually improved their rights of way with street trees for shade and sidewalks.
For some reason most West Columbia rights of way never were improved after they were built. This is the old Shull House property with a (very high) brick curve, a rounded corner, and fence line, and no sidewalk or streetscaping in the right of way.
However, a few of our rights of way were beautifully improved! For example, this is one side of Shuler Street, between Meeting Street and Center Street. There is a very high curb, just like the previous photo, only, a sidewalk and landscaping zone was added at some point. This is nice. If the entire neighborhood looked like this, most people would think it was a wonderful place! How wonderful it is to walk in the shade!
So what makes this history lesson important for people today to get sidewalks in 2021?
To this day, the area between the old fence line and street is still considered a public "right of way", meaning, the space is still set aside for public use and passing through. This is reflected on any property map available online. The easiest way to add a sidewalk is use the old infrastructure and grading, because a lot of the work has already been done.
However, the infrastructure we have is not easy for people to see or understand, since our sidewalks have fallen into disuse, many of the buildings and fences that were built facing the old sidewalk long ago have been removed with demolition/road projects, but most are still standing. Over time, people from every walk have slowly placed more encroachments in rights of way like dumpsters, power transformers, cars, flowerbeds and sometimes fences. Our zoning codes are not tailored to build to/around existing rights of way, as people once did, so new buildings follow an unconnected pattern to old buildings, which make it harder to see the public rights of way... But they are still there.
In other words, we DO have some extent of sidewalks, the space set aside for them has just been neglected, fragmented, and is not currently usable. It is like "piecing a puzzle back together" to add sidewalks and streetscaping.. This is where the term "complete street" comes from.
Here's a photo that shows how simply respecting our rights of way could be put to use. This is a "more typical block" that you would expect to see in West Columbia. It isn't very nice and looks like a ruin. Notice, in the background, across the street, is the area from the first photo! Side by side, you can see the rights of way and curbing are the same size on this side of the street. Wouldn't the block be nicer and more orderly.. "like a completed puzzle" if a sidewalk were simply poured and a few trees were planted to match the other side? It would be gorgeous!
The public right of way space is a slightly different size on every street. Some streets, like B avenue near the Community Center, have an almost 20 ft right of way. Other streets, like some in the Mill Hill, may only have 6 ft. Spring Street may have an even smaller right of way.
Knowing the size of rights of way is important, if you want to have an appropriate, practical vision for improvements, like nicer streetscaping and sidewalk projects: it informs how wide a sidewalk can be, and how much, if any, space can be dedicated to beautification, and which types of streetscaping and trees are right. For example, a small right of way might not be the best choice for large oak trees, which would be gorgeous in a large right of way. A clear vision for streetscaping and plantings would tremendously help our neighborhoods communicate a clear vision to organizations like the West Columbia Beautification Foundation and DOT, and make these efforts much easier.
Unfortunately, there will likely be some growing pains in implementing sidewalks. Many people, myself included, have put "encroachments" in rights of way at some point. Most of the causes for encroachments are due to a well intended lack of knowledge from both new property owners and lifelong residents alike who do not understand what the old stone and brick foundations by roads are meant for, or don't understand their old fence line is marking a boundary between public and private space. (Proverbs 2:28 states "Do not disturb the ancient boundary stone which your forefathers have placed". Better advice has never been given!)
To get through this, as a city, it will take effort on all parts. The city must be proactive, constructive and kind in working with property owners to help clear public space so that it can be used for street improvements and landscaping beautification.
You can do your part today to help. Learn where your right of way is located! If you don't know, I will be glad to help you find it.
Here are a few steps you can take to anticipate street improvements and respect the public right of way in front of your property.
Plant flowerbeds and trees along the right of way, rather than across it.
Businesses can move their dumpsters out of it.
Try to get out of the habit of parking your car where a sidewalk is meant to go.
NEVER pour new concrete parking spots, dumpster pads or fences in the right of way (doing this is also a way of telling on yourself that you did not get a permit!)
Neighbor, I support sidewalk connections in areas where they are appropriate and will never stop advocating for them. I appreciate your support.
Have a wonderful and safe holiday season and let me know if there's anything you need!
Included here are some upcoming WeCo events in our community:
Fri., 10/29, 4PM-5PM: Exclusive Shopping Event at State Street Trading Company, 134 State St, grab dinner at a local WeCo restaurant, then... Fri., 10/29, 6PM-9pm: Rhythm on the River
Sun., 10/31, 3PM-5PM: Trunk or Treat, Mt. Tabor Park, 1000 B Ave.
Tues., 11/2, 7AM-7PM: West Columbia Local Election for District 1, 3, 5, & 7.
Weds., 11/3, 8AM: Business FB Workshop, Carolina Together, 803 Meeting St.
Thurs., 11/4, 5:30PM: Happy Hour, The Carolina Law Group, 824 Meeting St.
Fri., 11/5, 5:30PM: Fall Back Fest, State Street & Meeting Street
Mon., 11/8, 6:30PM: Guignard Neighborhood Association, 754 B Ave.
Thurs., 11/11, 8AM: WeCo River District Meeting
Have a wonderful and safe holiday season and let me know if there's anything you need!
David Benjamin Moye
Councilman, West Columbia District #8