In the city, sidewalks are a necessity to get from one place to another by foot – and walkways are so prevalent they’re taken for granted. In rural areas of Massachusetts, though sidewalks are not quite as abundant, they are sometimes just as necessary.  

The town of Great Barrington is trying to improve walkability and connectivity in the city by revamping the walkways and sidewalks that link the community together. Connecting Point’s Brian Sullivan traveled to the southern Berkshire town to get a look at two of their latest sidewalk improvement projects. 

Read the full transcript:

Zydalis Bauer, Connecting Point: In the city, sidewalks are a necessity to get from one place to another by foot, and are so prevalent they’re often taken for granted. In rural areas of the state though, they are not quite as abundant, but sometimes just as necessary.

The town of Great Barrington looks to remedy their own connectivity situation with walkways and sidewalks that will better link their community together and Connecting Point’s Brian Sullivan traveled to the southern Berkshire town to get a look at two of their latest projects.

Brian Sullivan, Connecting Point: In a city landscape, sidewalks can become so commonplace as to be nothing more than an afterthought. In Springfield, I can walk from my apartment for countless blocks and the only time my feet touch the roadway is at the crosswalk, of which there is a surplus — what with all the stoplights in town.

Rural areas tend to have a different story to tell. Here in Springfield, pedestrians can actually see a major highway elevated above them in certain spots.

In Great Barrington, their major highway is right there at ground level and runs straight into Connecticut. Kids who grew up here riding their bikes down this stretch of Route seven now as adults see it as a daunting task for anyone who attempts it.

The solution? A greenway project that cuts off a large section of this road and gets pedestrians just a little closer to the beauty that surrounds them.

Sean VanDeusen, Great Barrington DPW: You know, I don’t think we’ve thought about how dangerous it really was then, but times have changed and there’s definitely a lot more families that are utilizing that portion Route seven. And, you know, it’s obviously scary and it’s a concern.

There’s been some accidents on that this portion of road. So, it’s it’s a real great thing for the community to get this built and to make it safer. And to increase the sort of ability for people to utilize the open space the town has to offer.

Brian Sullivan: The money for this roughly half million dollar project came through a Shared Streets Grant from Mass DOT and the Town, and will help create a link between the community center and community health once it gets paved.

We got there before the paving started to take in some of the sites. However, paving operations were getting underway on Main Street in Housatonic Village, just a few miles up the road.

While not really a prototypical main street in terms of storefronts and commerce, it does carry plenty of vehicular volume since it connects with Route 441, one of the major roadways here in the southern Berkshires.

Chris Rembolt, Town of Great Barrington: And this is a sidewalk people have been asking about for about a decade. We were finally able to receive a complete streets grant a year ago.

So, this is a two hundred and thirty-some thousand dollar project to extend the sidewalk on Main Street in Housatonic.

Brian Sullivan: The new sidewalk not only gives locals a safer way of getting to places like the library and the community center, but it also provides easier access to some nature spots here in town, like Old Maid Park, just up the road and this rail trail that I’m on right now.

So far, though, the construction and work crews have made an already narrow road even more so, forcing drivers to take things much slower. But for one of the only storefronts on the street, giving passing is more time to stop and look may actually be good for business.

In fact, the new sidewalk will make the street permanently thinner, by design, to make it safer for pedestrians and hopefully deter drivers from treating the road like the local speedway.

Sean VanDeusen: The area road has been utilized a lot by people walking with their families, by walking their dogs, and it’s very narrow and very dangerous. It’s also there’s a blind corner there.

So this section of sidewalk is going to increase pedestrian safety. We’re also doing some installing some extra signage and doing some traffic-calming measures to slow cars down.

Brian Sullivan: Each of these relatively cost-effective projects is now being viewed as the first step in creating what the town hopes will be a more pedestrian-friendly rural community.

Chris Rembolt: Our overall vision is to have our neighborhoods and our community centers and our big employers all linked with sidewalks, with trails, with a Complete Streets network so people can get around safely and easily if they don’t want to travel in car or if they travel by bike or by bus, that people can get around to where they need to go.