The sidewalk that snakes along Belle Terre Parkway was deserted early Thursday afternoon. From the bench that sits at its intersection with the Lehigh Trail, a person could stare into the park until the trail curves away.
An hour passed, but no people did — save for a single biker who rounded the corner where trail meets sidewalk. The trail behind him was mostly empty, he said.
Both Palm Coast and Flagler County are working on projects to expand sidewalks and trails in the area. Some have questioned whether the time and resources pumped into such projects are worth the effort and expense — such as Scott Lamont of Palm Coast, in a January letter to the editor.
But to Carl Cote, a construction manager for the city of Palm Coast, they’re worth the effort. Not only are sidewalks and trails consistently a top priority mentioned in the citizens’ opinion surveys the city sends out, but also, their construction is done at little cost to local governments: They’re mostly funded by grants.
“The city wasn’t initially planned for pedestrians,” he said. “It was a car city, but now we’ve seen the need for sidewalks.”
In 2008, the city developed its pedestrian/bicycle master plan to connect the disjointed sidewalk system in Palm Coast. Five years ago, sidewalks that ended abruptly were much more common than they are today, Cote said.
Since then, the city has made progress in attaining its goal of filling in missing segments of the sidewalk system and eliminating dead-end pathways. It has updated its master plan throughout the years as progress is made.
For the last three years, Palm Coast has spent just over $6 million on sidewalk and trail projects, Cote said. About $5 million of it came from grant funding.
County-headed projects are much the same. County Administrator Craig Coffey estimates that between 90% to 95% of money the county spends on sidewalks and trails comes from grants.
“If we didn’t get the grant money, it’d go to another county,” Coffey said. “We’d be stupid not to take advantage of those programs.”
The county is almost ready to begin construction on a project that would put a sidewalk along State Road 100 from Bulldog Drive to Flagler Beach. It’s also finished designs and permit for a sidewalk that runs along Matanzas Woods Parkway from Matanzas High School to U.S. 1. Coffey expects the project to be bid out by the end of January.
Any road that lacks a sidewalk is a safety hazard to any pedestrian who does walk along it, Coffey said.
“Everything in government has a limited amount of use,” Coffey said. “You build these things because they’re needed for the public.”
But just as residents who don’t have children don’t directly benefit from use of Flagler public schools, neither do all residents use sidewalks or trails for recreation or as a method of transportation. Arguing that since not everyone uses the paths and walkways, local government shouldn’t expend effort or money on them could be applied to almost any service small government provides, except for roads, Coffey said.
He estimates that there are more than 100 miles of sidewalks and trails in the area.
Their cost varies depending on project, said Carl Laundrie, communications manager for Flagler County.
Some require bridges; others, special considerations because they trail through wetlands.
The trails and sidewalks in Flagler County can indirectly benefit even those who don’t use them by enticing new residents and tourists to the area, Cote said.
“The feedback we get, from Realtors and residents,” Cote said, “is that one thing people look for in relocating is places where they can be outdoors.”
As Thursday afternoon stretched on, Gary and Nancy Post walked from a parking lot along the Belle Terre Parkway sidewalk to the Lehigh Trail. They’re new to the area, and this was their first foray onto Palm Coast’s trail system.
To the couple, who moved here to be close to family, the network of trails is welcomed. Gary Post has a bike he intends to bring onto the trails as well, he said. “They should definitely keep expanding sidewalks,” he said. “Where we live, there are no sidewalks at all, and it’s a bit dangerous.” The couple lives in the F-Section. Gary Post said when he comes home from work, he sees people walking or biking on the roads. They often stick to the center stripe because there are no sidewalks, but since there are no street lights in that part of town, seeing them can be difficult.
However, in Palm Coast, certain neighborhoods do not lend themselves to sidewalks. Because of the positions of swales and property lines, there either isn’t room for pathways, or constructing them would be costly, Cote said.
Once the city has connected the sidewalks on its main roadways and eliminated its dead-end trails, they might turn their attention to residential problem areas as well, Cote said, but the process takes time, and grant money may be harder to get for such projects.
Cote said he and his team are focusing on attaining grant money for sidewalks in Seminole Woods.
“As long as we keep getting grant funding, we’ll keep building,” he said.