La Vida Local – Irregular Notes on West End Life
by Rosanne Graef, Past President – WENA
Today’s Topic: Treacherous Sidewalks
Winter is synonymous with complaints about the conditions of sidewalks in Portland, generally due to lack of plowing or shoveling; but throughout the West End, bricks prevail and their slipperiness and erratic levels do nothing except compound the problems pedestrians experience. Bricks look nice, but are they really a good choice?
You may have read the recent articles in the Press Herald by Shoshana Hoose on this topic, and now I’ll share one of my own experiences on foot in Portland.
Three years ago I treated myself to an opening night ticket for the Portland Flower Show. Upon leaving the show, happily swinging my little bag of African violet leaf cuttings, I made a misstep in the parking area. With no chance to recover my balance, in the fraction of a second before I hit the pavement, I remember thinking, “This is gonna hurt.”
The first part of me to make contact with the ground was outer end of my right eyebrow. After several moments in the prone position, I was able to focus and found myself face to face with an old railroad track about two inches away. I cautiously rolled myself into a sitting position to examine the damage. My glasses were pretty banged up, there was blood dripping from my eyebrow, nose and lip and my right pinky was mashed.
Luckily a young couple witnessed my headlong pitch and rushed to my assistance. I have no idea who they were, but the woman ran to their car and returned with a fistful of Burger King and Dunkin’ Donuts napkins to stanch the flow of blood running down my face. They kindly offered to drive me home or call for someone to come get me, but since I appeared to be in fairly good shape, I declined their offers.
I hauled myself to my feet, picked up my African violets and drove myself home, where I washed up and went to sleep — the most outstanding consequence was yet to come.
The next day I awoke to the first shiner of my life. It was spectacular! A brilliant display of deep purple and reddish violet encircled my eye for a few days, before gradually fading to an especially unattractive shade of yellowy green.
I tell you this story because I was lucky. Aside from a tiny facial scar, I have no lasting effects from this stumble.
Granted, all surfaces can heave and deteriorate, but Portland’s brick sidewalks are especially treacherous. Not only must we be aware of remnants of Portland’s industrial past lying in wait to trip us up, we also have to be on guard for missing and broken bricks, unnecessarily uneven and slick surfaces, as well as inadequately shoveled icy sidewalks.
Because the brick sidewalks are often difficult to clear thoroughly, many Portlanders walk in the street rather than hesitantly creep along the sidewalk or climb back and forth over the bankings.
While I agree that keeping a few cobblestone streets in the Old Port is desirable for their historic and touristic value, the brick sidewalks aren’t worth the risks of the precarious footing they provide or the fuss and expense their maintenance entails. The safety and mobility of residents outweigh their appeal. It’s time to switch to concrete when replacing damaged sidewalks or installing new ones.