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Friday, Jul 25, 2014
Tom Jackson

Jackson: Sometimes a sidewalk is more than a sidewalk

Published:

LACOOCHEE — About the paving project nearing its halfway point along U.S. 301 north of Dade City, let us begin by saying this: Regarding where sidewalks end, Shel Silverstein and the Florida Department of Transportation have divergent points of view.

Silverstein, the beloved 20th-century poet-cartoonist whose work we read as children only to grasp as adults, regarded that terminus as mystical and inviting, cooled by a “peppermint wind” where “the grass grows soft and white ... [and] the moon-bird rests from his flight.”

By contrast, poetry not being the agency’s strong suit, FDOT considers the place where the sidewalk ends the place where the new sidewalk begins. Which is not to say the fresh stretch of concrete flanking U.S. 301’s northbound lanes that will, at completion, link Lacoochee to Dade City, is without its own humble beauty.

Rising and falling with the contours of the land, the sidewalk is a smooth, sharp ribbon of palest gray laid across green wrapping, a firm-footed invitation for adventurers obliged to travel at less than highway speeds.

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But to read some of the complaints, you’d think it was some sort of snake with fangs at one end and rattles at the other.

Wow.

We get that people have differences of opinion. When Rodney King, who incurred some traveling problems of his own, famously asked, “People ... can we all get along?” the answer was contained within the question. For some of us, where the sun sets is an issue with more than one side.

Add the expenditure of tax dollars and something as benign as a sidewalk can turn into a steel-cage match.

It’s a boondoggle, they tell you, that would be a colossal waste of taxpayer money even if it cost half the advertised $625,000. Who’s going to use it? From one end to the other — from dusty Wormack Road to the Dade City Business Center — it’s five lonesome miles past rundown motels, used car lots, repair shops, abandoned houses and pastures.

Quoted nearby, longtime Trilby resident Bob Quinn puts the over-under at 100 people who will walk the full distance in any given year. And his argument about opportunity costs — perhaps FDOT’s dollars would have been wiser spent rehabilitating Peterson Park where U.S. 98 crosses the Withlachoochee River — is not without merit.

On the other hand, when it comes to parks, it’s hard to imagine better year-round recreation than five miles of smooth concrete laid into gentle hills.

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But sometimes a sidewalk is more than just a sidewalk, and that strikes us as the case here.

It is, for openers, not a sidewalk to nowhere. Legitimate destinations greet it at either end. More important are the intermediate stopovers, including the convenience stores essential to the quality of life of those who live along U.S. 301 but lack reliable transportation. The sidewalks express the Legislature’s conviction that Florida’s pedestrians — in this case northeast Pasco pedestrians — shouldn’t have to risk the dangerous shoulder of a divided highway for a half-gallon of milk and a dozen vacuum-sealed slices of bologna.

Moreover, this particular sidewalk project represents solid evidence about the nature of the region’s shifting regard for the long-overlooked (yes, sometimes by mutual agreement) residents of Trilacoochee. If the repaving of U.S. 301 is designed to whisk motorists along their way, the sidewalks offer a handshake. They recognize the humanity of those living beyond the sidelong glances of hermetically sealed travelers speeding by.

Even then, those who prefer to live beyond where the sidewalks end will keep their secrets and know their mysteries are safe.

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