ANNE MILLER Staff writer
Section: CAPITAL REGION,  Page: B1

Date: Saturday, September 25, 2004

GUILDERLAND -- McKownville residents have begged the town for sidewalks since the neighborhood association's first meeting. That was in 1924.

It only took the town 80 years to oblige.

This week, officials moved ahead on laying sidewalk along McKown and Carman roads at the start of what they hope will be a prolonged effort to make high-traffic roads more pedestrian-friendly.

The news of sidewalks was greeted with smiles by those walking Wednesday morning on McKown Road.

``That's good news,'' said Cheryl Popson, as she got some exercise on her way to a state job in a Western Avenue office. She sported black trousers and a turquoise sweater, along with white sneakers and a portable CD player. Her co-workers will be especially excited to hear the news about sidewalks, she said. Many of them walk the neighborhoods on their lunch breaks.

``People drive past carefully, but it does get close,'' she said.

This week, Guilderland officials got word a $52,000 federal grant, administered by the Capital District Transportation Committee, will pay for most of a new sidewalk along McKown Road, from Woodscape Drive to Western Avenue, about a half-mile. The town will kick in an additional $13,000 to complete the project, said Donald Csaposs, the town development director.

The Town Board also approved the awarding of an engineering contract this week to start the process for a nearly 1,400-foot-long sidewalk along Carman Road, between Lone Pine and Coons roads. A $43,000 federal grant matched with $100,000 in town funds will cover that.

The sidewalks may run along relatively small stretches in the suburb that has grown by 2,000 residents in the last 10 years, but they represent a big step toward the town becoming more pedestrian-friendly. The walkways were recommended by the Pathways Committee, a town advisory committee of residents, in a report released last year. And residents say they are needed in a former farm town that increasingly resembles an urban landscape.

``Suburban areas were mostly scattered areas and farms,'' said Donald Reeb, president of the McKownville Improvement Association. ``Now, suburbs are looking more and more like a city.''

When his association formed during the era of flappers and Prohibition, three swimming pools off McKown Road drew children who paid a nickel each for the privilege to swim there.

Today, family homes occupy the site of the pools, and it's commuters, not children at play, who walk to the neighborhood bus stops or nearby office parks. The modern pedestrians have to share McKown Road with traffic on what has turned into a major alternate route for Slingerlands commuters trying to avoid the morning rush on the Thruway, Reeb said.

The demand for sidewalks has risen across the region as development has become more dense, with more houses on smaller lots and more people on a given street, said Dan Wojcik. He is a landscape architect and principal partner in Saratoga Associates, a planning firm that is working with Colonie and Bethlehem to map out the futures of those municipalities.

And sidewalks can provide more than a space to walk. They often include amenities that enliven an entire neighborhood.

``You need to think of sidewalks in terms of a placeholder for streetlights, a placeholder for trees and benches -- all those things can happen in that place by the curb,'' he said.

The details of the Guilderland plans have yet to be finished. Town Planning Director Jan Weston said that state roads like Carman and McKown have a minimum 15-foot easement on every property along the asphalt that the government can take to build upon. The impact on lawns or neighborhood trees will not be clear until engineers complete their work.

More sidewalks will follow during the coming years, though the town cannot cover every road, officials say. It was unclear Wednesday exactly when residents will see the new McKown and Carman roads sidewalks.

``You are talking an expense that would be millions of dollars,'' Csaposs said. ``That's not going to happen, no matter how many of us want it.''