Sidewalks, like any other transportation infrastructure, are a public good.

Kearney, MO ran into a roadblock on new sidewalks. City aldermen asked residents if they wanted sidewalks. Kearney homeowners did not want sidewalks. Residents have to shovel them in the winter. They have to repair them, which is expensive. They have to keep them clean of leaves and debris. If they do not, they are liable if someone is hurt.

I've heard the same objections to sidewalks in Kirksville. No one with any sense would want sidewalks under those conditions. The homeowner has all the burden of maintaining the sidewalk, while everyone else uses the sidewalk for free. This is how it works in most cities.

It's no wonder sidewalks are unpopular. If we operated our roads this way, roads would be unpopular. If it snowed, you would have to wait for everyone on your block to get around to clearing the little section of street in front of their house before anyone could go down the block. Not very many of us own a snow plow, so it would take a while. When the road needs repaired, who will determine whether the pothole just between two properties is mine or my neighbor's?

It makes a lot more sense for the City to hire or contract experienced, reputable workers to build and repair the entire road and to buy expensive equipment like snow plows and street cleaners to keep the roads navigable. Everyone in the city shares the cost of building and maintaining the roads, through sales tax and property tax.

On my way home one day last spring, a terrible wind blew me off the street. I looked up and the street in front of me, clear a moment again, was filled with limbs and trees. A tree lay across one road, its roots in one yard and the crown lying in the yard across the street. In an astonishing 15 minutes after it fell, fire fighters had chopped it up and cleared the street enough so that cars could get through. If it had been the homeowners' responsibility to clear the street, it could have taken weeks.

The Kearney city aldermen should propose sidewalks that the city builds, maintains, cleans, and clears. The city, not the homeowner, would be liable if someone slipped on ice. The city could purchase sidewalk cleaners and sidewalk snow plows to get the job done quickly and done well. All the residents of the city would share the financial burden for the equipment and for staff time to run the equipment.

If the aldermen asked residents if they wanted this kind of sidewalk, they would get a different answer.