Where the sidewalk ends

Take a walk around Todd County’s largest city, Long Prairie, and you’ll soon be faced with a choice: Traipse across someone’s lawn, or take to the street.

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The sidewalk extends only part way down this Long Prairie block. (MPR Photo/Curtis Gilbert)

There are many places where whole sections of sidewalk are simply missing, grown over with grass and moss. And some neighborhoods have no sidewalk at all.

It’s a minor inconvenience for a 29-year-old, able-bodied reporter. But if you’re 82 and use a walker, it’s a bigger problem. What seems like a small thing looms larger as an emblem of the issues that pop up as the proportion of elderly grows.

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“I walk on the street,” said Leona Smith, who walks at least two miles a day, three days a week, weather permitting. “The sidewalk is so uneven, it just drives me crazy.”

According to a report from the University of North Carolina’s Highway Safety Research Center, pedestrians 65 and older are far more likely to die after being struck by a car than their younger counterparts.

Advocates for the elderly say that makes well-maintained, accessible sidewalks especially important for older Americans. But they point out people of all ages benefit from better sidewalks.

“It’s for the person in the wheelchair, but it’s also for the couple with the stroller or the kid on the bike,” said Jon Knopik, community services developer with the Central Minnesota Council on Aging.

As Todd County looks to a future with more and more elderly citizens, Knopik says it should take steps toward becoming more pedestrian-friendly.

City Adminstrator Dave Venekamp says Long Prairie has put city-subsidized sidewalk improvements on hold for the last two years in response to cuts in state aid.

Sidewalks are back in the budget this year, but could be axed again depending on what happens to local government aid at the Legislature this session, Venekamp said.

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