Friday, March 22, 2013

AT FARMINGTON WOODS, WHEN GOLF RULES, WALKERS DROOL: A TRIBUTE TO PAUL SCHORNO


“Always walk on the sidewalk; if there is no sidewalk, walk facing traffic.” from Safety Tips for Pedestrians at www.walkinginfo.org



Author's Note: I wrote this post as someone who has logged 5-6K miles over the last 14 years walking at Farmington Woods. It's intent was to show the glaring difference in priorities when it comes to residential vs golf course infrastructure and what happens when the business (golf) of Farmington Woods takes precedence over residential needs.

So, to the anonymous person who left an unsigned letter 
in my mailbox calling for me to "retract" certain statements in the post, I have two things to say: One, you yourself, just broke a federal law by using the Postal Service box for private distribution. 

And two, when you get the courage to put your identify out there on a blog of your own, you can then decide what the thesis of your posts will be, what statements they contain and how they are titled. You have clearly missed the point of my post and are blind to its ironic intent. 

History is my favorite subject and I know the history of Farmington Woods very well.


ANYWAY

When we moved to Farmington Woods in 1999 there was one stretch of sidewalk that ran from the top of Heritage to the upper clubhouse driveway. At the time, the Woods still considered itself a golf community and the attitude was “if you want to walk, join the golf club”.

No, seriously, that was the response you would get when you asked board members or administration about the chance of getting some sidewalks built, you know, for the safety of walkers. So if you walked, you did so at your own peril. And walk we did, as did many others.

Somewhere at the turn of the 21st century the mindset began to change. I wasn’t part of the push, just an avid walker, however slowly but surely sidewalks started popping up year after year. One year, Paul Schorno, our general manager actually consulted me as to where the next stretch of sidewalk should go.

In no particular order we got sidewalks built on Heritage from the clubhouse to the crosswalk near the guardhouse, on upper Byron to the Byron Pool, on Mallard in various stages and finally on lower Byron. We celebrated the completion of each one. 

There was some controversy concerning the Mallard stretch. For years golf carts had to travel out onto the street to go from hole 3 to hole 4. When the sidewalk was built, someone decided to make it a dual use proposition: as a sidewalk for walkers and a cart path for golfers.




While walkers were ecstatic to have a new and safer way of traversing Mallard, the dual use aspect soon became a problem. Carts got parked on the sidewalk, forcing walkers onto the road, inpatient cart drivers would follow on the heels of walkers to get them to move faster. Finally signs were erected requiring carts to yield to walkers and a cart parking area was constructed at the end of the path.

All of these improvements were done during the tenure of Paul Schorno. Many things accomplished during his time here benefited the golf community, but he seemed to understand that in order to keep the community as a whole happy, things like sidewalks and yield signs went a long way. After all, there were then, and are now, more walkers at Farmington Woods than golfers and he seemed to understand the dynamics of that.

Unfortunately Paul left in 2009 just at about the time that golf worldwide and especially at Farmington Woods was beginning its decline. With the exception of golf, budgets tightened and as a result a moratorium was placed on funding for sidewalks. With the exception of two short pathways to the front and rear entrance for children exiting school buses, no resident fees have been appropriated for new construction since.

Back in the early 70’s when Farmington Woods started out, it was a much smaller place with a lot fewer residents than today, so there were fewer cars to contend with. Unfortunately Farmington Woods has grown considerably since then and the number of cars on America’s roads now totals around 250M, more than twice the roughly 120M on the road in 1970.

The demographics have also changed since then. There are certainly more children than when we moved in, certainly more walkers and as we all know fewer golfers. And yet every year since the last significant sidewalk was built here, the residents have been asked to subsidize the golf operation to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars per year.

Believe me, the folks that plan the future of our community can accomplish things when they set their minds to it:




That’s the new cart path on the 9th fairway. Another project accomplished with resident fees is found between the 1st green and the 2nd tee:






There are folks at Farmington Woods who would rather I “sing a different tune”. Why do I constantly target the golf operation/clubhouse for criticism? Rather than go into some rant about the “zero sum” game that our budget process is, let me just once again repeat that every dollar borrowed from resident infrastructure funds for golf improvements is one dollar less spent on improving things for average residents.

As a result we get a painted "invisible shield" to protect walkers on lower Heritage:





And at the busiest intersection in Farmington Woods walkers are forced to do this:




With traffic coming at them from three different directions these walkers are forced to break the cardinal rule of walking with their back to the traffic and their next steps will take them to the second most traveled street in Farmington Woods, Mallard:



And while walkers are constantly reminded of the dangers of walking on the course, no one seems to even mind that hundreds of people take their life in their hands by trying to navigate the busiest area of the Woods protected only by an invisible shield and the kindness and (hopefully) sobriety of drivers.

No it’s not the 70’s anymore. Our condominium has twice as many units, there are twice  the number of cars and from my experience folks are just too busy to stop for signs like this:



How about a pedestrian-controlled walk light instead? And a real sidewalk instead of the invisible shield we have now that forces you to walk with your back to the traffic coming down the hill behind you?

As I said earlier, the demographic of the Woods has changed considerably since its beginnings. There are a lot more walkers. There are more school kids left at the front gate. I see some of these kids walking up a street with no sidewalk where I’ve had people almost hit me to avoid an oncoming car. I’ve seen mothers pushing baby carriages through this hazard. I've seen folks walking adorable dogs too. How is this acceptable?

It just doesn’t make sense. In their efforts to market Farmington Woods as an upscale condominium with a golf course and full service clubhouse, our leaders have put a lot of ordinary residents at risk by not properly finishing the walkway from its end on Heritage and through the hazards of the front entrance on up Mallard to Great Meadow.

As demographics have changed over the years and more families with children as well as young adults who enjoy running and walking as an activity move here, I think they have missed the mark. Why don't we have a fitness course that says we value resident's health?

With fewer golfers and more walkers why not market Farmington Woods as the safest walking community in the area? For that matter why aren’t our leaders speaking with the town of Farmington about constructing a sidewalk into Unionville?

We could then market ourselves as “within safe walking distance” to the center of Unionville AND the safest community for walkers in the area.

The reason this doesn’t happen and won’t until new leaders are elected is as I stated at the beginning:  “At Farmington Woods, when golf rules, walkers drool…”  

The $50K our leaders spent on a plan to spend another $4M on the course and clubhouse (that was soundly rejected last May) could have been used to design an alternative walking path for the 21st century and to redesign the front entrance to give Farmington Woods the look and feel of a condominium community that takes the health and safety of its residents seriously.But that would require compromise and vision.

I don’t know where Paul ended up, but I can say we could use another general manager just like him, that is, with the sense to know when you take from people you have to give at least a little back to keep them safe, healthy and happy.

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