November 24 2015

Lack of sidewalks in Rexland Acres poses a serious risk to pedestrians.
Lack of sidewalks in Rexland Acres poses a serious risk to pedestrians.

I have lived in Rexland Acres for four years, and every day I worry about the safety of my fellow residents as they go about their everyday business. I worry about mothers pushing strollers, students heading to school, and children walking to the park. Why am I worrying? Because these community members often must walk in the street next to traffic. My neighborhood doesn’t have sidewalks.

The communities of South Kern shouldn’t have to ask for sidewalks, as they are a basic feature of a healthy and sustainable community. But for a variety of reasons, including  a lack of investment in low-income communities, paved walkways to get from place to place are completely absent from many South Kern neighborhoods.

I was happy to find out that one community in the area is working together to change this. Thanks to residents and organizations who mobilized with government agencies, almost half of Lamont will soon have sidewalks.

This is something to celebrate, but there is something else for all Kern County residents on the horizon. Last month, the state’s 2015 Active Transportation Program (ATP) awarded the Kern Council of Governments, also known as Kern COG, $250,000 to develop a county-wide active transportation plan. Starting early next year, Kern COG will identify what the county’s current transportation needs are and propose projects.

The grant will allow Kern COG to conduct a study to identify project opportunities in Kern’s towns and cities, under the guidelines set by the ATP. One of the ATP guidelines ensures that disadvantage communities get a share (25%) of the funding. This should make my neighborhood a top candidate.

Kern COG, please include Rexland Acres in your proposal.

Rexland’s transportation issues can’t be ignored any longer, there is too much at stake for residents. People who live in neighborhoods with paved sidewalks may take them for granted.  But the pavement under our feet–or lack thereof— actually has a surprisingly big impact on our lives, especially our safety and health.

Of all the communities in South Kern, our streets are often the first to get flooded. These dirt pathways turn into mud pits that students on their way to school or people getting to work have to wade through, or risk being hit by a car in the street. With El Nino looming on the horizon, I worry about storms flooding my neighborhood and creating a safety hazard for pedestrians.

Another of the ATP guidelines requires that projects “enhance public health, including the reduction of childhood obesity.”  But if my family wants to exercise safely outside, we have to drive over 20 minutes to Panorama Park or Silver Creek Park. I feel sad for the people living here who don’t even have a car to get out to walk at a nice park. But we shouldn’t have to leave our neighborhood to exercise safely; we should be able to exercise right here on the sidewalks of Rexland. Sidewalks encourage people to maintain a healthy lifestyle by walking, running and biking.

I see children running through clouds of dust while trying to get to the park. This worries me, because Bakersfield ranks in the top ten most polluted cities in the country and is also home to more than 60,0000 residents who suffer from asthma.

Dirt pathways contribute to our already polluted air and aggravate health problems. With high rates of childhood and adult asthma, respiratory illnesses and obesity, Kern should be doing everything it can do address this public health issue. By encouraging more people to walk or bike rather than drive short distances, sidewalks improve our air quality and and also reduce carbon emissions, making our community healthier and more sustainable.

Rexland Acres, which has long been an ignored neighborhood with an undeserved bad reputation, deserves to be a healthy, walkable place to live. My community’s transportation needs must be included in the county-wide plan, and our wish list begins with sidewalks.

I’m urging all South Kern residents to get involved with the new Kern Active Transportation Plan. Beginning in a few months Kern COG will be taking public comment as part of the grant’s public outreach element, but in the meantime Kern residents can email Kern COG’s Senior Planner, Peter Smith at psmith@kerncog.org to put an specific area on their radar and ask to be on their public outreach list.

Visit Kern COG’s website kerncog.org for updates

This piece originally ran in South Kern Sol. Click here to visit their website.