The developer of this sprawling "new town" has offered to spend up to $100,000 next year to install sidewalks in the town center and called on local officials here to make the same kind of financial commitment.

The proposal was unveiled last week at a special meeting with Columbia residents. It was made in response to recent criticism that new buildings have not been linked to the town's system of footpaths.

"This was meant to really get this whole circulation question off dead center," said Alton J. Scavo, director of planning and design for Howard Research and Development Inc., which oversees Columbia's development.

"Hopefully the other entities that participate in downtown would also see fit to make similar improvements," he said.

Under the proposal, the company has offered to lay 3,000 feet of sidewalks in the town center next year to make businesses and stores more accessible to pedestrians.

The developer also outlined areas where Howard County and the Columbia Association, which governs the new town, could make additions to the footpath system.

Concerns about the lack of sidewalks in the town center were raised earlier this month by a task force established by the Columbia Forum, a nonprofit group devoted to studying issues affecting the town's growth.

Columbia, the brainchild of developer James Rouse, is divided into 10 "villages" that are supposed to be integrated with each other and the town center by a system of open space and footpaths.

But several new buildings and the town's branch library have not been connected by sidewalks to the local shopping mall or a 24-acre lake that makes up the heart of the town center, task force members said.

"The most graphic description of what we have are goat paths -- the worn place where everyone is walking because there are no sidewalks," Mack said.

Planners for the association and the county have scheduled another meeting next week to discuss how they plan to fill in other gaps in the system, she said.