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Archive for Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Sidewalk talk

The city taking more responsibility for sidewalks could result in a system that is both safer and more attractive for Lawrence.

January 17, 2006

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It makes a certain amount of sense for the city of Lawrence to take a more active role in maintaining sidewalks in both commercial and residential areas.

Maintaining and replacing sidewalks currently is the responsibility of the individual property owners, but inconsistent and nonexistent maintenance in many areas of town has prompted city commissioners to look at revising the city's policy. To that end city staff members are mapping the city's sidewalk system to identify the sidewalks most in need of repair and locate places where new sidewalks are needed to fill gaps.

With those figures in hand, commissioners may try to come up with a plan to increase the city's responsibility for sidewalks that will cost between $10 and $15 a foot to remove and replace. Because property owners have allowed so many sidewalks to deteriorate, correcting the problem will not be inexpensive, but turning the responsibility largely over to the city could have a number of advantages.

One of those is consistency. With each property owner responsible for maintaining or replacing just the segment of sidewalk that crosses his or her property, sidewalk quality is bound to be uneven. Different property owners will maintain their sidewalks at different levels. When replacement is necessary, the work may vary from that done by an unskilled homeowner trying to tackle the job himself to someone who will hire a top-notch contractor.

It's also true that sidewalks are a service to the community more than a benefit for the homeowner. In many residential areas, for instance, sidewalks are only built on one side of the street but obviously are used by everyone in the neighborhood. Property owners already are responsible for snow removal on those sidewalks. It doesn't seem fair that they also should pay for a public sidewalk located on the city's right-of-way.

Because of the higher volume it would be dealing with, the city probably could negotiate a lower construction rate for sidewalk work than an individual property owner could. Replacing sidewalks a block or more at a time also would result in a more attractive, uniform appearance. The costs of a citywide sidewalk program might be shared by including them in the city's public works budget or by forming benefit districts that spread the costs of sidewalks by placing special assessments on entire neighborhoods.

Overall, the plan could produce a sidewalk system that would enhance the city's appearance as well as providing better facilities for pedestrians.

There are a number of ways to address this issue, but looking at adequate public sidewalks as a responsibility of the community rather than of individual property owners seems like a reasonable approach.

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