Archive for Sunday, April 29, 2007

Sidewalk strategy

City officials should do what they can to help private property owners stuck with the cost of maintaining public sidewalks.

April 29, 2007


Why are public sidewalks a private responsibility? A number of Lawrence residents are asking that question as city staff members consider stepping up enforcement of ordinances that require property owners to maintain and, if needed, replace deteriorating sidewalks adjacent to their property. City employees currently are marking the sidewalks that are in such poor shape that they cause a safety hazard. And they are asking city commissioners for guidance in how to pay for the necessary repairs.

Although city ordinances are clear that property owners must pay for sidewalk maintenance, the ordinance traditionally has been enforced only if someone complains about the sidewalk. The city can repair the sidewalk and bill the owner for the expense, but that poses a hardship on some homeowners, especially in less affluent parts of town. A sidewalk in front of a $75,000 home costs approximately the same per square foot as the sidewalk in front of a $750,000 home, but the owner would be far less able to pay.

That raises questions about why owners are responsible for sidewalks in the first place. Sidewalks are a public facility for use by anyone. Homeowners don't own the sidewalk and can't restrict it for their own use. They may occasionally use the sidewalk themselves, but by far the greater amount of traffic comes from other pedestrians. In many residential areas, sidewalks are only located on one side of the street. So people on that side of the street bear the full cost of maintaining the sidewalk while their neighbors across the street pay nothing.

Public sidewalks are no less a part of the city's infrastructure than are streets that are maintained by money contributed by taxpayers citywide. It doesn't seem right that we make individual property owners pay for maintaining them.

City commissioners seem split on this issue. A story in Friday's Journal-World quoted one commissioner as saying the city at large should pay for part of the sidewalk repairs. Another commissioner was willing to work out a payment plan but said the responsibility should stay with the property owner.

A case certainly could be made that sidewalks are a public responsibility that should be fully funded by the public, but the cost of implementing such a plan may be prohibitive. Perhaps neighborhood benefit districts would be an option for paying the bill. Whatever the plan, city commissioners should do what they can to help mitigate the financial burden they are placing on individual property owners to maintain sidewalks.


lunacydetector 11 years, 1 month ago

what about newer sidewalks that have deteriorated? what exactly is the lifespan of a sidewalk?

where are the "do-gooders" proposing an impact fee against the homeowners who need to replace their sidewalks? i would define an impact fee as a charge imposed on land owners to cover the cost of infrastructure and related services that will have to be provided by the local or national government. - of course i'm being ridiculous.

Richard Heckler 11 years, 1 month ago

Who will be responsible for snow removal if the city takes full responsibility? Will the homeowners be willing to take responsibility in order to keep Cost of Community Services down? I think that should be the mandate.

If the city takes over why not make the entire city a benefit district for maintenance/replacement? NOT for additional sidewalks...homeowners can make the initial investment as their own benefit district by each "block".

OR limit city responsibility for repair to say E11th,E13th,E15th,19th,23rd and other heavier trafficked streets city wide. 13th for instance has a consistence electric chair traveler in the street for the walks are truly difficult to navigate as frequent walkers and joggers also indicate.

As a homeowner without side walks I would be willing to step up and support repairs by the city for we use other walks throughout our frequent travels on foot or bicycle.

Street repair will likely increase the speed of traffic...home owners beware. Is this what you want?

kugrad 11 years, 1 month ago

I just had to shell out $800 to repair my sidewalk and it really makes me angry. The ground in most of Lawrence has a high shrink-swell ratio, which means the soil constantly expands and contracts as moisture content changes, resulting in shifting sidewalks and leaky basements. Our beautiful older trees also tend to disturb sidewalks with their root systems. The city enforces a code of a 1/2 inch variance between adjacent sections of sidewalk. One-half inch is not much! So, someone with nothing better to do wrote the city and said that, and I quote, "Literally hundreds" of students from Central Junior High walk down our street every day, and thus it needs repairing. This do-gooder was sadly misinformed. On a typical day, less than TEN students walk down this block. Yes, less than 10. Not hundreds. Not even one hundred. What's more, there are sidewalks that were NOT reported that carry equal traffic (1300 block of New Hampshire and Rhode Island) or a lot more traffic (1500 Block of Mass, 1300 block of Mass) that have FAR worse sidewalks. Walk from 19th to 6th on Tennessee. Notice any decent sidewalks? NO! They are in incredible disrepair. All around the city, sidewalks are ruined, yet I have to shell out hundreds of dollars I can't afford due to some crank who wrote a letter. Since she didn't complain about the surrounding blocks, they are off the hook, even though they are clearly in disrepair. The irony is that our block would be in the top 10% of sidewalks in the area! We are repairing the least damaged sidewalks! EVERY single block north, south, east, west, adjacent to my block is far worse, yet they are not asked to make repairs! Ridiculous, arbitrary, capricious, ridiculous! There has to be a better solution. Meanwhile, I encourage you all to call and make complaints about city property and the blocks of city commissioners that may be out of compliance!

KsTwister 11 years, 1 month ago

Kind of amazing that the city puts in sidewalks to begin with in the older neighborhoods and then city plants the trees that tear them up. Then to add insult to injury,they tell you the new codes will cost more because you have to have the new improved ones for the 10 people you see a month walk on them.

Confrontation 11 years, 1 month ago

You know what I'd love to see? I'd love to see someone build their sidewalk out of Legos or Linkin Logs. It may cost more than concrete, but it'd sure look nice. Plus, it'd piss off the city. Lawrencians get very little in return for their taxes, so go ahead and drive them nuts.

tir 11 years, 1 month ago

I'd like to thank whoever wrote this editorial, because it really hits the nail on the head. I wish the City Commission and the Dept. of Public Works would read it and pay attention. Public sidewalks are public infrastructure, and SHOULD be repaired using public funds. But the city's sidewalk ordinance shifts the burden off onto homeowners, many of whom simply cannot afford to fix them. The ordinance is a win-win deal for the city, but a lose-lose deal for homeowners, especially in older neighborhoods where time and trees have taken their toll.

Kugrad is right--it is completely unfair that one block out of many, or one home out of many can be targeted by anyone with a grudge or an axe to grind, while homeowners in another block or right next door get a free pass (at least for the moment) . Enforcement on a complaint basis is obviously not the answer to the city's growing sidewalk problem. Neither is having the Public Works Department send out an army of city workers with pink paint cans to all the older parts of town to crack down on cracked sidewalks everywhere at once. Both are sure-fire ways to foster widespread ill-will, setting neighbor against neighbor and citizens against the city.

Frankly, I can't imagine that the city would ever willing give up the the advantages that the ordinance gives them. But they can and should do a lot more to help homeowners faced with the overwhelming expense of sidewalk repairs. Why can't the city meet the homeowner halfway and split the cost of the repairs with them? Partnering with homeowners instead of threatening them with legal action would go a long way towards improving community relations. But if that cannot be done, the city should at least offer some sort of long-term payment plan for those affected so as not to cause financial hardship. Doing the repairs area by area, starting with the worst areas as identified by the sidewalk survey, and having the city contract the work to keep the cost manageable would be a lot better than the scatter-shot, vigilante-justice approach that is currently used.

I hope a lot of people will show up at the city commission meeting when this matter comes up for discussion, and/or write letters to the city manager or to the commissioners. If you have a city sidewalk on your property, pink paint will be coming your way sooner or later. You can count on it.

KsTwister 11 years, 1 month ago

I could(but won't) post several years worth of LJW articles saying the city has to repair streets and sidewalks; by raising our water bills, raising our sales tax,and raising our property taxes over several years. But we get roundabouts,art and flowers instead. And in one article Shauner says he was unaware that any of those costs were paid partly by KDOT. Well people that pretty much says to me they had the money and blew it. A refund in my tax dollars would be welcome as it was not used for what was intended (or not intended) as the case may be. This falls on the city,we already paid for it.

person184 11 years, 1 month ago

Pogo says: Merrill will support paying for a shelter for women involved in quarrels with their man:..

Are you a caveman masquerading as a modern human? C'mon!

person184 11 years, 1 month ago

Pogo writes: You will find that the vast majority of women who use the shelter go back to the very man that ran from.

So let's not give any of them a way out? Let's not try to stop the cycle? Don't you think it's worth it if SOME of them break the cycle? What if it had been YOUR mom? Your sister? It's a little cold-hearted. I agree that many of them do go back. The reason why is more complicated than what you're implying about all of these women.

tir 11 years, 1 month ago

Bowhunter, just because a law has been on the books for a long time does not necessarily mean that it is a good and fair law, or that it cannot be revised. Laws and codes are amended all the time. It's called democracy in action. What would be wrong with amending the sidewalk ordinance to include a payment-over-time provision for people who can't afford to pay for repairs in a lump sum, or for the city to agree to pay part of the repair costs? That would actually make it possible for more people to COMPLY with the law without going into debt or going without necessities to do so. And the end result would be better sidewalks for everyone. The sidewalks, like the streets, are for the use of all, and it seems blatantly unfair for the entire burden of repairing them to be placed on only a fraction of the people who use them.

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