[JK: My friend Jim Martinez has written an interesting piece dealing with safety and sidewalks. I am publishing it as a guest post]
At last week’s City Council Meeting (3/1), I was particularly interested in the address by residents of two neighborhoods regarding safety and sidewalks. Both individuals referenced their inability to walk safely along the roadways because of a lack of pedestrian sidewalks. While their concerns were similar, the neighborhoods are different.
One near an elementary school was developed over a half-century ago, and the homes were constructed without the installation of curbs or sidewalks on the public right-of-way (ROW). This was reflected in the original developer’s costs passed on to the purchasers. I imagine at the time the new owners relished the more rural aspect of country roads while also living within the city (country in the city).
The other neighborhood is much newer, and its initial promotion featured a multi-use “New Urban” neighborhood, dense with activity, both residential and commercial, and illustrated on the presentation panels with smiling families, children holding balloons, and birds flying across balmy blue skies. This was exaggerated to be our city’s first “New Urbanism” neighborhood on the Excelsior Avenue ‘commercial spine’ to the greater central city. The planners would approve a median divided narrow entry roadway that suggested a portal to Elysian Fields.
The owners of properties in both neighborhoods were not aware of the city’s ordinance of ROW maintenance as noted in the City Code. Regardless of whether a sidewalk exists or not, the property owner is required to maintain clear ambulatory access across the ROW year-round. With the required compliance of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) this would become an issue and potential liability for the municipality and the residents should a tragic occurrence befall a pedestrian and a vehicle. This is from the City Code:
Paragraph 203-2 Snow and Ice Removal
The owner, occupant, or person in charge of an improved or unimproved lot adjoining a City street shall remove the snow from the sidewalks in front of such lot within 12 hours after each snowstorm and shall keep the sidewalks clear of snow and ice and, when slippery, keep the same safe by sanding. The portion of the sidewalk required to be kept free from snow and ice is the portion thereof which is paved if any, and if no portion thereof is paved, a space at least four feet in width shall be kept free and clear as above stated. A storm ceasing after 7:00 p.m. shall be considered as ceasing at 7:00 a.m. the following morning.
Complicating this predicament, the city in 2017 published a road (sidewalk) map of the city and all its streets whose ROWs had sidewalks and those that did not. Memorialized, this document now provides the city with accountability and a difficult decision. It could notify its residents to recognize section 203-26 of the City Code, and it could also propose that all properties comply requiring construction of sidewalks, planting strips, and curbs. The planting strips are not only for trees and dogs but serve the purpose of a repository for snow during the winter. The city could establish a moratorium to put in sidewalks (while the property owner maintains a 4-ft wide access during the winter) or the option that the city will do it and charge the parcel owner.
On a similar note, another neighborhood recently protested development in their neighborhood railing that their streets “be saved” from the arguable resulting increased traffic and would become dangerous for their residents. Incidentally, these neighbors have encroached on the ROWs and subsequently, have no curbs or sidewalks forcing them at present to navigate in the street all year long. The developer of this project would be extending new sidewalks and curbs from their adjacent facility to meet the new project site.
Bottom line, it’s the parcel owner’s responsibility to maintain an ambulatory path or provide a sidewalk for safety, and it is the city’s responsibility to bring that to the attention of the public, given most aren’t familiar with the City Code (a published public document). Ignorance is not necessarily bliss.