Thursday, November 20, 2014

"City Sidewalks, Busy Sidewalks"... and the Importance of Safe Sidewalks

If you recognize the quoted language from the title above, you can imagine me humming the lyrics to "Silver Bells" as I type.  Perhaps we should add a new refrain.  As detailed in the Los Angeles Times piece on "Residents Celebrate the 100th Repaired Sidewalk in South L.A. District," safe sidewalks are important to everyone, but particularly to people who have mobility issues, including some older adults.  In the article, a stretch of deteriorated sidewalk outside an 84 year old woman's home prevented her for using her walker to get around her neighborhood. The challenge of accomplishing something as seemingly simple as this infrastructure issue, is demonstrated by the statistics in the article, showing there are 11,000 miles of sidewalks in L.A., and an estimated 40% are in need of repair. 

The question of how to pay for sidewalk repairs is significant for cities.  In Los Angeles, for example, policies on sidewalks can conflict with developers' preference for streets lined with trees.  Tree roots are often the cause of sidewalk damage.  For a number of years in the 70s, the city offered free repairs for sidewalks damaged by tree roots.  But as budgets tightened, public funding was withdrawn, and subsequent efforts to create alternative funding for sidewalk repairs have been controversial.

In my own small community, there is an ordinance that permits the governing body to mark sidewalks in need of repair with a big X (and for some reason they do so with pink paint), and the home or business owner has a fixed amount of time to make the repairs, or be subject to public repairs at a potentially higher price.  Obviously this approach won't work in every community -- and it is probably less than cost effective unless adjacent property owners work together to save money on contractors. 

By the way, while humming along on this topic, I discovered that there is a relevant, highly placed, law review article -- mostly dealing with sidewalk safety in winter weather -- published in 1897 in Yale's legal journal.  See "The Law of Icy Sidewalks in New York State," 6 Yale L. J. 258. In this article I learned the interesting historical fact, that at least in some jurisdictions of the day, "it is not negligence for a person to walk upon an icy sidewalk without rubbers." 

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/elder_law/2014/11/the-importance-of-safe-sidewalks.html

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