What never moves and has no feet, but frequently wears shoes, sandals and boots? Sidewalks are one of the most utilized city assets, and yet, simultaneously they remain one of the most neglected. In our 30 years of surveying infrastructure assets in cities across North America, we can say with confidence that the majority of municipalities are struggling with sidewalk compliance and repair backlogs that remain largely underfunded.
Sidewalks can increase public safety, encourage healthy outdoor activity, and even promote economic well-being in low-income communities. On the other hand, when improperly managed, sidewalks can be a tremendous financial drain on a city’s budget. Pedestrians seldom hesitate to file personal injury lawsuits against cities that fail to maintain their sidewalks. There is also the issue of ADA compliance looming over every sidewalk construction project. In addition to managing a backlog of repair projects, settling lawsuits can undermine a municipality’s budget. With this in mind, here are 5 useful tips that will ensure you maintain a happy and healthy pedestrian community:
1.Conduct a Sidewalk Condition Survey at 5-10 year Intervals
The first and most important step to managing a sidewalk network is to collect and maintain a database of sidewalk condition data. With this database, public works managers can track the condition of sidewalks throughout the network. This should be done every 5 to 10 years to ensure accurate and up-to-date information. Don’t wait for a lawsuit to discover a problem with your sidewalks, take an active approach to management and fix problems before they are liabilities. IMS conducts regular sidewalk surveys in cities throughout North America.
2.Fix Obstructions First
Fixing obstructions first is very important for a variety of reasons. Obstructions on a sidewalk are not only an ADA compliance violation; they also prevent survey vehicles from measuring the condition of the pavement. This often results in a sidewalk database entry that does not accurately reflect the surface condition of that pavement. Additionally, removing obstructions is often the cheapest way to improve the walkways for pedestrians. Trimming a bush or moving lose materials that may be obstructing the sidewalk is far less expensive than panel replacements.
3.Maintain a Database of all ADA Accessible Ramps
In addition to an inventory of sidewalk pavement assets, it often behooves a municipality to maintain a database of ADA accessible ramps. This accomplishes two things. First, it allows city managers to locate, review and plan rehabilitations or upgrades to any ramp in the city. Second, it demonstrates a good-faith effort to comply with ADA regulations, something any municipality can be proud of.
4.Prepare an Actionable Repair Plan and Dedicated Sidewalk Budget
Once a city has prepared a database of their sidewalk assets and determined the rehabilitation needs of the network, city managers can prepare an actionable plan with a dedicated budget. Once again, the development of this plan can demonstrate a good-faith effort to repair the sidewalks in the city. This can be of enormous value in the case of a civil or DOJ legal filing against the city for a sidewalk related injury or ADA compliance violation. The development of a budget plan for improving the sidewalks in a city is also a visible and positive way to win the support of residents within a community.
5.Encourage Healthy Walking Habits
In 2012 National Geographic published a 17-nation study that covered a variety of national statistics; among them were use of public transit and walking activity. The United States of America came in dead last in both of these categories. Only 34% of Americans reported that they occasionally walk to destinations such as jobs, shopping, school, etc. What is more, poor conditions for walking affect low-income Americans more than others. This is because low-income households commonly spend up to 42% of their income on transportation related costs. Infrastructure policy decisions that encourage low-income communities to walk or bike can have a positive impact on the economic conditions of individuals in a particular community. By improving the sidewalk infrastructure, a city can encourage residents to create healthy walking habits, reduce transportation costs, reduce traffic, and save money.
Improving the sidewalks in your city can result in meaningful improvements to public safety, ADA compliance, economic opportunity, and even the overall appraised value of a community. Not all municipalities have the resources, technical or human assets needed to manage their sidewalk network, but don’t wait for a lawsuit or resident complaints to do something about it. Conduct a sidewalk asset survey and discover how easily you can begin improving the walking conditions for pedestrians in your city.
To learn more about sidewalks, take a look at "Does Your City Have a Sidewalk Problem?"
- an IMS Whitepaper.