Are sidewalks a civic responsibility? Not in Atlanta

Broken Atlanta Sidewalks/PEDS/CC BY 2.0

Some would consider sidewalks to be a pretty important part of urban infrastructure. Others might think that promoting walking as an alternative to driving might be good for cities clogged with cars full of mostly overweight people. It would seem logical that since sidewalks are on city property, they would get the care and attention that the roads get.

Not in Atlanta, Georgia. The sidewalk may be on city property, but the civic government wants nothing to do with them, and pushes the responsibility of maintenance on the abutting landowner. The rule says:

When the sidewalk abutting the right-of-way is damaged, it is the obligation of the abutting property owner to repair such sidewalk upon notice from the department of public works. If after receiving such notice, the abutting property owner fails to repair the sidewalk within a reasonable time, the department of public works is authorized to make such repairs and assess the abutting property owner for costs incurred.

PEDSpeds/CC BY 2.0

PEDS, short for Pedestrians Educating Drivers on Safety, claims that "sidewalk maintenance is a basic service of municipalities and should be funded by all taxpayers, not just adjacent property owners." That's how it is done in most of the civilized world, because otherwise it doesn't happen. PEDS writes:

The City Code makes sidewalk maintenance the responsibility of adjacent property owners. Elected officials, however, lack the political will to enforce this policy. The annual budget includes very limited funding for sidewalk maintenance or enforcement, which ties the hands of Public Works officials. As a result, pedestrians encounter crumbling and uneven sidewalks throughout Atlanta. Public Works Commissioner Richard Mendoza estimates that 25 percent of the City’s sidewalks and curbs need to be repaired or replaced. The estimated cost is $152 million.

PEDS notes that "good walking conditions are one of the most important elements of livable communities and benefit everyone." indeed, walkability is critical to the development of safe and healthy cities. The Janes Walk people write:

Walking matters more and more to towns and cities as the connection between walking and socially vibrant neighbourhoods is becoming clearer. Built environments that promote and facilitate walking - to stores, work, school and amenities – are better places to live, have higher real estate values, promote healthier lifestyles and have higher levels of social cohesion.

© Randy Guensler/ Virginia Highland Civic Association

Professor Randall Guensler of Georgia Tech just got $400K to map those lousy sidewalks with his very clever hacked-out wheelchair:

The application runs on a Toshiba Thrive tablet attached to the base of a standard, low-cost wheelchair. The user pushes the wheelchair along a sidewalk and the tablet collects GPS position data, vibration data (from accelerometers), and a high-resolution video on a SD memory card. By adapting mapping and video processing tools previously developed by for vehicle tracking and pothole identification, the system will process the GPS and video data to: 1) create GIS-based base sidewalk inventories, 2) automatically estimate sidewalk width, 3) record the localized presence of walkway obstructions, and 4) visually identify major sidewalk cracks requiring maintenance.

The system is going to be used to "develop a sidewalk quality index (SQI) to prioritize sidewalk repairs and improvements. For example, the system can assign the highest repair priority to sidewalks that do not conform to ADA requirements".

STRIDE, the organization which is funding this study, doesn't mention who is going to pay for those repairs, but no doubt the city will find it all very useful for making landowners do what should be a civic responsibility.

But then, Atlanta never did care much about its pedestrians.

Tags: Atlanta | Walking

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