SacCity sidewalk responsibility

Before delving into street design, I must come back to the question of whose responsibility it is to maintain sidewalks. I’ve talked about this before, Sacramento and sidewalks, but it bears repeating. It also deserves a citizen movement to force the city to change policy.

photo of deteriorated sidewalk, 24th St near Capitol Ave
deteriorated sidewalk, 24th St near Capitol Ave, Sacramento

Take a look at the city’s Sidewalks, Curbs & Gutters page. Unless you are a confirmed windshield perspectives, cars-first and cars-only person, I think it will strike you as strange.

Start with the opening paragraph, which tells a lie. “Within the City of Sacramento, there are approximately 2,300 miles of sidewalk. Sacramento City Code, section 12.32, and California Streets & Highway Code 5610 requires that the maintenance and repair of public sidewalks be the responsibility of the property owner.” Streets and Highways code does NOT require that maintenance be the responsibility of the property owner. It simple allows a city to try to make it the responsibility of the property owner. Not all cities do that. But Sacramento has decided that shifting responsibility for transportation infrastructure in the public right-of-way to property owners fits the model of car dominance that is essentially city policy.

Let me offer some paragraphs, with the only change being replacement of ‘sidewalk’ with ‘street’.

“…requires that the maintenance and repair of public streets be the responsibility of the property owner.If the property owner does not take action in one of the above three ways, the City will make repairs under default and the cost will be collected from the property owner. Unpaid collection will ultimately lead to a lien on the property.”

“As the property owner may bear civil liability for a person suffering personal injury or property damage caused by a defective street: it is in the property owners best interest to maintain the street and reduce the risk of a lawsuit.”

“City ordinance requires property owners to take responsibility for street repairs, regardless of whether or not the tree’s roots causing damage is City owned.”

“An owner shall maintain and repair any defective street fronting such owner’s lot, lots or portion of a lot. Where a defective street is caused in whole or in part by a tree root or roots, the owner shall nevertheless have the duty to repair the street.

Sounds absurd, doesn’t it? And it is absurd. Sidewalks are an integral part of the transportation system in the city. In fact, for people with disabilities who use mobility devices, they are the ONLY way of travel in the city. So trying to force responsibility for sidewalks onto property owners is a violation of at least the intent of ADA regulations, and perhaps the actual legal force of ADA regulations.

Beyond the arguments of fairness in sidewalk policies, there is the real issue that it simply does not work. There are broken sidewalks all over the central city, and the further out one goes, the worse they are. There are sidewalk defects that have been there the entire 12 years I’ve lived in the central city. There is a clear pattern that sidewalks in front of residential property are much more likely to get repaired than in front of commercial properties, reflecting a bias in enforcment.

Some lower income neighborhoods have such poor sidewalks (not to mention narrow sidewalks of 3-4 feet) that everyone walks in the street instead. If the city’s bias against walkers and the disabled is clear, its bias against lower income neighborhoods is glaring.

Even if the city’s policy on sidewalk repair were morally right, which it clearly is not, it is a failure to serve citizens of the city. And it is as clear a statement of bias in favor the drivers of motor vehicles as one can find. It is time for it to end.

Author: Dan Allison

Dan Allison is a Safe Routes to School Coordinator in the Sacramento area. Dan dances and backpacks, as much as possible.

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