City might take responsibility for repairing sidewalks

Published October 9, 2018 by justicewg

Sidewalk no on 6The city requires all homeowners to maintain the sidewalk between your house and the street, and if you get the “green X of shame”, you will soon be receiving a letter that tells you to fix it, or the city will repair it and send you a bill. The city of Marble Cliff maintains all sidewalks by themselves, and doesn’t require homeowner repairs. Grandview Heights city council is looking at following our neighbor to the west and might start taking responsibility for sidewalk repair into a part of the city service provisions.

Sidewalks belong to you

The history of sidewalks begins in the dense housing of major metropolitan areas. Most houses were set near the street, and the sidewalk was considered a part of the porch of your home. You made the sidewalk as a courtesy for those walking by, but it wasn’t a requirement. At some point it was noted that sidewalks were vital for keeping walkers out of the street and away from traffic, and cities started requiring the construction and maintenance of sidewalks (but ownership of that strip of land was still kept by the private owner).

Letter from the city

Although we know that the tax assessment from the city is an ever growing expense, we can budget for that twice yearly bill. The notice from the city that requires sidewalk replacement is an unplanned shock to most, the thousands of dollars needed to do a complete replacement can throw budgets out of whack, and inspire epic rants on the unfairness of “the goberment tellin’ me what to do”. You have no recourse when it is time to do the repair (unless the city decides a tree caused the issue *).

In order to forestall the anger and pleading that some homeowners are sure to make over a sidewalk repair, many cities have started to fold the sidewalks into the general services of street construction and maintenance. Cities can schedule sidewalks fixed by a contractor as a bulk job, usually cheaper that an individual owners can negotiate. It also helps keep the city safe for those with mobility issues, if a wheelchair user can’t use a sidewalk because of a high lip between slabs, they use the street instead, and increase the risk of accidents.

Email from Reynolds

City repairs of the sidewalks is in the start of the process to make it through the city council. You can watch council person Reynolds speak at the last council meeting on this issue at 34:50

I asked Reynolds how the city would take over the repair of sidewalks.

I’m in the process of researching exactly how this could be implemented, but it arose from my understanding of how Marble Cliff and some other communities handle the matter.  So that we can truly promote a pedestrian-friendly message, as well as lessening the headaches and frustrations of residents who received the dreaded “green Xs” on their walks, I want to explore whether the City can take over the financial responsibility (and project management) of repairing and replacing sidewalks.  Presumably the buying power of the City would also result in a net cost savings, as well as causing the City to prioritize the necessity of when and where repairs need to be made.  We would also save on the expenditures which are currently incurred for the enforcement of sidewalk-repair violations.

Still lots of details to work out, but the ultimate goal would be safe, smooth sidewalks for everyone and less heartburn for property owners. – Steve Reynolds

There was some questions from other council members over the logistics. One interesting point is that sidewalk damage can be done by heavy trucks, which might be the fault of the homeowner. How would the city determine the fault of that damage? Will the city have to track down the contractors who damage sidewalks and hold them responsible?

There is no free sidewalk

You might be inclined to say “yay, free sidewalks!” if this change in policy is implemented. Nothing the city does is “free”, you pay for it all in your taxes. There is a rough parity between the size of your lot and the length of the sidewalk in front of your home, so your property taxes are generally a fair assessment. This new policy would also lift the burden of finding a sidewalk repair company and negotiating a price. Unless you are opposed to all city services because you dislike “big government”, you probably will support this change. Email the council and let them know you are in favor.

And if this is “the city trying to take my rights away” – welcome to the big city (or the small city in the center of the big city).

Cost for the city

Sidewalks were again on the agenda in the 11-5-18 council meeting. Reynolds estimated that the city would pay an additional $100k per year if it accepted all repairs on sidewalks. Watch the video of the meeting.

*The tree exception

The city requires you to fix your sidewalk right now, unless the reason for the cracked pavement is from tree root damage. I asked Patrik Bowman, city director, to explain. He couldn’t find the tree rules on the city website.

(The rule on tree damage) is an administrative policy. Our code enforcer marks the sidewalk and consults the city arborist and they may make a determination that the damage was caused by a street tree.

One other effect that might be caused by the city taking control of the sidewalks – there are some people who think the city owns the sidewalks currently, and therefore refuse to shovel the sidewalk (see the next to last comment in this post). If the city takes complete control of the sidewalks, there will be more who want the city to shovel snow on the sidewalk too.


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