Voice – March 2012 – Sidewalks
by Peggy Berg, Traffic/Transportation & Sidewalks chair
In Virginia-Highland, many sidewalks are in need of repair. Damage from property trees is the property owner’s responsibility, and worn-out pavers and sewer issues, generally speaking, are the property owner’s responsibility, as well. Damage from right-of-way trees is a City responsibility.
The City has minimal budget and staffing, meaning that it cannot be proactive in response to these needs, but these factors mean their ability to be reactive is also limited.
The processes for the City to take care of sidewalk repair are as follows:
- Report issues to DPW on line or through PEDS (email@example.com or www.peds.org)
- Possible involvement of Parks regarding trees
- Receive inspection within 72 hours, unless there is tree involvement
- Receive price quote thereafter (standard 50 foot sidewalk costs about $1000, which may be partially paid by the City, depending on tree damage)
- Property owner contracts with the City and pays the City for repair
This approach is inefficient because repairs may be sporadic, and because of the wait.
An alternative to getting sidewalks repaired through the city is to privately contract sidewalk repair. However, the city requires contractor to:
- Post a large bond
- Provide architect- or engineer-stamped drawings
- Complete building permit process (which costs hours in City Hall)
We contacted 11 contractors, and NONE were willing to undertake sidewalk repair for a homeowner unless part of a major construction project. They can’t cover the cost of taking the sidewalk through the City processes for the $1000 standard sidewalk price.
Historically, sidewalk repair programs in VaHi have been less than successful.
A few years back, VHCA had a 50% cost matching program of up to $500 for sidewalk replacement. There were few takers (less than 20 in 3 years), and some of those funded were doing sidewalks anyway. The worst sidewalks – those the VHCA would target – did not necessarily get repaired. Thus, the program was discontinued.
There must be a better way.
The Sidewalks Committee of the Virginia-Highlands Civic Association is currently developing a series of initiatives (already in progress) to address the continuing issue of sidewalks in disrepair:
Current Initiative I: Major Streets
On the major streets, bad spots on Virginia and North Highland were identified, via a committee evaluation. All in all, there were some good responses from the neighborhood. Some property owners have already been approached and informed of the processes involved with initiating repairs through the city. Once the Board receives funding requests to begin repairs, we can then track the city’s progress via the property owners to verify the sidewalks have been seen to.
Current Initiative II: Bundling Overcome barriers – Incent action
Currently in progress is an informational packet for property owners describing how to incent repairs. The process would involve identifying a few blocks to bundle, concentrating on major streets first (those which are traffic-light controlled), followed by through-streets. In both cases, those streets with a high proportion of broken sidewalks would take precedence.
As of 2/14, the sidewalks committee had set criteria on and identified potential bundles throughout the neighborhood. Thus far, about 100 sidewalk segments have been identified for repair, beginning with St. Charles and Barnett near St. Charles (hopefully with more sections to follow).
If you would like the list of bundles (with accompanying photos), send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org
Bundling next steps as of 2/14/12
What happens next depends on the City’s willingness to utilize our bundling plan. Alex Wan hosted a conference call with the Committee and agreed to talk to DPW about a bundled inspection with a committee member.
If accepted, we get pricing for each property in the bundle from the City and offer to work with each homeowner individually to get the bundle assembled.
If, however, the bundling plan does not go through, we can continue to pursue the idea by contacting each homeowner, asking them to start the process with the City, track the process with them, and encourage the City to notice the opportunity to save money by bundling construction
Since most of the sidewalks at issue have some right-of-way tree involvement, at least partial City funding is involved. As the bundles take shape, VHCA will be working on a program to pay a share of the property owner’s portion of the cost. Shared 3 ways (though not necessarily evenly), property owners potentially get a $1000 improvement for $500 or less if they participate in the bundle. To do this, property owners must propose funding incentives to the Board once the structure of the funding is defined. However, the Board is tracking the Committee’s progress, and a formal funding request to the Board will have to be approved prior to committing any funds.
The primary goal is to fix the worst primary artery sidewalks in Virginia-Highland, followed by those around the community, utilizing the bundling plan. The idea is to set a process in place that is streamlined, easily repeatable, and can get more sidewalks fixed for the funds available.