How Can L.A. Fix Its Sidewalks?

Councliman Bernard Parks has been making news recently for his proposal to hand over the maintenance costs, and liability issues, for the city’s crumbling sidewalks to the people owning the house adjacent to the sidewalk.  Simply, people that own a house are responsible for the repair of the sidewalk in front of their house.  If someone trips and is hurt it is the home owner’s liability.

Bernard Parks, where the sidewalks aren't so bad.

While Parks’ plan has been jeered by just about everyone who has heard it, the former LAPD Chief’s plan is at least trying to address the third-world quality of the city’s pedestrian network in some places.  Homeowners were in charge of sidewalk repair in Los Angeles until 1974 when the city received a massive federal grant to take on the problem.  However, over nearly 40 years the grant ran out, and the sidewalks have gotten worse.

Parks outlines the depth of the problem on KPCC’s Pat Morrison Show, via KCET:

“(S)ince the 1970s, the city took responsibility for sidewalks that were broken by trees. Over time, they’ve taken responsibility for all sidewalks. The city has tried over the last 20 years to repair sidewalks. They’ve expended over $100 million over a 10 year period and fixed only 500 miles of sidewalks. And the sidewalks – about 10,000 miles of them – are in worse repair [...] than they were before.”

Wow, it’s hard to believe this is the same guy that was worried that the city wouldn’t be able to spend $3 million a year on pedestrian projects in the summer of 2010.

Regardless of one’s views on Parks’ current proposal, there is no doubt that the city does need to get serious about the dismal state of our sidewalks.  A back of the napkin calculation based on Parks’ numbers above would show a $1.9 billion need.  Even if the city were able to magically take the 405 “Sepulveda Pass Improvement Project”money and reprogram it to sidealk repair it still wouldn’t be enough.

Last year, Parks proposed a “point of sale” plan where the cost of replacing the sidewalk would be included in any housing purchase so that the sidewalks would be repaired, if needed, when a real estate title exchanged hand.  It would take decades, but in about three decades the city would have a “new” series of sidewalks.  I have to admit I scoffed at the idea when it was proposed, but studies by UCLA’s Parking Guru Donald Shoup, who is also a trained economist, shows that a “point of sale” system doesn’t have a negative impact on real estate sales and values.

Of course, the city could always just declare sidewalk repair a high priority and find the funds, local or state, to get the job done.

Have a better idea?  Leave it in the comments section and we’ll be certain to forward your ideas to the City Council Transportation Committee staff.