City Committees To Hear Proposed “Fix And Release” Sidewalk Repair Plan

Photo: ##http://www.flickr.com/photos/waltarrrrr/6382328885/sizes/m/in/photostream/##Waltarr/Flickr##
Photo: ##http://www.flickr.com/photos/waltarrrrr/6382328885/sizes/m/in/photostream/##Waltarr/Flickr##

Next Monday, November 16, two committees of the Los Angeles City Council are scheduled to discuss a proposal that will shape the future of the city’s sidewalks. The joint meeting of the city’s Public Works and Budget Committees will take place at 2 p.m. in City Hall Council Chambers. Critics of the proposal argue that the city fails to treat sidewalks as a serious core mobility network.

Readers may recall that the city faces a backlog of sidewalk repair estimated $1.5 billion. In contrast to other transportation networks – streets, freeways, bike paths – responsibility (and liability) for sidewalks is somewhat complicated. Legally, the underlying property owner is responsible for building and maintaining walk access. In the past, the city took some responsibility for repairs, but the sidewalks deteriorated faster than the city was able to fix them. In 2014, the L.A. City Council decided to target limited sidewalk funding only to repair sites in front of city-owned properties. Those repairs are underway.

In 2015 the city committed to $1.4 billion worth of sidewalk repair in order to settle Willits vs. City of Los Angeles – a class action lawsuit over L.A.’s failure to make the public pedestrian right-of-way accessible to disabled people. L.A. will the invest $1.4 billion over the next 30 years.

The city’s proposed sidewalk strategy is being called “fix and release.” City funds would pay to repair sidewalks damaged by tree roots. The city would guarantee the work for five years, then the underlying property owner would be responsible for any future sidewalk repair.

Unfortunately, “fix and release” repairs are limited to specific areas of the city. The city would only fix sidewalks in front of residential properties. Commercial properties are not included in the program. The city would continue to fix sidewalks in front of city facilities, but not at other governmental properties, including schools.

Though “fix and release” would be expected to improve many of L.A.’s failing sidewalks, the policy has numerous drawbacks. Ultimately, it creates an inconsistent patchwork, with little to no assurance of consistent repairs now, nor maintenance in the future. 

Further “fix and release” is more likely to fail in low-income neighborhoods. It also appears likely to incentivize a great deal of tree removal, as property owners considering their own liability will remove “nuisance” trees. It may result in newly-repaired pavement that becomes unusable because it will unbearably hot during much of the year.

What is the solution? Investing in Place’s Jessica Meaney states that “Los Angeles needs to fund and maintain its sidewalks as part of its transportation network – just like we do our roadways.” In a comment letter [PDF], the AARP’s State Director Nancy McPherson expresses a similar sentiment stating AARP’s “strong support for reimagining our sidewalks as an integral piece of the city’s infrastructure, one which produces multiple benefits for Angelenos of all ages.”

Instead of adopting the “fix and release” proposal as is, Investing in Place, AARP, and other livability advocates are urging the city to first fund and perform an inventory of existing and missing sidewalks. From the inventory, advocates are urging the city to further create “a prioritization plan based on data and need” taking into account Vision Zero, equity, public health, and pedestrian and transit use data. They state that the inventory and prioritization plan would help the city “to leverage other sources of funds to accelerate and successfully implement this infrastructure program in a more effective and inclusive manner.”

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