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Neighborhood Walking Guide

  Sidewalks are broken, cracked, or blocked by obstacles in my neighborhood.

A variety of problems may make walking on the sidewalks in your neighborhood difficult, if not impossible. These problems include:

• Sidewalks are buckled, lifted, or cracked due to tree roots or other causes
• Sidewalks are blocked due to the placement of utility poles, sign posts, pot holes, fire hydrants, bus benches, newspaper racks, snow, or other obstructions
• Sidewalks are blocked by bushes or low tree branches
• Sidewalks lack curb ramps at street corners, crosswalks, and driveways
• The slopes by driveways are steep and hard to cross

These situations can make walking difficult or impossible, especially for people pushing carts or strollers, the elderly, and people with mobility difficulties - people who use walkers, canes, wheelchairs, and crutches.

Read through the following points and click on the appropriate link to see how to best address the problem with sidewalks in your neighborhood and get more people walking.

Buckled, lifted, or cracked sidewalks - contact your town or city officials
• How to make a request
• What happens next
• Who pays?

Blocked sidewalks
• Pole or other permanent obstructions - contact your town or city officials
• Overgrown bushes or low tree branches - contact your town or city officials or your homeowners or neighborhood association
• Snow not shoveled - contact your town or city officials or your homeowners or neighborhood association

Lack of curb ramps - contact your town or city officials

Sources


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Buckled, lifted, or cracked sidewalks - contact your town or city officials
Sidewalks can fall into disrepair because of tree roots, plowing operations, erosion, heat buckling, damage by heavy vehicles, and simply time. Many towns or cities have programs that respond to requests for sidewalk repair generally in the public works, transportation, traffic, or street maintenance departments. For towns or cities without such programs, it may be necessary to report sidewalk problems to your town or city council or manager. While most communities have policies that require adjacent property owners to be responsible for sidewalk repair, the community may have a special program for major repairs and damage caused by heat expansion or winter frost damage. Reporting a sidewalk problem may prevent someone from falling and becoming injured and may prevent a claim or possible lawsuit against you, your neighbors, or your community.
    How to make a request
    Requests in large cities can usually be made via the internet on your city's web site (search: "sidewalk repair") or, for towns or cities of all sizes, by calling your town or city hall. In some towns and cities, sidewalk maintenance projects occur in different areas of town on an annually rotating basis, so citizen requests are not necessary. When reporting a location with a problem, please give specific information (such as an address or a distance from a known point) so the location can be found by repair crews. Also provide your phone number in case your town or city has difficulty identifying the location.

    What happens next
    After a report is made, the town or city will likely send someone to assess the scale of the problem and will estimate the cost for the repair. An asphalt patch may be applied until the concrete replacement can be made. In the case of minor sidewalk heaving, town or city officials may choose to grind the concrete so that no uneven lip protrudes. Repairs are either performed by the town or city or the town or city may ask the adjacent property owner to contact a private contractor.

    Since tree roots are often the culprit in breaking sidewalks, a number of solutions to this problem have been devised. While the trimming of tree roots is most common, the trimming may be harmful to the tree and is only a temporary fix. Accordingly, the image to the right is of a unique, more permanent approach taken in DeKalb County, Georgia, to ensure sidewalk quality and the health of the adjacent tree (photograph courtesy of David Crites).

    Who pays?
    Sometimes the town or city will pay for all of the necessary repairs, but sometimes the town or city will split the bill with adjacent home or business owners. Occasionally, and if the damage is not caused by adjacent trees, frost damage, or heat buckling, the cost of the sidewalk repair may fall squarely on the property owner. Sidewalk removal and replacement can cost between $4.00 and $6.00 per square foot.


Blocked sidewalks
Obstacles on sidewalks can make walking difficult and sometimes impossible or dangerous, especially when a pedestrian has to walk into the street to get around the obstacle. It is difficult, if not impossible, for people using wheelchairs, canes, crutches, and walkers as well as people pushing strollers to contend with obstacles in sidewalks, especially when such obstacles cannot be easily moved. Since most new design projects seek to prevent sidewalk obstructions and provide accessible sidewalks and walkways, many sidewalk obstruction problems occur in older neighborhoods and communities. Nonetheless, if it looks like a new project in your community has blocked sidewalks, alert your town or city council or manager right away since it will cost extra tax dollars to remove the obstructions once the project is completed. Click on the links below to see how to best address the various obstacles in your neighborhood sidewalks.
    Poles or other permanent obstructions - contact your town or city officials
    When you become aware of an obstacle for which the town or city is responsible, contact your town or city officials and ask them to remove the obstacle. Many fixed objects often can easily be moved, especially sign posts, bus benches, mail boxes, newspaper racks, and tripping obstacles such as old sign post stubs and valve or meter covers that may not be flush with the sidewalk. Sign posts, in particular can often be moved to another location or mounted on a nearby utility pole. They should never be installed in sidewalks, especially when there is an adjacent planter area. Utility guy wires or tie downs that are located within or immediately adjacent to a sidewalk should not be there and should be reported to the town or city or the utility company. In some instances where the wire is close to, but not immediately adjacent to, the sidewalk a bright yellow plastic covering can make the tie down wire more visible to pedestrians.

    When reporting a location with a obstruction, please give specific information (such as an address or a distance from a known point) so the location can be found by repair crews. Also provide your phone number in case your town or city has difficulty identifying the location. Some communities provide mail-back cards to disabled citizens and neighborhood advocates to help report sidewalk blockages for repair and removal. Encourage your community to start this type of program if you do not already have one. It can make walking easier and minimize potential claims and lawsuits against your community.

    If you are told that a removal or relocation is too difficult and expensive, try to persuade your town or city officials to remedy the situation or at least not make the same mistake in the future. See if the town or city can provide extra space around the obstacle, perhaps by widening the sidewalk in an area adjacent to the obstacle. No matter what, the walkway must be in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act which states that "The minimum clear width for single wheelchair passage shall be 32 in (815 mm) at a point and 36 in (915 mm) continuously" (4.2.2).

    Bushes and low tree branches - contact your town or city officials or your homeowners or neighborhood association
    Sometimes bushes and low tree branches encroach upon the walkway, making walking difficult along sidewalks and walkways. Most municipalities require that trees have an 8 foot minimum clearance above the sidewalk and that shrubs should not encroach into the sidewalk (right).

    While trees or bushes along an arterial or major street are usually maintained by the town or city or the adjacent property owners, trees or bushes inside neighborhoods are maintained by a homeowners association or the adjacent property owners. Accordingly, if you encounter stretches of sidewalk in your neighborhood that are overhung by low-growing tree branches, contact your homeowner's association (if there is one in your neighborhood) and they will likely take care of the problem, either by trimming the tree or bush themselves or by informing the responsible property owners that they need to trim their landscaping. If there is no homeowner's association in your neighborhood, you may need to contact the town or city and inform them of the problem. Your town or city should have policies or ordinances requiring certain clearances for trees and shrubs around sidewalks, so your town or city officials can inform the responsible property owners that they are required to trim their landscaping. After giving them notice and adequate time to respond, the town or city can take legal action if need be and/or they can send someone to prune the trees at the owners' expense.

    When reporting a sidewalk blocked by bushes or low tree branches, please be specific about the exact location . Provide a street address, the side of street, and/or a distance from a known intersection or location. Also report the type of sidewalk obstruction (bushes, trees or overgrown weeds) to help your town or city crews or the homeowners association identify, prepare, and correct the problem. Please provide your phone number in case they need additional information to locate the problem.

    Snow is not being shoveled - contact the town or city or your homeowners or neighborhood association
    Where snowfall is common, most communities have policies that require that property owners remove snow from sidewalks adjacent to their property. Though policies vary, most require that any snowfall greater than a certain amount, usually 2 inches, must be removed within a certain time period after the snow initially falls, usually 12 to 24 hours. If you're concerned that snow is not being cleared in a timely fashion, contact your town or city to find out about your town or city's snow removal policy. If people in the neighborhood consistently neglect to remove the snow from the sidewalk on their property, then you may need to take action. First, try contacting your homeowners association. If you do not have a homeowners association or if they are unable to help, you may need to call your town or city to inform them that there is someone in your neighborhood who is not abiding by the snow removal policy. The town or city may then contact the property owner and take legal steps if necessary.

    However, if you know that your neighbor is unable to shovel snow, recommend that they hire a neighborhood teen or snow removal service to do it for them, or if you're feeling really kind, offer to do it for them for free! Check with your community to see if it, like others around the nation, has a volunteer snow shoveling program. If your community doesn't have such a program, suggest that they start one and help them make it so. As an example, Boulder, Colorado, has a city-run volunteer snow removal program called "Icebusters."


Lack of curb ramps - contact your town or city officials
Curb ramps provide access between the sidewalk and roadway for people using wheelchairs, strollers, walkers, crutches, handcarts, and bicycles as well as for people who have trouble stepping up and down high curbs. By reading the following information, you can find out where and how curb ramps should be installed. With this knowledge, you can approach your town or city officials or your town or city council if you would like to get more curb ramps installed in your neighborhood.
    Where should curb ramps be installed?
    Curb ramps must be installed at all intersections and midblock locations where pedestrian crossings exist, as mandated by federal legislation (the 1973 Rehabilitation Act) and must be designed in accordance with the Americans with Disabilities Act guidelines (to view the curb ramp guidelines, click here). All newly constructed and altered roadway projects must include curb ramps. Additionally, municipalities should try to upgrade existing facilities by conducting audits of their pedestrian facilities to make sure that transit services, schools, public buildings, and parks are accessible to pedestrians who use wheelchairs. While curb ramps are needed for use on all types of streets, priority locations are in downtown areas and streets near transit stops, schools, parks, medical facilities, shopping areas, and near residences with people who use wheelchairs.

    Many towns and cities have funds set aside to install curb ramps in older areas, specifically targeting areas where the needs are the greatest, but it may take many years to retrofit an entire neighborhood or community with curb ramps. Some towns and cities also have special programs or funds to provide immediate relief where a special curb ramp is needed for a wheelchair user. If you have a special problem, ask your town or city officials if such a program exists. If not, encourage your town or city council or manager to create one.

    How should curb ramps be installed?
    At intersections, separate curb ramps for each crosswalk should be provided where feasible as opposed to having a single ramp at a corner for both crosswalks since this improves orientating for visually impaired pedestrians. Similarly, colored pavement or tactile warnings (truncated domes, bumps, or some other types of textures) help alert pedestrians to the sidewalk/street edge.


Sources

Americans With Disabilities Act http://www.ada.gov

Georgia Department of Transportation, under development, Pedestrian Facilities Design Guide http://www.dot.state.ga.us/DOT

City of Boulder's Icebusters Program http://www.bouldercolorado.gov/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=175&Itemid=526

Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center, 2002, "Curb Ramps," Pedestrian Facilities Users Guide, http://www.walkinginfo.org/de