Complaints from residents didn’t move the city to repair a cracked and dangerous section of sidewalk on 29th Street. But a 2013 storm did. A tree had to fall over and obliterate what remained of the walkway. The work resulted not only in repairs but a new sidewalk extending all the way to Albemarle Street for the first time, to the delight of neighbors who had requested the work for years. ANC 3F Commissioner Mary Beth Ray reported about the challenges of getting this sidewalk.
She and her neighbors are not alone in their frustrations. Sam Zimbabwe, DDOT’s associate director of policy and planning, told DC’s Pedestrian Advisory Council last June that 3,000 repair requests come in each year, but that DDOT gets to just half of them. The cost of tackling the backlog of sidewalk maintenance requests stands somewhere between $22-28 million.
So the Pedestrian Advisory Council (PAC), which advises the mayor, the DC Council and agencies such as DDOT, is urging Mayor Gray and the Council to fund sidewalk maintenance in the FY 2015 capital budget.
PAC’s resolution, passed at its January 27th meeting, also requested that sidewalk conditions be surveyed every two years, which would put sidewalks on par with roads. The last time sidewalks were surveyed was in 2005. George Branyan, DDOT’s pedestrian coordinator, agreed that in order to get a handle on sidewalk maintenance the city needs to survey more frequently. And DDOT is currently in the process of contracting out a sidewalk survey for this fiscal year.
It’s not a matter of aesthetics – it’s a public safety issue. Sidewalk maintenance has surfaced as a critical issue for the Falls Free Coalition, which focuses on the public health implications of fall-related injuries and deaths among seniors. The DC chapter was created under the auspices of the Office of Aging and is led by Tori Goldhammer. Also, DC’s AARP chapter conducted a survey and participated in focus groups for the Age-Friendly DC Initiative, headed by Gail Kohn, with sidewalk maintenance again emerging as a major issue. Both Ms. Goldhammer and Ms. Kohn, presenting at the Pedestrian Advisory Council’s Infrastructure Committee meeting on January 7, stressed the need for a well-maintained sidewalk network to insure the mobility and health of older adults aging in DC.
On February 4th, Goldhammer, Kohn, Julie Maggioncalda of the Capital Hill Village and I, as vice chair of the Pedestrian Advisory Council, met with John McGaw, the director of the mayor’s capital improvements program, and his staff. We made a very strong case for funding the city’s sidewalk maintenance backlog. Eric Goulet, the DC Council budget director, also attending, zeroed in on the AARP DC survey showing residents living in all wards of the city wish for well-maintained sidewalks. Ariana Quinones, chief of staff to Deputy Mayor Beatriz Otero lent her support to this issue.
I led the discussion and stressed that the mayor’s own policy priorities mean funding the backlog if he wishes to reach these goals:
- His sustainability goal of “expanding safe and secure infrastructure for pedestrians and cyclists in order… to increase walking and bicycling to 25 percent of all commuter trips by 2032.”
- Mayor Gray’s DDOT, still finalizing its long-term transportation plan, puts “Pedestrians are the District’s highest transportation priority” at the top of its its proposed priority list.
- Promoting an “Age-Friendly DC.”
Our group’s timing for this request was right on target, as the 2015 capital budget remains a work in progress. The budget office will have a better sense of capital budget flexibility once DC’s chief financial officer has made his revenue projections around the end of February. Even so, Mr. McGaw was positive that our request would be among those Mayor Gray will review for inclusion in the FY/15 budget. McGaw could make no promises about the outcome, though, and he warned that the list is already long, and with little flexibility given the focus on school modernization efforts.
So beefed-up sidewalk maintenance will have to wait for the forecast of the chief financial officer. And regardless of the outcome, this alliance of advocates will persist in pursuing their goals.