Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Memo to Obama: Think sidewalks

Everyone wants to get his or her pet project onto President-elect Obama's list for his forthcoming stimulus package. (Alice Waters, e.g., wants a White House veggie garden.)

Here's a pitch, in the form of a letter to Obama, that rolled into my inbox from one of my list-servs. It's from Michael Ronkin of Designing Streets for Pedestrians and Bicyclists LLC in Salem, Ore., who suggests that small-scale sidewalk projects will stimulate the economy just as well as big road projects and are a lot faster to get rolling:

You have heard from many about repairing bridges and highways. You have been receiving many 'shovel-ready' wish lists of projects. Big highway projects are rarely shovel-ready; there will always be legitimate environmental and political hurdles to overcome, requiring robust public debate.

However, there are many small-scale projects that require little or no red tape, provide tremendous benefit/cost, and create the greatest number of local jobs per dollar spent: sidewalk repair, infill and construction, and bringing existing sidewalks up to ADA compliance. Sidewalk projects provide many economic benefits for communities large and small:
* Most of the sidewalk cost is labor (60-80%);
* The labor force is usually local; the bulk of the materials (sand and
gravel) can be found locally too;
* The wages are living wages, but not too high for financially strapped communities;
* The minimal amount of design needed can be done in-house or by small local engineering firms. * Local small contractors can perform the work;
* This provides work for small contractors hurt by the housing downturn, as they are doing less small concrete work for house foundations, driveways etc.;
* These are opportunities to make good use of existing incentive programs such as Emerging Small Businesses, Disadvantaged Business Enterprises, Minority-Owned Businesses;
* But most important are the positive results for the community:
* Sidewalks improve property values, make it easier to walk for short local trips, reduce municipal liability for trip and fall injuries, and help make the transportation system accessible to all pedestrians, including those the Americans with Disabilities Act was intended to help bring into the mainstream.

The backlog of sidewalk infill and repair is huge in most cities. When I worked as Pedestrian and Bicycle Program Manager for the Oregon Department of Transportation, I managed a small grant program (approximately $3,000,000/year statewide) that funded sidewalk infill projects. Every year we had to turn away many worthy applicants, as the requests exceeded available funds at a 5:1 ratio.


Anonymous said...

How about some CURBS and sidewalks on the roads in University City, especially around UNCC!

approve this post, Mr. Blackwood said...

I thought Tony Jameson had the monopoly on reporting about Obama?

Anonymous said...

Serious question, Mary:

Where is the money going to come from? The US has $1 trillion deficit; $11 trillion debt; $52 trillion in unfunded future obligations.

So, be specific, and answer:

Where is the mondy going to come from?

Shantaquillia said...


Cato said...

Gee, it makes you wonder how the Great Depression occurred, what with the ubiquity of well-planned towns and car ownership not yet being democratized.

My question for Mr. Ronkin - what domestic social problems does he think that more sidewalks and better urban design wouldn't solve?

wskytngo said...

"Serious question, Mary:
Where is the money going to come from? The US has $1 trillion deficit; $11 trillion debt; $52 trillion in unfunded future obligations.
So, be specific, and answer:
Where is the mondy going to come from?"

Same place the money for the bailout of the fiscal system came from, government printing presses. At least ideas like this have some useful functionality for real people.

Guy said...

The most socially responsible thing one can do is offer stable employment. The country is suffering from a lack of small to medium size enterprises that would keep the economy going. I agree with improving sidewalks as a way to go!

Let us think of other micro projects that add value to the community. (clean streets, more greenways, more recreation, etc.)

Rick said...

This post is probably going to offend somebody, but it's a legitimate question to ask. I'm not trying to change the subject, and I'm not trying to bash anyone. But...

How do you ensure that the workers actually swinging these shovels are legal?

Construction, particularly jobs at the lower end of the scale - which these would be - has one of the highest rates of illegal labor.

Much of this labor would literally be "ditch digging". (Not that there's anything wrong with that. It is honest work.) There needs to be a mechanism in place to ensure this type of program did more that just increase remittances out of the country. Since we're just printing money willy nilly to pay for all these things, it would be a good idea to have a plan on how to keep it here.

I'm not saying that a stimulus package is not needed, but do the hardcore liberal supporters of this package who are proposing things like "let's build sidewalks" realize that the proposed size of this package is much bigger than the entire cost of the war in Iraq to date.

Let me say that again. The Obama stimulus package will be more than the entire cost of the Iraq War.

More frightening is that the Democrats want to pound it through Congress before the inaugural so it can be signed on the same day.


This needs to be planned and planned very carefully. As most of you probably would guess, I didn't vote for Obama. However, if he's going to do this, please let him do it right. Don't rush him.

And please, let's have better ideas than giving people careers building sidewalks.

Anonymous said...

Speaking of the stimulus package, I was surprised to hear Jennifer Roberts say last night that three Charlotte greenways qualify as candidates because they're part of a transportation corridor: Sugar Creek, Stewart Creek and one other.

Seth said...

Brilliant idea... Big, complicated construction projects are only able to be completed by a few qualified firms... sidewalk construction could be completed by practically anyone. This gets the money to the people who need it fastest - middle and lower-middle class. They are the ones who are having trouble staying solvent. If they stay solvent our banks stay solvent and real estate values stay stable... all good things for the economy.

Anonymous said...

Seth, if you think govco is going to give any of this work to anybody other than their big-time construction buddies then you are a fool. Why do you think the big-time construction companies are itching for this work? Because the downturn is hitting them too.

Look at who just pulled the permits for the new CMS School: Rodgers Construction, headed by Charlotte Chamber Mafiosa Pat Rodgers!

Anonymous said...

Well Mr. Blackwood...
Frst of all, it is Tonya...