Tuesday, January 04, 2011

A sidewalk legend that just won't die

Instead of posting this comment on the previous sidewalk piece, "Sidewalks: Fines? Red China? Remove fences?" I want to highlight it here, in hopes of killing some out-of-date misinformation that has a remarkable shelf life in local memory.

The fact that people continue to be confused about whether the city will repair a sidewalk or makes property owners pay for repairs is an indicator, I think, of how lame the city's overall sidewalk policies and advocacy have been. This shouldn't be read as an indictment of Charlotte Department of Transportation's pedestrian program manager, Vivian Coleman. [Note, 1:40 p.m. Jan. 5: Coleman has been promoted and is now Transportation Planner.] She has to swim upstream in a city of nonpedestrians and a city government that is only oh-so-slowly concluding pedestrians do, after all, deserve consideration. Indeed, CDOT may now be more enlightened on that matter than many other local agencies. (Can you say, "Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools"?)

Here's the comment, sent from "Bruce Keith" sent about 10 p.m. Monday (Jan. 3):
If a sidewalk fails or breaks and the homeowner doesn't pay to repair it, the city will pave it with Asphalt, even in Historic Districts. This fence most likely is in the right of way but the city should maintain ALL of its infrastructure and ENFORCE all of its ordinances. This fence should be moved or removed and the city should maintain the walk, as it is Public Property in a Public ROW [right-of-way].
Commenter Keith is about 10 years out of date on that repair issue. CDOT used to charge property owners part of repair costs and, if owners wouldn't pay, the patch was cheap asphalt. But it changed its sidewalk repair policy in 2001. "Just as CDOT repairs potholes for cars, broken sidewalks are repaired to maintain quality facilities for pedestrians," CDOT spokeswoman Linda Durrett wrote me in an e-mail.

Plenty of Charlotteans don't realize the repair policy changed, and many repeat that bit of lore, maybe because some of those old asphalt patches are still around? In any event, if you want to read more about sidewalk repair policies, here's a link.

You'll note I didn't address the issue of rights-of-way and whether the city can legally require people to clear off sidewalks in the city (or state) right-of-way. I'm still checking on the legal issues. The city also expects property owners to mow the grass in planting strips, an expectation that doesn't seem to bring out nearly the hostility as asking people to keep leaves, snow, ice, etc. off their sidewalks. Go figure.

And the comment about rollout trash bins? Yet another reason that those horrible back-of-curb sidewalks are and were an abomination. Thank goodness the city no longer allows them to be built that way. But if you're in an area that's stuck with them, you have little choice but to clog the sidewalks with them, and, if you're thoughtful, haul them back in as soon as you can.


Anonymous said...

Regarding consideration of pedestrians you say "Indeed, CDOT may now be more enlightened on that matter than many other local agencies. (Can you say, "Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools"?)" I would very much agree that most of our schools are hardly "walkable", but I believe much of that has been by design because for so long we weren't building schools for neighborhoods to use. I think walkable schools would help solve many problems in this community but I'm afraid those walkable schools were an anathema in Charlotte for too long and there is now a huge retro-fitting job to be done, but not necessarily by CMS. Many of the school system's sidewalk and traffic issues are the responsibility of the city and county, not the system itself. And wasn't it the city that recently defunded crossing guards? Mary, could you please explain what you mean when implying that CMS is not enlightened about pedestrians? What would you have them do under the current situation? Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Mary, I’m the person who wrote about the education czar, etc.

As I mentioned then, I use both my feet and my bicycle to travel city sidewalks, not just for exercise, but to reach shopping and dining destinations. I find that riding the sidewalk is safer than riding in the street, and is being courteous to my fellow Charlotteans who prefer to motor. But are bikes even allowed on Charlotte sidewalks? Am I breaking the law?

I ask because it seems quite strange to me to see that fraternity of extremely lean, spandex-costumed men pedaling in circles around the Queens-Selwyn grid or over on Colony Road. They bravely – some might even say recklessly - “share” the road with automobiles. I call it impeding traffic. Yet the motorists aren’t exercising, they are trying to reach the city’s shopping-working-dining areas. It’s the sports bicyclists whose presence there isn’t contributing much to the local economy.

So how come the city is obsessed with giving street access to exercisers while those expensive sidewalks a few feet away remain mostly empty? Wouldn’t it make more sense to tell the Lycra folks with their $1,500 bikes to use the sidewalks? Oh, I suppose there is some law left over from the 1890s that says bicyclists can use the road same as those Stanley Steamers. Isn’t it time to change it?

I realize that this will create some hardships on those sporting bike enthusiasts. Existing sidewalks are generally narrow. Many are uneven. Riders would have to ride single file, and yield or stop for approaching pedestrians. It sort of takes the fun out of the sport. But on the bright side, moving all bicyclists there would provide greater monetary justification for building or retrofitting better sidewalks.

Anonymous said...

Anon 11:23 excellent point. Maybe you should consider writing for the Observer.

Mary Newsom said...

Dear Anonymous 11:23 am: Yes, it's legal in Charlotte to ride on the sidewalk. Cyclists will tell you it's less safe, because of cars pulling out of driveways - motorists apparently are less likely to look for cyclists on the sidewalk (or pedestrians for that matter, and THIS one I can verify) than they are to look at what's coming in the street.

Cyclists will also say they have as much right to be in the public right of way as a motorized vehicle. And the law supports this, as do local and state transportation policy.

That said, courtesy is always a better approach than road-hoggery regardless of what vehicle you're in or on.

Anonymous said...

You seem to have avoided most of the comments left on your last posting. If I am required to maintain city property then where does it stop? If I pass a piece of litter in front of the courthouse and fail to pick it up should I be charge with littering? Forcing property owners to maintain city property that they (at some point) were giving no choice in declining is asinine.

The city wanted these sidewalks. They took the land to put them in. They should be responsible for maintaining them.

Anonymous said...

If you want the sidewalk repaired how about taking responsible action through proper channels


and then report on whether or not it works.

Anonymous said...

To anonymous poster on 1/5 who might not see this 15 days later.

Bicycles are legal in both locations. What a wonderfully versatile device!

When on the street, a bicycle is a vehicle and must act as such, following all posted rules of the road including speed limits, stop signs, traffic lights, turn signals, lights, turn lanes etc.

When on the sidewalk, a bicyclist is a pedestrian, and must act as such. ie, slower walking/running type speeds, stay on sidewalks and crosswalks at all times, and stop at every intersection.