Monday, January 03, 2011

Sidewalks: Fines? Red China? Remove fences?

A commenter to my previous post, who read the Sunday editorial "Urban streets will need urban sidewalks" correctly nailed it with his/her suspicion, based on the Runnymede Lane photo that ran with it, at left, that I was its author. (I'm among the four people at the Observer who write the unsigned editorials on behalf of the editorial board.) And he/she raises one of the trickiest issues that city transportation officials are going to have to confront: If you want to encourage people to walk, how can you ensure that sidewalks are kept clear? Read the comment in full, at the end of this.

Currently, property owners are expected to keep sidewalks clear. But the city's ordinances are murky about what the city can/can't order property owners to and it's generally silent on what punishment is allowed.

The commenter raises the specter of Red China and its cultural education camps. But rather than having an "education czar" (oops, those czars were in Russia, not China), he/she suggests the city should remove the fence shown in the photo. Er, wouldn't that be taking private property?

The commenter asks if I've ever called CDOT (Charlotte Department of Transportation) for enforcement. As a matter of fact I have called them about that messy stretch of sidewalk off and on for 10 years. After I wrote a June article about sidewalks ("Walk this way. If you can") with photos and called CDOT officials for information, the Runnymede sidewalk was finally cleared. I'm not sure whether CDOT contacted property owners or the publicity alerted them. But in the six months since then, the sidewalk has clogged again with leaves.

If you don't want an education czar, do you want to spend city taxpayer money on a fleet of clean-sidewalk enforcers? Hire people to monitor telephone or email complaints, dispatch inspectors and – if warranted – cite or otherwise notify property owners? And if you really want walkable sidewalks, should you wait for complaints or be pro-active in keeping them clear?

Currently, CDOT says it responds when people complain, but in my experience, my complaints haven't seemed to get much attention unless I put something in the newspaper with photos. I can't imagine they are hopping to it when people without access to printing presses or editorial pages complain.

But the underlying question is: Should the city beef up its attempts to keep sidewalks clear? And if the answer is "yes," (which is how I'd answer) what's the best way? Cite and fine property owners? Use city staff to clean sidewalks?

Here's the comment about sidewalks from the previous post :
I read the editorial in today’s (Jan. 2) Observer about urban sidewalks, to which Mary obviously contributed. (The photo of that leaf-cluttered Runnymede Lane sidewalk, which Mary has long bemoaned, gave it away). Frankly Mary, I agree with much of that editorial. I’m a retiree, live in a densely populated part of South Charlotte, and make good use of sidewalks as both pedestrian and bicyclist. My current sidewalk travel has been primarily for exercise, but given the ever-escalating cost of gasoline, I recently bought a small cart in which to haul groceries and other purchases behind my bike. I appreciate that our city provides an alternative that will keep me trim, save me some money, and help reduce traffic congestion and air pollution. But a sentence in that editorial has me puzzled. In mentioning that sidewalks outside of center city are often impassable, you or another editorialist ask “How can property owners be taught to keep them clean?” What!? Have the Red Chinese finally overrun this city? Will local government be expanded to add an education czar with the authority to haul affluent Runnymede residents off to a remote training camp in the mountains where they’ll be taught a lesson on how to rake leaves? I don’t think the Powell Bill, which helps fund sidewalk maintenance in Charlotte via taxed motor fuel, allows for that. In the case of Runnymede Lane, a better solution may be for the city to remove that tall, solid-wood fence shown in the editorial photo. It appears to be suspiciously close to the sidewalk, probably encroaching on city right-of-way. Have you ever called CDOT for enforcement? Fence removal will eliminate the “out-of-sight out-of-mind” strategy of the usually neat but sidewalk-hating Runnymedians. They – or their lawn service - will be out there with a leaf blower in a flash. Unfortunately, you can’t force folks to be thoughtful and responsible – unless you are part of the Red Chinese bureaucracy. In Charlotte, you have to hit them where they feel it – in their pocketbooks. Just call 311. And if the city doesn’t take care of the problem, the Observer should ask why we are paying bloated salaries and retirement benefits to government officials and not getting anything in return.


Walka Walka said...

Okay, here is my question to you. You say that the city makes the property owner responsible for the clean up of public sidewalks. If I am responsible for the sidewalk maintenance then can I demolish the sidewalk in front of my home? If you are going to hold me responsible for it then I should be able to do with it what I like. Otherwise those of you who are demanding pedestrian friendly sidewalks should be willing to pony up the money to maintain them.

Anonymous said...

Are you sure you didn't mean to write you are on of four people at the Observer?

I have the solution, impose a tax on walkers, then use part those funds for sidewalk maintenance. Of course the other part of the tax (the 90% part) will be used by politicians as they see fit to encourage people to vote for them, again.

Anonymous said...

Runnymedians! I love it!! :)

tozmervo said...

Do you know if CDOT or Solid Waste & Recycling has any position on the placement of the roll-out bins? All I recall hearing is "at the curb," which in many cases means "on the sidewalk." I've seen people forced to walk in the street on trash day because the sidewalk was full of bins.

Anonymous said...

I'm almost certain sidewalk cleanup is up the city or state. The city/state right-of-way usually stops at the telephone/power poles. You can go to the Meck. County tax page and look at the tax parcels to see where the ROW meets private property.

SmarkAlek said...

If that sidewalk was along my property I'd build a fence in a minute. People do not respect other people's property!

Jackson said...

Your assumption about CDOT's reaction to a "normal" person's complaint is correct. In my experience, they will gladly accept a complaint but provide no resolution.

Anonymous said...


Mary, you’re too young to be writing about the sidewalk on Runnymeade.

Back when the City and County should’ve been creating what is now I-485 they had this grand idea for an inner loop. What is supposed to be known as Route 4.

There was no place to put it that didn’t offend somebody; so they decided to upset everyone. The wonderful politicians and planners found every side street they could and linked them end-to-end. Then widened them right up to the fronts and backs of every house.

This is why you have the big fence on Runnymeade. This is why you see houses on Route 4 that are so close to street that when a Saturday night drunk tosses a beer can from his car it ends up in a house's backyard.

Route 4 is a snaking piece of garbage and we’re lucky it’s not bordered the whole length by monster fences and useless sidewalks.

Bolyn McClung

Anonymous said...

Today's Observer reports:

"In North Carolina alone, [diabetes] leads to 8,400 deaths a year and $5.3 billion in medical expenses."

To put that amount in perspective, Mecklenburg County's entire annual budget is $1.4 billion.

I hope these figures will open the eyes of a few of Charlotte's exercise-phobic sidewalk haters. Get out there and rally for sidewalks -- before you lose your feet and legs to the ravages of diabetes!

Anonymous said...

I would love to see a map illustrating which parts of town have the most obese people. Is it the far out suburbs or some of the close to town communities with sidewalks on every street. I suspect that many of us in the 'burbs get far more exercise (or at least as much exercise) as our closer in neighbors. I appreciate sidewalks and am a constant walker, but I can and do walk safely in my neighborhood even without sidewalks (as do many others). It seems to me that if our more urban neighbors were truly walking everywhere rather than driving, there would be much more pressure to keep those sidewalks clear and usable.