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.