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Funding Sidewalk Maintenance: A Tale of Four Cities

October 13, 2010

From America Walks member group PEDS: At the international ProWalk/ProBike 2010 conference in Chattanooga earlier this month, PEDS President Sally Flocks and the City of Charlotte’s Pedestrian Program Manager Vivian Coleman explored how cities fund and implement sidewalk maintenance programs. 

As the presentation about Charlotte’s program explains, state law requires the North Carolina Department of Transportation to give cities 1.75 cents on each taxed gallon of motor fuel for the purpose of building, maintaining, or reconstructing the local street system. After the Powell Bill made sidewalks eligible for this funding, Charlotte began using tax dollars to pay for sidewalk repairs. Doing so reduced administrative costs and increased the City’s ability to make repairs in a timely fashion.

Focusing on Atlanta, Los Angeles and Portland, PEDS’ presentation highlighted costs facing cities who expect property owners to pay for repairs and the reasons why such programs are likely to fail. In Atlanta, as the 2008 State of the City’s Infrastructure report states, “it has been the City policy not to cite property owners unless funding is available to execute the repairs; since funding has not been available in recent years, few citations have been issued.” In Los Angeles, as UCLA Professor Donald Shoup explained in a recent article, federal funds enabled the City to repair sidewalks for several years at no cost to abutting property owners. When funding ran out, Los Angeles attempted to restore its earlier policy. Owners objected, and the City quit issuing citations. 

Portland is one of the only cities in the United States with an effective property owner-funded repair program. What makes it work? Heavy investments in administration, inspection, curb repair and long-term financing.

Several PEDS leaders will meet with Atlanta Public Works Commissioner Richard Mendoza later this week to share thoughts on needed policy change and potential funding sources. What happened in Los Angeles suggests Atlanta will not be able to restore a program based on making property owners responsible for repairs. Developing an effective sidewalk maintenance program in Atlanta won’t be cheap. But it must be done.