Atlanta’s Personal Responsibility Failure: Sidewalks

I’ve never owned a home in the city of Atlanta, so I was completely unaware that adjacent property owners are responsible for repairing the city’s sidewalks.  Oh golly!

Not surprisingly, this guest column on Saporta Report by Sally Flocks of PEDS reports the program isn’t working out all that well.

The City’s program is politically unpopular, especially in low-income areas, and has been ineffective city-wide. The annual budget includes no funding for sidewalk maintenance or enforcement, which ties the hands of Public Works officials. Few people voluntarily repair sidewalks, and everyone who walks suffers as a result.

The 2008 State of the City’s Infrastructure report estimates that 18 percent of the City’s sidewalks need to be repaired or replaced, at a cost of $79.4 million.

In 2004 the City launched a campaign to educate property owners about their responsibility to repair sidewalks. During the four years that followed, the City collected just $200,000 from property owners for sidewalk repairs. At that rate, addressing the City’s backlog of broken sidewalks would take sixteen centuries.

Imagine if we tried to employ this method of maintenance and repair to roads.  Now THAT would be humorous!

6 thoughts on “Atlanta’s Personal Responsibility Failure: Sidewalks”

  1. hmmm. this reminds me of story my history professor once told…

    He was a student in Israel living in a small apartment. His electric bills were astronomical. He couldn’t figure out what was sucking up all the current. So one night he just turned off the main breaker to his circuit box and went to bed. About 1AM, police beat on his door and had him come outside. Everyone in the village was very upset with him. You see he had turned off all of the street and traffic lights in the area. He was sternly warned to keep the circuit on AND keep paying his bill.

  2. Here in LA we struggle with the same issue.

    One UCLA professor suggests that point-of-sale sidewalk repairs are a better solution, and if you check out my post on the subject ( you’ll see some comments from folks in other parts of the country that describe how their cities get creative with funding sidewalk repairs. There are much better solutions to our sidewalk troubles, if only we could actually implement them!

  3. In Madison, WI, where I live, property-owners are financially responsible for sidewalk repairs.

    But most people don’t take care of their sidewalks on their own initiative. Normally, the city goes through a neighborhood at regular intervals, inspects the sidewalks, and marks the spots that need replacement.

    Then they hire a contractor to make the repairs, and they assess the property-owners for the cost. If you can’t pay the bill right away, the city amortizes the cost (at a reasonable interest rate) over several years, and adds it to the property tax bill.

    I think I’d prefer to have the city take responsibility for sidewalks, and add the cost to the general tax levy. But the existing system works reasonably well, and broken sidewalks are pretty rare in Madison.

  4. Someone help me understand the legal theory behind forcing a homeowner to pay for installation and maintenance of public infrastructure on public land.

    Try putting a retaining wall on the easement in front of your home and, very quickly, the city will let you know who actually owns that land.

    1. Good point. And the converse of that is true too. Why is it that a few outspoken neighbors are allowed to successfully petition to BAR sidewalks when they don’t own that land and having sidewalks benefits the whole community more than it hurts them as individuals? The fact that they planted or installed a sprinkler system without permission on that land should not factor in. The response to claims of storm runoff issues should be to resolve the storm runoff issues and building variances not ban sidewalks because of a noisy few. A true referendum in the affected neighborhood should be held.

    2. Actually, with an easement, the property owner still owns the property, but whoever the easement is in favor of (presumably the City here) has the permanent right to use the easement for whatever the purpose is in the original grant of the easement.

      So, yeah, they pretty much get you coming and going. There are ways to extinguish an easement, but none of them would probably apply here.

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