Local government doesn’t get more pedestrian than sidewalks.
Top: Example of a cross-lot walkway, leading from street to school. Middle: Sidewalk that was cut flush funded by the city’s sidewalk repair millage. Bottom: Recommended detention ponds in Eisenhower Park near the proposed Scio Church sidewalk.
Yet these existing and future slabs of concrete are themselves a constant topic of confusion and controversy: Who’s responsible for repairing the busted slab in front my house? Who’s supposed to shovel snow off the sidewalk in the winter?
Sidewalks also connect up to other equally important if also dull components of local governance – like stormwater management and public art.
So here’s a quick rundown of some specific sidewalk-related issues that the Ann Arbor city council will be considering.
The council’s agenda for Monday, Oct. 7, includes an item on the definition of sidewalks. If an existing walkway meets the definition of a “sidewalk,” then the city bears responsibility for its repair for the duration of the sidewalk repair millage. All other things being equal, the adjacent property owner would be responsible for snow removal in the winter.
The Oct. 7 agenda item focuses on walkways that aren’t really on the “side” of anything – walkways that connect a street to a park or school, or that connect two parallel streets. The city calls them “cross-lot” walkways. If such walkways were added into the definition of “sidewalk” – as the city council is contemplating – then the city would be responsible for repair. That’s a result welcomed by property owners. But it would put the burden for snow removal on those property owners – a less welcome result. That was the sentiment that led the council to postpone final consideration of a change to the definition of “sidewalk” three months ago, on July 1, 2013.
So on Oct. 7, the council will be asked to consider a different approach to that definitional change – one that would allow the so-called “cross-lot” paved pathways to qualify as sidewalks under the city’s ordinance, but not trigger a winter maintenance requirement for adjacent property owners.
The fresh look would mean that the council’s possible action on Oct. 7 would be considered only an initial approval of the ordinance change. Final enactment of the change would require a second vote at a subsequent council meeting. If approved, the ordinance would allow cross-lot paths to be repaired under the city’s sidewalk repair program – funded through the five-year millage approved by Ann Arbor voters in November 2011. That program is noticeable to residents in the form of pink markings that appear on sidewalk slabs – an “R” for replace and a “C” for cutting an out-of-alignment section so that it lines up flush with the next slab.
The millage can pay for repair or replacement of existing slabs of sidewalks, but not for the construction of new sidewalks. So that millage money isn’t available to build a new stretch of sidewalk along the south side of Scio Church Road (or to fill in a smaller gap on the north side) – a section of sidewalk that residents have petitioned the city to build. The petition for a sidewalk there is based on several considerations, including a desire to connect to amenities west of I-94, like the Ice Cube, Wide World of Sports and the Ann Arbor District Library’s Pittsfield branch. It’s also seen as a pedestrian safety issue, because the lack of a sidewalk on one side of the road could induce pedestrians to cross the road at places where motorists don’t expect pedestrians to cross.
The city council authorized $15,000 of general fund money for the study of alternatives along that stretch – alternatives that were presented at a meeting held on Sept. 18 at Lawton Elementary School and attended by about two dozen people. Next up for the city council, likely on Oct. 21, will be a request for a design budget, so that costs of the project can be estimated with more precision.
Among the alternatives that were considered, but not pursued in much detail, was construction of a pathway through Eisenhower Park. That’s where the Washtenaw County water resources commissioner is now recommending that a pair of detention ponds be constructed – to help mitigate overland flooding in the area. That recommendation was presented to a group of about 80 neighbors on Sept. 30 – also held at Lawton Elementary School.
And a fence that that might need to be constructed along the proposed Scio Church sidewalk – to prevent people from falling down the steep incline – received a glancing mention at a recent meeting of the Ann Arbor public art commission. A proposal to fund a public art project that would be integrated into the fence was tabled by the commission at its Sept. 25, 2013 meeting. [Full Story]