Sidewalk repair update

Albany Strollers & Rollers’ (AS&R’s) almost decade-long effort to have the City perform most sidewalk repair is coming to fruition. This effort started in 2009 with the development of AS&R’s sidewalk survey methodology. This methodology was put into practice by volunteers measuring the most impassable location along each block across Albany in 2010-2011. In 2011 the resulting data was analyzed. This showed Albany’s sidewalks were indeed in poor shape, in agreement with perception.

AS&R used this information to get the City Council to adopt improving sidewalk repair into its two-year strategic plan in 2013. Not much happened until 2016 when the City put a pilot project to repair about 50 locations out to bid using about $150,000 in various funds. The success of that project increased the Council’s and staff’s comfort with AS&R’s proposed property tax to fund sidewalk repair, akin to Albany’s property tax to fund road and storm drain repair.

The Council subsequently had staff develop a sidewalk repair tax measure to generate about $200,000 per year and placed it on the November 2016 ballot. With AS&R’s input, this measure was based on parcel size, which is an appropriate metric for two reasons. First, larger parcels require more sidewalk fronting them. Second, charging by parcel size is fairer with regard to charging per capita. Large parcels with lots of residents or business activity amortize the cost over a larger base while large parcels with few residents or little business pay more, as they should for requiring more infrastructure per capita or unit of economic activity. AS&R also located data held by the City that convinced the Council the tax only needed to be half the size staff was proposing, and successfully advocated for inclusion of an exemption provision for low-income home owners and a rebate for low-income renters.

The measure (P1) passed with the most votes of any measure in Albany’s history, showing how much Albany’s adult citizens value walkability on the ground as well as in theory (walkscore.com’s algorithm does not consider sidewalk condition for instance).¬† The money is now flowing in and the City has started regular spending on sidewalk repair using the first year of revenue plus an additional $300,000 previously designated from other funds to jump start the program.

You may have noticed that some uplifts around town have been ground down  to make them less hazardous. The City had this work performed at 25 locations at no cost to individual property owners. A month or two from now the City will put the first of many routine repair projects out to bid. The project consists of 40 locations for an estimated cost of $100,000. The locations are shown in the map from the City below.

The City is prioritizing repair of sidewalk damage in the following order:

  • Next to residences where people with accessibility needs have made a request,
  • Uplifts greater than 2″ or major structural failure along the priority sidewalk network,
  • Uplifts greater 1/2″ along the priority network,
  • Uplifts greater than 2″ or major structural failure elsewhere, and
  • Uplifts greater than 1/2″ elsewhere.

In the first 40 repairs, the City will fix all the known locations in the first two categories and some in the third category. The City’s inventory currently has 250 locations needing repair. This inventory will grow as more detailed survey work is performed. However for scale, after the upcoming project, the City will have about $400,000 for additional repairs. Extrapolating from the past and upcoming project, this would cover another 150 repairs. Next year’s $200,000 would cover another 80 repairs.

At this rate of repairs, all locations may be repaired within four years. At this point it might make sense for AS&R to advocate for a re authorization measure and actually has the City legally take over authorization of the tax that cuts the rate in half and has the City take back legal responsibility for sidewalk repair. Currently, even though the City is making repairs the adjacent property owner is still legally responsible for repairs. The City was understandably not willing to take this step as part of putting the recent measure on the ballot. However once all the sidewalks are in good shape there will be little reason for the City to continue the injustice of imposing responsibility for repair on individual property owners rather than all of us collectively. The current tax runs through 2026, but re authorizing it earlier, such as 2022, might be useful to either scale the revenue down to the ongoing need, increase its scope to include maintaining or building other active transportation infrastructure.

Happy sidewalks, however you use them. If you have a story of a location that gave you trouble that was repaired in 2016, ground down in 2017, or repaired upcoming in 2018, please share it in comments.

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