Create a program that efficiently addresses urgent sidewalk repairs, with a minimum cost burden to homeowners.
- Pittsburgh holds property owners responsible for construction, maintenance, and needed repairs to sidewalks in front of their properties.
- Repair costs may be prohibitive for some property owners, and piecemeal repairs often result in variable sidewalk quality, making it difficult to sustain a completely accessible walking network.
- Many sidewalks in Oakland are in poor condition, making it difficult to walk through the neighborhood, especially for residents with disabilities.
- There is need for a program that can more efficiently accomplish urgent sidewalk repairs, with reduced cost burden on homeowners.
- Result in prompt repair of outstanding sidewalk problems, with no or minimal burden on lower income homeowners.
- Result in more economical repairs from the cost savings of grouping repairs at multiple properties into coordinated projects.
- Remove unused curb cuts.
- Improve walking conditions in Oakland.
Some other cities have programs that fund repairs in whole or part, or provide low-cost loans for repairs, offering models for Oakland to consider. As examples, Denver and Boston each allocated $3 million to city-funded sidewalk repairs for fiscal year 2020; Pittsburgh’s population is less than half of those cities. An analysis by the Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission (SPC) recommended that PennDOT assume greater responsibility for sidewalk maintenance/ownership. Recommendations below assume that City of Pittsburgh may provide more timely attention to enforcing and supporting sidewalk repair along city-controlled streets, but that PennDOT and/or the SPC may be appropriate sources of grant funding for these efforts. The following approaches are recommended to enable more prompt and effective sidewalk repair, with more equitable cost responsibility, in Oakland.
- The City of Pittsburgh should cover costs of sidewalk repair adjacent to all owner-occupied residential buildings containing up to three units. It should also cover costs of repairs when city street trees or other city infrastructure are associated with the sidewalk damage, and where ADA improvements are needed. Sidewalk repair adjacent to commercial and institutional properties may continue to be the property owner’s responsibility (or split between owner and city), as is common in many other cities, since those owners typically have capacity to make repairs (see exception for small/local neighborhood businesses and organizations below). If funding is unavailable to cover work at all owner-occupied properties with up to three units, city resources should go first to properties whose owners earn the least.
- Neighborhood-serving commercial and institutional properties, particularly those owned by local and small businesses and non-profit organizations, should also be considered for assistance. Like some residential property owners, these owners may have limited means for sidewalk repair, and are often located along sidewalks with greater pedestrian activity and priority for accessibility. Some of these properties have service hatches within the sidewalk surface that may pose extra cost for repair or accessibility improvements.
- DPW should take responsibility for seeing that priority sidewalk repairs are made, whether using its own staff or contractors. This will help ensure consistent sidewalk quality and timely repairs. It should offer property owners the option of undertaking repairs themselves and receiving reimbursement). DOMI may also be involved when projects involve ADA curb ramp (re)construction, and initiating reconstruction of steps, streets, and bridges.
- Social vulnerability factors should significantly influence prioritization of sidewalk improvements, such as where residents have low rates of car ownership and where sidewalks provide vital access to schools, parks, and neighborhood services. Extent of sidewalk damage and pedestrian traffic are also appropriate factors influencing priority. Order of repair request should have lower influence in prioritization.
- Identification of needed repairs should include a combination of community reporting via the 311 system, and City inspections to verify the requests and identify any greater extent of repairs that may be merited for a whole block, not just one property.
- During sidewalk reconstruction, review the legality of existing adjacent curb cuts and explore removal of illegal curb cuts. Additionally, examine if street tree plantings may be suitable for the newly reconstructed sidewalk conditions; if yes, encourage property owners to plant new street trees, perhaps in coordination with TreeVitalize.
Potential funding sources for the program include the following:
- Federal transportation fund allocations
- PennDOT Transportation Alternatives funding program
- Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission Transportation Alternatives funding program
- Portion of state sales and income taxes (Allentown)
- City’s own general funds and general obligation bonds (St. Louis, Denver, others). Some cities provide council members discretion in allocation of capital funds within their district.
- Fee on rideshare companies like Uber and Lyft, charged annually in proportion to ride (Boston)
- Some cost-sharing with higher-income property owners. Philadelphia charges property owners up to 30% of repair cost and covers the remainder itself.
- Special assessment district. The East Allegheny Community Council (Deutschtown.org) has utilized local property assessments for sidewalk improvements in the East Ohio Street corridor. New Orleans applies a special infrastructure fee to Downtown and the French Quarter, and allocates a portion of revenues to sidewalk and street lighting improvements in those areas. To address the challenges faced by lower-income property owners, any application of this approach in Oakland should not impose fees on low-income owner-occupants. It might best be applied as an initiative of the established OBID district.
When to start: 0-2 years
Estimated costs: $-$$ (out of $$$$)
Project lead(s): Mayor’s Office, City Council, DOMI, DPW
Project partner(s): OPDC, OBID, neighborhood organizations, commercial property owners
Potential funding source(s): See project goals and components section.