Reading through this article about how much the City of Helsinki spends on trip and fall compensation over the winter ($1.37 million) got me wondering about those same costs here in San Diego. Granted, conditions in Finland aren't exactly comparable to those here, but according to a study cited in the article Helsinki would save at least $10 for every $1 spent on road maintenance and planning. Would fixing our sidewalks before someone falls actually save us money in the long run?
On their face, the calculations here, suggest no--at least, not in legal fees. Repairing San Diego's sidewalks would cost at least $6 million each year, and it would take another $170 million to install sidewalks in all the place they're missing. But the City only pays out about $350,000 each year to resolve trip and fall lawsuits (yet another reason we're lucky not to have snow and ice, I guess). The situation is the same for our largest neighbor to the north. Los Angeles has a sidewalk repair backlog of $1.6 billion, while the city spends a "mere" $3 to $5 million on trip and fall suits each year.
But these numbers don't take into account the added value that well-kept sidewalks might contribute to their adjoining properties. There's little research how sidewalks specifically impact property values and sales, but one study suggests that walkability in general adds up to $34,000 to home values, and another shows rents in walkable shopping areas can be over 50 percent higher than those in their less-walkable counterparts. Retail sales in walkable areas are higher, too.
Since sidewalks (particularly those in good repair) are a critical piece of the walkability puzzle, they're obviously adding something to the mix, and cities are benefiting from those sidewalks in the form of higher revenues from sales and property taxes. Add that to the decreased legal fees from trip and fall lawsuits, and it's hard to understand why any city would hesitate to fix its sidewalks sooner rather than later.