Friday, April 3, 2015

Lawsuit forces LA to maybe do something about its sidewalk problem

Let's begin with one of my favorite (I should say least favorite) pictures of a sidewalk in the neighborhood where I used to live, deep in LA's San Fernando Valley. No, this is not a picture of a dirt path next to a road where there should be a sidewalk. There is an actual sidewalk underneath all that dirt. If you squint you can see a little piece of it at the bottom of the embankment in the middle of the picture.

Lest you think this is unusual, here's another:

I probably have a few hundred similar shots, just from the area right around my house. And I lived in a "nice" part of the city.
Given that this is the typical state of LA's sidewalks, it should come as a surprise to no one that an ADA lawsuit against the City has resulted in what's described as "the biggest agreement of its kind in US history." The deal has yet to be finalized, but as part of the settlement the City will pay $1.3 billion to fix problems like the ones shown above.
That sounds pretty great, and is definitely a win for advocates pushing for improved mobility for people with disabilities (not to mention the rest of us who'd like to be able to use our sidewalks safely). But...let's not get too excited. First of all, the $1.3 billion in spending is over 30 years. In other words, it's possible that my grandkids could still be walking on the same decrepit sidewalks I walked on when I lived in LA--only 30 years worse for the wear.

Furthermore, that $1.3 billion only covers the estimated cost of current repairs (more or less) to the 40 percent or so of sidewalks that need fixing today. That doesn't leave anything for all the sidewalk problems that are sure to crop up between now and 2045.
Finally, as Streetsblog LA rightly points out, telling the City to spend the money isn't the same as the City actually spending it. That $1.3 billion has to come from somewhere, and right now it isn't clear where that would be.
ADA lawsuits have been used elsewhere to force action on sidewalk improvements (Sacramento, Chicago), and they can be effective in getting a city to address problems like obstructions or lack of maintenance. Nonetheless, pedestrian advocates should still be pushing for municipalities to routinely include adequate funding for sidewalk repair in their transportation budgets. It shouldn't take a lawsuit to ensure that sidewalks are well-maintained and easy for everyone to navigate. 


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