Naima Miller remembers the exact crack on the sidewalk where she twisted her ankle four years ago. She was walking to the store when she tripped on the broken pavement in front of an abandoned house on her Point Breeze block.
“I just kept walking,” she said. “I walked to the store, came back, propped my feet up and put ice on it.”
It’s a painful memory that’s hard to forget. The crack never got fixed.
Miller said she didn’t even know where to start when it came to getting the broken walkway fixed.
“Who was I going to report anything to,” said Miller, a block captain.
Miller is onto something. The Streets Department, which oversees the sidewalks, has only 12 inspectors in charge of keeping 2,525 miles of city roadways safe, and their duties extend beyond sidewalk maintenance.
Spring is prime time for sidewalks but city officials say there isn’t much that they can do to prepare neighborhood walkways for the strolling season.
Property owners are responsible for the sidewalks in front of their property. And if it’s in poor condition, a complaint to the Streets department will warrant a visit from an inspector to assess the conditions. Cracks or uneven sections that hinder passability can result in a notice of defect demanding the owner make repairs.
But since the inspection staff is so small, follow-up only happens if there’s another complaint about the sidewalk in question. Otherwise, no complaint, no problem.
“The assumption is if there’s no other complaints or no additional complaints either the property owner came into compliance or it was addressed in some other manner,” said Patrick O’Donnell, transportation operations director of the Streets department.
The city received 3,100 complaints about sidewalks in 2018. More than half of those resulted in notices of defect, O’Donnell said. Streets doesn’t have records showing how many of those notices motivated repair, he said.
“It’s challenging for a small staff to be able to go back out and schedule those reinspections,” O’Donnell said.
City Council will hear Streets Department officials discuss their priorities at a budget hearing on Wednesday. Kelly Cofrancisco, a spokeswoman for Mayor Jim Kenney, said there is no boost in store for sidewalk maintenance.
“Other than the funds set aside for maintenance and repairs of public property, we don’t have funding for sidewalks. It’s the responsibility of property owners,” Cofrancisco said. “We have to prioritize our limited resources and not everything can be funded to the optimal level.”
O’Donnell said Streets is studying which sections of the city get the most complaints with plans to move resources and personnel to those places.