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Where the Sidewalk Ends: Fixing Atlanta's Broken Footpaths

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Did you know that Atlanta homeowners are responsible for the cost of repairing the sidewalks outside their houses? In June, the city proposed legislation that would increase the price from $3.90 per square foot to $10.28, an increase of 164 percent that would raise the average cost per property owner to more than $4,000. Meanwhile, Mary Norwood and eight other Atlanta City Council members put forth an ordinance that would put the burden of sidewalk maintenance entirely on the city. A vote is expected on August 29. The City of Atlanta's 2015 budget does not include sidewalk maintenance, but next year's bond referendum could allocate as much as $250 million toward infrastructure such as bridges, roads, traffic signals and of course, sidewalks. Even with the money, Atlanta's pedestrian paths wouldn't be fixed overnight. According to a Public Works official, about a quarter of the city's 2,200 miles of sidewalk are deteriorated. Not to mention the 43,000 intersections that need upgrades to make them compliant with the Americans With Disabilities Act. In 2012, the total bill was estimated to be about $204 million.

Atlanta isn't the only city to ask residents to pay for sidewalks abutting their property. One survey of 82 cities found that 40 percent required property owners to pay the full cost for sidewalk repair, 46 percent share the cost with property owners and 13 percent pay the full cost of repairing sidewalks. In the metro area outside the city, Decatur, Roswell, Cobb County, Gwinnett County and DeKalb County allocate tax dollars to pay for repairs.

The current system also has potential legal pitfalls. By informing a property owner that a sidewalk requires maintenance, the city has acknowledged the hazard. If the broken path is not fixed, they can be sued; something they learned the hard way when tripping pedestrians cost the city $4.14 million in lawsuits during 2007 and 2008.

It's a complex path to better sidewalks.
Poll results

· Campaign for Safe Sidewalks [PEDS]
· Atlanta loses its footing on sidewalks [ARC]
· Atlanta's Busted Sidewalks Need $152 Million Worth of Love [Curbed Atlanta]
· Are sidewalks a civic responsibility? Not in Atlanta [Treehugger]
· City of Atlanta needs to figure out a way to fix its sidewalks and curb cuts [Saporta Report]
· Broken sidewalk policy [AJC]
[Photos via PEDS.]