San Diego’s Nonsensical Sidewalk Rules

 

San Diego has enough miles of sidewalk to stretch from Ocean Beach to New York City then back again. You might not know it, but it’s your responsibility to take care of them.

Homeowners and business owners must repair and maintain the sidewalks outside their properties, according to state law.

The city, however, doesn’t give you much incentive to take care of your sidewalk. The city will fix sidewalks at intersections and those damaged by trees. It offers to split the cost of sidewalk repairs with homeowners. And if someone stumbles over the sidewalk outside your house, generally it’s the city’s legal problem, not yours.

“The end result is that we have crumbling sidewalks that are trip hazards and liabilities for the city and yet we apparently have no actual responsibility for replacing them, although we do one-offs here and there, for some reason.” City Council President Todd Gloria said. “It’s a very strange circumstance.”

I’m starting my look at San Diegans’ interaction with their city government with sidewalks. People deal with sidewalks every day, but the city’s policies for taking care of them don’t make much sense. I’ll be looking at legal, financial, disabled access and lots of other issues related to sidewalks in a series of stories.

Let’s begin with some questions. What do you want to know about how the city handles sidewalks? Where do they need to be installed? What are some of the gnarliest? For that last one, be sure to include pictures.

You can email me at liam@vosd.org.

Update: By submitting your photo to us, you’re allowing VOSD to use this image in any or all of its publications.

Liam Dillon is a news reporter for Voice of San Diego. He covers how regular people interact with local government. What should he write about next?

Please contact him directly at liam.dillon@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.550.5663.

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Liam Dillon

Liam Dillon

Liam Dillon is senior reporter and assistant editor for Voice of San Diego. He leads VOSD’s investigations and writes about how regular people interact with local government. What should he write about next? Please contact him directly at liam.dillon@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.550.5663.

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21 comments
Donald Gillies
Donald Gillies

I broke my elbow riding my bicycle down a sidewalk in Sorrento Valley. 2 giant holes were open, and as I swerved my bike off the sidewalk, the 5" of thatch in the lawn kept the front wheel back on the sidewalk as my entire mass flew off the sidewalk, airborne, into the ground. I can tell you that if you the call the city with an injury and tell them you'll consider NOT suing if they fix it TOMORROW, they will indeed FIX IT TOMORROW. That seems to be the only circumstance under which they will fix a sidewalk.

Donald Gillies
Donald Gillies subscribermember

I broke my elbow riding my bicycle down a sidewalk in Sorrento Valley. 2 giant holes were open, and as I swerved my bike off the sidewalk, the 5" of thatch in the lawn kept the front wheel back on the sidewalk as my entire mass flew off the sidewalk, airborne, into the ground. I can tell you that if you the call the city with an injury and tell them you'll consider NOT suing if they fix it TOMORROW, they will indeed FIX IT TOMORROW. That seems to be the only circumstance under which they will fix a sidewalk.

R Mulligan
R Mulligan

I have recently started a business, here in San Diego, focused entirely around our sidewalk issues. Repairing, maintaining, and restoring sidewalks is what we do. Call us for a free residential or business inspection. "Because a sidewalk is a terrible thing to taste". 619.324.9348

Michael Freedman
Michael Freedman subscriber

The city will fix some sidewalks for "free" but only by dumping some asphalt over the trip hazard. I guess they figure that will cover all or part of their liability. If you want real sidealk repair (i.e., concrete) you'll have to go 50-50 with the city. But it's cheaper than hiring a private contractor because the city uses it's own crews and shares half the expense with the property owner. Shit, they can't even fix the streets, so don't expect much for sidewalks any time soon. Unless Bob Filner trips on a bad sidewalk on his way to another one of his "smile and show up" events.

Ysidro1
Ysidro1

The city will fix some sidewalks for "free" but only by dumping some asphalt over the trip hazard. I guess they figure that will cover all or part of their liability. If you want real sidealk repair (i.e., concrete) you'll have to go 50-50 with the city. But it's cheaper than hiring a private contractor because the city uses it's own crews and shares half the expense with the property owner. Shit, they can't even fix the streets, so don't expect much for sidewalks any time soon. Unless Bob Filner trips on a bad sidewalk on his way to another one of his "smile and show up" events.

Joe LaCava
Joe LaCava subscribermember

We must change sidewalk construction/repair to a public obligation. Yes it would be quite the hit to the city's infrastructure deficit but we would be acknowledging the importance of durable hazard-free sidewalks to the livability of our cities. Change state law. Change city law. It's part of the "common good;" let's start acting that way.

jlacava
jlacava

We must change sidewalk construction/repair to a public obligation. Yes it would be quite the hit to the city's infrastructure deficit but we would be acknowledging the importance of durable hazard-free sidewalks to the livability of our cities. Change state law. Change city law. It's part of the "common good;" let's start acting that way.

Erik Hanson
Erik Hanson subscriber

Tigershark: the yellow dots are for the benefit if the blind and low-sighted people. It was found that the plain rams were a benefit for the wheelchair users (and stroller pushers), but were worse for those with vision issues, so installing them was halted. Blind folks were walking right into the street if the transition was too smooth. So the dots are to alert cane users and the yellow color was to notify those not blind but with less than 100% sight.

hardcover
hardcover

Tigershark: the yellow dots are for the benefit if the blind and low-sighted people. It was found that the plain rams were a benefit for the wheelchair users (and stroller pushers), but were worse for those with vision issues, so installing them was halted. Blind folks were walking right into the street if the transition was too smooth. So the dots are to alert cane users and the yellow color was to notify those not blind but with less than 100% sight.

Rick Smith
Rick Smith subscriber

Seth: Here is something for you, related to sidewalks. In Carmel Mountain Ranch, the City is currently taking out perfectly good sidewalk ramps, and rebuilding them with the yellow dots on them that the new code requires. Why? The fact that the streets are so bumpy that they are near impossible for a person in a wheelchair to cross should be a high priority, perhaps?

Tigershark
Tigershark

Seth: Here is something for you, related to sidewalks. In Carmel Mountain Ranch, the City is currently taking out perfectly good sidewalk ramps, and rebuilding them with the yellow dots on them that the new code requires. Why? The fact that the streets are so bumpy that they are near impossible for a person in a wheelchair to cross should be a high priority, perhaps?

David Cohen
David Cohen subscriber

In Hillcrest and Bankers Hill it is not uncommon for new highrises to come "equipped with" new sidewalks and even (occasionally) new curbs. Atlas, Mi Arbolito, and (not yet finished) Park at Sixth come readily to mind. I don't know whether construction destroyed the original sidewalks, the permitting process required new ones, or developers decided they enhanced the value of the properties. I also don't know how they were paid for.

fryefan
fryefan

In Hillcrest and Bankers Hill it is not uncommon for new highrises to come "equipped with" new sidewalks and even (occasionally) new curbs. Atlas, Mi Arbolito, and (not yet finished) Park at Sixth come readily to mind. I don't know whether construction destroyed the original sidewalks, the permitting process required new ones, or developers decided they enhanced the value of the properties. I also don't know how they were paid for.

Seth Hall
Seth Hall memberauthor

Does this 50/50 split explain the complete absence of sidewalks on streets that have no homes or businesses on either side of the street? See Washington St between India St and Ibis St as an example, which gets plenty of (dangerous) foot and bike traffic using the shoulder of the road.

SethHall
SethHall

Does this 50/50 split explain the complete absence of sidewalks on streets that have no homes or businesses on either side of the street? See Washington St between India St and Ibis St as an example, which gets plenty of (dangerous) foot and bike traffic using the shoulder of the road.

Erik Hanson
Erik Hanson subscriber

When the City does do sidewalk repairs, they are usually tacked on as an appendix to a nearby sewer project or undergrounding contract. So the contractors feel that it is an unimportant addition that the got stuck with and don't understand the significance of. With this you will never have a specialist's skill and attention to detail, and things like color matching and following the rules for historic concrete will rarely get followed in the best way possible. I think it some sort of financial trick that is getting in the way of beauty and the best results.

hardcover
hardcover

When the City does do sidewalk repairs, they are usually tacked on as an appendix to a nearby sewer project or undergrounding contract. So the contractors feel that it is an unimportant addition that the got stuck with and don't understand the significance of. With this you will never have a specialist's skill and attention to detail, and things like color matching and following the rules for historic concrete will rarely get followed in the best way possible. I think it some sort of financial trick that is getting in the way of beauty and the best results.

Walter Chambers
Walter Chambers subscribermember

That is why San Diego needs a Complete Street Policy. There are no "sexy streets" if pedestrians and bicyclists are terrified to use them, and/or if the street is so wide, so ugly, so unforgiving that commerce and people cannot flourish on it.

WaltSDCA
WaltSDCA

That is why San Diego needs a Complete Street Policy. There are no "sexy streets" if pedestrians and bicyclists are terrified to use them, and/or if the street is so wide, so ugly, so unforgiving that commerce and people cannot flourish on it.