One big reason San Diego can’t solve its busted sidewalks problem: It doesn’t know how bad they are.

The city has never done a comprehensive review of its 5,000 miles of sidewalks. That might change soon.

City Councilman Mark Kersey, who heads the council’s infrastructure committee, is pushing for a formal evaluation of sidewalks next year.

“It’s something that is long overdue,” Kersey said.

The city plans to hire two engineers and more than a dozen engineering students from local universities to survey all the city’s sidewalks, from Carmel Valley to San Ysidro, and identify problems. The students also would note areas that need sidewalks.

The city estimates the sidewalk assessment would cost about $1 million, and Kersey’s colleagues talked favorably about funding the plan at a meeting last week. It’s unclear whether Mayor Bob Filner will put aside money for the assessment in the budget he releases next month.

“It’s a good idea,” said Filner, who campaigned on making the city more pedestrian-friendly. “If they have to change my budget, that’s going to mean they need to find $1 million. Or I’ll have to try to change mine to try to get it in.”

But the $1 million price tag isn’t sitting well with some local technology advocates who contend volunteers could lower the cost. Using the public to collect data could would grow support for the effort and allow engineers to focus on areas with the most need, said Jeffrey Johnson, who heads the local chapter of nonprofit Code for America, which advocates for more citizen-friendly technology in government.

“If they just say, ‘Oh we’re going to spend $1 million,’ you’re leaving the citizens out of the process,” Johnson said.

Kersey, who invited Johnson and other technologists to speak at last week’s infrastructure committee hearing, said he welcomed public involvement in sidewalk studies and other projects. The city’s approach to sidewalk assessment allows for comprehensive and complete citywide data with common standards, Kersey said.

The current cost compares favorably to a recent attempt in Los Angeles.

Last year, Los Angeles officials pitched an evaluation of its nearly 11,000 miles of sidewalks. But its $10 million price tag and three-year timeframe started a public revolt. The city shelved the idea.

Kersey is trying to avoid that here.

“Our hope was that we could put these together in a fiscally responsible way so that people wouldn’t get sticker shock and we could get the data that we need,” he said.

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 or 619.550.5663.

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Liam Dillon was formerly a senior reporter and assistant editor for Voice of San Diego. He led VOSD’s investigations and wrote about how regular people...

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