Sidewalks had a good day on Monday.

For the first time, San Diego will evaluate its 5,000 miles of sidewalks after City Council members voted to include a $1 million assessment in next year’s budget. The evaluation will uniformly identify broken and missing sidewalks, rank the blocks needing the most help and put a price tag on fixing them and building new ones.

And it gets better. The council also committed to changing the city’s illogical policies that make homeowners responsible for repairing broken sidewalks but the city legally liable for trip-and-fall lawsuits.

“Ultimately we want to revamp the policy in such a fashion that it works,” said Councilman Mark Kersey, who heads the city’s infrastructure committee.

Kersey said he expects the city’s transportation department to bring his committee a formal plan for the assessment in the fall. At the same time, the committee will begin revamping sidewalk polices.

These efforts should lead to what everyone wants: A plan to fix the city’s decaying sidewalks so they don’t look like this one in City Heights anymore.

Photo courtesy of The Stumblr
Photo courtesy of The Stumblr

Getting money for the sidewalk evaluation wasn’t a slam dunk. Mayor Bob Filner, who supported the concept of the evaluation, didn’t include it in his initial or revised budgets. His staffers had concerns about a spate of new trip-and-fall lawsuits should the city identify bad sidewalks but not fix them. Councilwoman Sherri Lightner recently said she opposed the evaluation because she feared the city would use it as an excuse to send unsuspecting residents a bill to fix the sidewalk outside their house.

But at Monday’s meeting, Lightner made the motion to include the evaluation, along with boosting library hours and other changes, in the budget. She said she wanted to support the majority of her colleagues who had asked for it.

Numerous neighborhood interest groups and disabled advocates had pushed for the study as well. I’ve beat the drum for changes to sidewalk policies since January, including through our Stumblr broken sidewalks photo blog. At the council hearing, Kersey said the sidewalk evaluation “captured the attention of the public.”

The legal concerns are real, he said, but the city has to deal with its sidewalks.

“We can’t just bury our heads in the sand and hope that it goes away,” Kersey said.

A couple notes about our continuing sidewalk coverage. With the sidewalk assessment funded, we’re going to scale back our publishing on The Stumblr. So far, we’ve been posting new photos every work day and have almost 130 of them. We’re going to keep the blog rolling, but now we’re only going to put up photos as they come in.

And make sure to put those photos to good use. We’re sponsoring an art contest inspired by The Stumblr for the best art project using Stumblr photos or actual sidewalks. The contest deadline is July 8 and we’ll be unveiling the winner at an event soon after.

Make sure to send in your ideas!

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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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