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City Government, Tompkins County

Myrick Looks to Update Sidewalk Policy

By: Steven Brasley

Mayor Svante Myrick gave a touch of humor when he explained why one of his big plans in office this year is to reform the City’s sidewalk policy.

“I tried to think of the two least exciting words in the English language, ‘sidewalk’ and ‘policy’ and put them together and that’s how I came up with it,” he joked. As a pedestrian, someone who walks around the city, you end up noticing the sidewalks and I think all people who walk to work, people who walk quite a bit, will notice this.”

Kidding aside, Myrick says repairing City sidewalks is something he’s intended to work on since he campaigned for Mayor two years ago.

“That’s what you really need as a pedestrian is someone who’s running for office who knocked on thousands of doors of Ithacans,” Myrick says. “What you find out is there’s a problem with our policy that goes beyond the state of our sidewalks and that’s how we pay for the sidewalks. People are frustrated, very frustrated by the way sidewalk maintenance is handled in the city and the fact that sidewalks are responsibility of the owners.”

Under the sidewalk policy currently in place, property owners are responsible for the upkeep of sidewalks that run across their land. Myrick wants to change this policy to avoid what he says is the commonly exploited loophole.

“Property owners have a disincentive to replace their sidewalks,” he says. “The typical bill for this is about $5,000. That can stretch to two or three times that. Property owners aren’t motivated to replace their sidewalks, in fact they’re motivated to wait and wait and hope that the City doesn’t noticed their sidewalks are cracked and split.”

The Ithaca Board of Public Works has already implemented reforms to the sidewalk policy this year. Their new policy includes rising fines for property owners who fail to repair sidewalks after getting a warning from the City.

Mayor Myrick hopes to build on this policy by transferring responsibilities for sidewalk upkeep from property owners to the City, using a districting strategy similar to the one used by the Downtown Ithaca Alliance. He says this will lead to higher quality sidewalks at a lower cost to the City.

“What that would do is actually reduce the amount of bureaucracy and back and forth with our sidewalk inspections,” he says. “It would allow us to install sidewalk more cheaply because we could do it in bulk instead of individual property owners having to amass the workers and the cement that it takes. Third, we think it will lead to better quality and more consistent quality sidewalks throughout the City.”

Myrick and the Board of Public Works will work to rewrite the sidewalk policy this year with the goal of having a written draft by December. Myrick expects the sidewalk policy to be fully implemented by 2014.

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