City Sidewalks, Killer Sidewalks

I don’t know whether to call this post a public service announcement, a plea for mercy, or a rant–maybe it’s all three.

One of my greatest joys is going for long walks. I enjoy the fresh air, my body benefits from the exercise, my computer-fatigued eyes appreciate looking at far-away things, and my mind welcomes the opportunity to roam a bit. In short, I thrive on walking outdoors.

I most enjoy walking around my neighborhood, partly to check out what’s going on with my neighbors, but also because I think a strong pedestrian presence is an asset to a neighborhood. It conveys a vibrancy and energy that speaks well of the community. And, I hope, boosts property values.

My neighborhood is a subdivision on the eastern edge of Memphis. It was built about 40 years ago and has solidly-constructed homes (mostly brick) and lots of tall trees and landscaped lawns. It’s a good neighborhood, and I’m fortunate to live here.

The only negative thing I can say about my neighborhood revolves around the sidewalks. Forty years is a long time to be a sidewalk, and many of them (including one square of my own) are starting to show their age. Sidewalks aren’t cheap to repair, so believe me, I understand why folks aren’t rushing to get them fixed.

Another problem is that some people don’t seem to comprehend that sidewalks are intended for pedestrian traffic and should be kept clear of…well, name something, and I’m sure I’ve seen it on a sidewalk around here. I don’t think these particular people understand that using a sidewalk as a storage facility is not only a safety issue but one of liability as well.

In anticipation of a presentation to my neighborhood association at some point, I’ve been researching the city’s sidewalk ordinances and collecting a few photos for evidence demonstration purposes. Here are a few examples, with excerpts from City of Memphis Sidewalk Ordinances

Sec. 34-117. Obstructions generally.
It shall be a misdemeanor to obstruct any sidewalk or walkway with boxes, barrels, or other things interfering with the free passageway of the public or which may render such sidewalk or walkway unsafe for public travel. (Ord. No. 894, § 1, 4-6-71; Code 1967, § 36-104)

sidewalk debris

This was actually a street just outside my subdivision. Apparently they were doing some remodeling and felt that piling all the lumber with nails sticking out every which way was perfectly acceptable.

Besides the obvious potential for contracting lockjaw from bumping into a protruding nail, the complete blockage of the sidewalks means kids on their bikes will likely veer into the street. Also, it looks awful.

Sec. 34-118. General duty of property owner to build, repair and clean.
(b) It shall be the duty of every owner of property, whether vacant or occupied…to keep clean and open for public passage all public sidewalks or walkways abutting on or adjacent to such property, and to keep such sidewalks or walkways in good repair and condition.

broken sidewalk collage

There are several dangers in these badly broken sidewalks: 1) certain walkers might slip on the loose rock, 2) someone in a wheelchair could get stuck, or 3) strollers or wagons with little people could tip over.

Sec. 34-120. To be kept free of mud, weeds, grass, etc.
Every owner, tenant, lessee or occupant of any building or lot, whether vacant or occupied, within the city, shall keep, or cause to be kept, the sidewalks or walkways adjacent to or abutting such property, free from mud, weeds, grass, noxious growth, obstructions, encumbrances, trash, debris and foreign substances of every kind.

messy sidewalks

Again, these are a slipping, tripping issue–especially those &$#* gumballs!

Sec. 34-127. Foliage and tree limbs projecting over sidewalks.
It shall be a misdemeanor to permit shrubbery, hedges, or foliage of any kind to project over sidewalks or walkways so as to interfere with the free use of such sidewalks or walkways by pedestrians. All trees upon or near sidewalks or walkways shall be so trimmed that the lower branches thereof are not less than eight (8) feet above the sidewalks.

four sidewalks with obstructions

Magnolias, fountain grasses, and other pretty landscaping don’t present a huge danger to me, but imagine if I was blind or had other significant vision issues. My friend Wally, for example, would run right into any of those obstacles. Also, I’ve actually seen some of our younger biking “newbies” drive into one of those bushes.

Sec. 34-122. Time and Method of sweeping.
Sidewalks adjacent to business premises shall not be swept or cleaned, except in cases of necessity, between the hours of 7:30 a.m. and 7:30 p.m. Sidewalks shall be carefully cleaned or swept so as not to unnecessarily raise or spread dust, dried sputum or other substances which may carry the germs of infectious or contagious diseases.

Okay, I don’t have a photo for this one. I just thought it was a strange ordinance and one I have violated many, many times. I think I’ll leave it out of the presentation. :)

Here’s a sidewalk violation for which I can’t find an ordinance:
sprinkler on sidewalk

Surely there’s some law that says sprinkling the sidewalk (and walkers) is prohibited.

While different cities or counties will have different ordinances, I’m sure most follow the same general principles. If you’re a homeowner, you might want to take a look at your sidewalks, both in terms of the regulations and through the lens of the people who are using them. On behalf of walkers everywhere, I thank you!

What are the sidewalks like in your neck of the universe?


21 thoughts on “City Sidewalks, Killer Sidewalks

  1. The condition of our sidewalks is very good, so are the bike paths. They usually repair it fast when something is the matter.

    Like you I walk a lot and I hate it that people use a part of the sidewalk as a parking spot because they don’t want to park their car on the street.

    I hate it that people on bikes use a sidewalk to bike on and even worse don’t have a light on so they almost hit me because they don’t look well.

    But my biggest annoyance is that close to home there is a sign on the sidewalk for the disabled and some moran always parks his car in front of it. So if I would be in a wheelchair I couldn’t continue. And why? Because the idiot is too lazy to walk a few steps more.

    • It’s bad enough when inconsiderate people block the way for those of us who are able to walk, but when they obstruct or endanger people in wheelchairs, it’s downright criminal!

  2. As a recent convert to city living, I now notice the sidewalks. In my city, it’s actually a high agenda item, so at least in my part of town, they are in good repair and are being amended to make them more accessible. Luckily, we have a mayor who believes in people-powered transportation, so sidewalks, bike lanes, are getting their day in the sun.

    All of that goes to pot on bulk trash pick up day – all manner of stuff gets displayed all over the sidewalks on the fourth Monday of the month!

    • Given my love of thrifting, I’d probably really enjoy the fourth Monday of the month–curb shopping! :)

      In Memphis, sidewalks are the responsibility of the property owner, although the city did cover putting in all the curb cuts for ADA compliance. (I also like to think of that as safe-cycling compliance, since I ride on the sidewalks on busier streets.

  3. WOW! Ours do not look like that BUT they are in need of repair! We have those planned communities with home owners associations so… but in general they are pretty decent..

  4. Well, no sidewalks here in the sticks. There are plenty of obstacles to watch out for, but that’s part of the charm of walking in the woods, I tell myself. There was the odd pumpkin on the side of the road last week. I guess someone lost it on the way to the dump??

    • Maybe the pumpkin escaped from some pumpkin-torture camp? Only they caught him and he met his end on a lonely wooded road. (Might want to double check your door locks, Debby. You might have pumpkin-torturers living nearby.)


  5. Before I moved to P’burgh, I lived in a borough of 6500 people. The city council voted to make everyone whose sidewalks were deemed in need of fixing to fix them within six weeks or face something like a $500 fine. Not only did most contractors increase their prices immediately, they were booked quickly and many of us had to wait months. The council, while well intentioned, didn’t think ahead. PLUS, the landlords who were friends with a few council members never did get around to fixing their sidewalks. Gotta love small town politics!

    • Argh! Bigger town politics work the same way. Thirty years after the city declared that property owners needed to install sidewalks, there are some streets on which one or two houses don’t have sidewalks. No matter how much you complain, nothing gets done about it.

  6. Our sidewalks are in good repair as we live in a 17 year old neighborhood. Our problem is that people don’t trim their trees and even though I am only 5’4″ I have to duck to get past some trees that hang over the sidewalks. We sometimes have to walk into the street to go around cars that have not been pulled up far enough in the driveways. We also dodge sprinklers!

    On the bike path there is this one guy who smokes a cigar while walking his dog and the smell is terrible! Of course I haven’t gotten to experience any of those things since I haven’t been able to walk my route since last June!

    On my treadmill all is well but I sure do miss the great outdoors and even if I have to dodge trees or try to avoid the cigar man in the end it’s all worth it!

    • I try to remind myself that I’m fortunate to be able to walk in a safe, friendly neighborhood, and that usually works as far as mood. But I do worry about my safety and that of some of the older folks I’m trying to encourage to get out and walk.

  7. Thanks so much for the christmas song in my head now….

    Our sidewalks were totally wretched. Then they completely redid the main road a couple years ago and all the sidewalks as well – so they are shiny and new. It is wonderful to walk on! Now if only people would shovel them, we would be all set. Around here, if you park across a sidewalk, you can get ticketed for it.

  8. This makes me so sad because much as I love my old neighborhood, we have NO sidewalks. NONE! We live on a main thoroughfare, so to even get to a sidestreet where walking is semi-safe, one either takes their life in their own hands by walking on the street and more often, walks through the neighbor’s yards. We’ve actually considered moving into an area that was more pedestrian friendly. My January in Flagler County, FL every year spoils me as sidewalks & bikepaths are EVERYWHERE and meticulously maintained.

  9. Your neighborhood (despite sidewalks that need a little love) is really beautiful Cammy. The sidewalks in my little neck of the woods are fine, but some of the roads themselves need some attention. We have cracks and potholes and I swear some cyclists are taking their lives in their hands when they ride over the holes at a good speed. Have a good day Cammy!

  10. Can’t wait to hear how your demonstration goes!! The sidewalks around my house are awful – mainly brick with lots of pieces missing or sticking up ready to trip people. Very dangerous.

  11. Our neighborhood has spotty sidewalks. There are several houses in a row with great sidewalks, and then all of a sudden none. And lots of people seem to think the sidewalk is an extension of their driveways—so they block the sidewalk with their cars. The biggest problem we have is tree roots. There are placed where the sidewalk had a good 6 inch difference between two squares.

  12. It’s been a very long time since I lived somewhere that even HAD sidewalks! I remember as a kid skating down the sidewalk in the tiny town where we lived. (When the skates were metal clip-ons!) 😀

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