Council approves sidewalk bill with a few amendments
The DC Council passed on first reading the Priority Sidewalk Assurance Act to require installation of sidewalks on at least one side of any street being reconstructed.
The bill requires DDOT to provide notice to neighbors and the ANC, provide an opportunity for comment, and explain the construction schedule. Mendelson's amendment increases the notice period from 30 to 60 days, including 30 days for comment and 30 before.
In general, DDOT should develop a standardized process for comment on decisions, like sidewalks, bike lanes, tree prunings, intersection changes, and more. The absence of such a process is leaving a hole for the Council to legislate one, which isn't ideal but is appropriate in this case.
DDOT raised some concerns that at times, a construction project might suddenly find itself with some funds left over for a sidewalk, and they might have a short window to add one to a project that didn't need one (such as the second side of a street that already has a sidewalk on one side). On second reading, the Council might consider adding a provision waiving the notice requirement if the ANC has already passed a resolution asking for a sidewalk.
Many neighborhoods, especially in Wards 5, 7, and 8, lack sidewalks on many streets and are eager for them. Those ANCs could potentially move themselves up in the queue by preemptively requesting sidewalks if the process in those cases were shorter.
Still, sometimes when DDOT suddenly has funds and adds a piece to an existing project it creates chaos. Recently DDOT unexpectedly reconstructed the existing sidewalk on the 1600 block of Corcoran St, NW. Neighbors appreciated the repairs, but had wanted some tree boxes removed, wanted consideration of widening the narrow sidewalk, and knew DDOT was going to tear part of it up again for the 17th Street streetscape project, now under construction. Some process for public involvement, even a very brief one in that case, could have improved the situation.
Mendelson also clarified that ANC "great weight" applies to sidewalks (though that doesn't trump the law's requirement to actually install a sidewalk), recommends (but doesn't require) designing the sidewalk to preserve the health of existing trees, and gives DDOT an exemption if sidewalk construction requires damaging parkland or purchasing an easement.
Councilmember Muriel Bowser worried that this last amendment would push the sidewalk onto the side of the street with houses when one side has a park. As Marion Barry noted, however, residents on that block ought not to have to cross the street to walk down the street. Also, Twitter user srfrjulie also pointed out that a sidewalk adjacent to parkland, at least with current DC and NPS practice, is less likely to get shoveled.
Mary Cheh, the bill's author, added an amendment to recommend, but not require, "pervious surface" for new sidewalks, which would allow stormwater to seep through and reduce the amount running into streets and sewers.
Bowser ultimately voted against the bill saying that while she supports sidewalks, "the whole landscape of our city does not need to change." Of course, this would not change the "whole landscape," only a few streets, and often residents are not united about their opinion of sidewalks. But the sidewalk opponents in Ward 4 tend to be particularly wealthy and politically influential, as we saw when Mayor Fenty intervened against sidewalks in North Portal Estates.
- Bikeshare is a gateway to private biking, not competition
- Judge denies injunction against closing schools
- Long-term closures: A solution to single-tracking?
- Metro policy for refunds after delays falls short, riders say
- PG planners propose bold new smart growth future
- M Street cycle track keeps improving, draws church anger
- Prince George's County struggles to get trails right