Since Mayor Robert Blythe’s administration began in the winter of 2018, he one of his biggest goals was to increase walkability in the city.
On Tuesday, he and the Richmond Commissioners discussed a five-year plan with a dual purpose to repair existing sidewalks, as well as install new sidewalks in areas without them.
Tyler Johnson, the city’s communication and community development coordinator, read aloud the plan which cited its purpose was to “improve the city’s liability exposure for sidewalks in disrepair and in order to get a cost-effective, multi-year plan in place” beginning in 2021 through 2025.
In order to do that, he explained, the city would first have to replace the existing sidewalk ordinances with updated language.
The current ordinance was written in 1991 and has the homeowner responsible for the sidewalk’s structure.
The new ordinance would make the sidewalk a responsibility of the city, which currently maintains the liability.
The plan also would divide the city into six sections for inspection and use criteria for record keeping by color coding the sidewalks.
Red means immediate repair, orange means it needs improvement, green marks new sidewalks, and blue represents the need for sidewalks to be constructed.
This inventory would also list the street name the sidewalk is on, the length of the sidewalk, and the “percentage of life” left within the sidewalk structure.
“So if they say it has 50% left and it is an orange code, we know we can hold off a little bit because it has half of its life left before it may need to be repaired,” Johnson explained.
He added data would be collected for each year and funds earmarked to begin repairs where they could.
“Obviously, we know we aren’t going to hit every sidewalk in every area, every year, but it starts a plan to catch up on some of that repair work,” he said.
At the three-year mark, the plan would begin re-evaluation, so “the ball would always be rolling.”
After the presentation, Commissioner Mike Brewer said he like where the plan was headed, but questioned if there was a way to suggest streets for immediate installation of sidewalks such as on Barnes Mill and Irvine Roads.
“I want to repair what we have, but those areas that don't have sidewalks, I want them to know the opportunity is coming their way,” Brewer said.
Mayor Blythe agreed, and said he thought the plan was a great starting-off point, but wanted to do some additional thinking for improvements.
Commissioner Jason Morgan said the preferred methodology perhaps for implementation of new sidewalks, was to begin to get easement rights before securing areas for construction.
“We probably need to secure the easement rights right now to build sidewalks so that in year-three or year-four we can begin to install,” he said.
“Folks … all economists say we are headed into a depression, there are going to be less cars on the road and more people walking,” he said. “Sidewalks are an essential tool to get people from point-A to point-B, to go to medical appointments, to go to the pharmacy, to go to work. We have to have sidewalks that people can navigate — per wheelchair, per crutches, per able bodies — in our city.”
Morgan said he was happy with the plan, but the city needed to incorporate building new sidewalks as a priority with Barnes Mill and East Irvine as the two areas with the greatest need.
“Commissioner Morgan, I couldn’t agree more with you,” said City Manager Rob Minerich. “But to my knowledge, this is the first time in six or eight years that a proposal has been brought to the table to get this done and that is where we are headed. And it is going to take some time."
Minerich added one of the first steps he felt the city needed to do, was look at the city’s current sidewalk ordinance and adjust it from there.
“I couldn’t agree more with the easement process, but I think we need to line our ducks up and knock it down and I do think we need to be a city that is progressive with bike paths and sidewalks,” he stated.
Going forward, Minerich said he believed the next step was to sit down and tweak the ordinance, and present it to the commission for feedback.
“I think it is a good starting point,” Minerich said.
The Richmond City Commission is scheduled to meet Sept. 22 at 6 p.m. The meeting will be broadcast live on the city's Facebook page, and on live access channel 376.
Reach Taylor Six at 624-6623 or follow her on Twitter at @TalyorSixRR.