Wheeling over sidewalk problems

Tuesday, June 24, 2008 | 6:51 p.m. CDT; updated 1:06 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008
Max Lewis rides down Broadway to cross at the intersection on Old Highway 63 on Thursday morning because the design of the nearby sidewalk cuts is too steep for Lewis to safely pass in his wheelchair. "I am forced out of necessity, not convenience," Lewis said about riding on the street.

COLUMBIA — The destination lies only 100 feet away, but the crumbling sidewalk leads to a curb too steep for a wheelchair to cross. Backtracking to the street is the only option, but that’s a dangerous move. And it often brings out the worst in motorists who sometimes have to stop in traffic and vent their frustrations by letting loose a string of profanities.

Columbia’s sidewalks pose major problems to citizens in wheelchairs, people such as Max Lewis, a quadriplegic family law attorney.

“It is a huge problem,” Lewis said. “The problem is universal in terms of Columbia, Missouri. The reason lies in the fact that there are scores of sidewalks that are broken or crumbled up to where it is impossible for a wheelchair to travel over that sidewalk.”

It’s a situation that hasn’t gone unnoticed. Two city commissions are lobbying the city to improve the city’s sidewalk conditions, not only to accommodate people with disabilities but also to promote walking in general. But there are challenges. Sidewalks are expensive to build and to repair. And many residents don’t realize that it’s their own responsibility — not the city’s — to keep their sidewalks up to snuff.

Lewis deals with sidewalk issues every day. There are many recurring problems, such as inclines in slabs that cause wheelchairs to tip over, curb cuts — the ramp-like areas of a sidewalk where the curb has been removed — that are too steep to get up and down and sidewalks that are too narrow to fit wheelchairs.

“These basic problems are the reasons there are so many wheelchairs using the streets,” Lewis said. “I consider myself a law-abiding citizen, but out of necessity I have to drive on the streets in order to survive, period.”

Evan Moser, a 21-year-old MU student and a member of MU’s wheelchair basketball team, said that after years of wear and tear, many of Columbia’s sidewalk slabs have shifted, causing ledges and cracks between slabs.

“For someone in a wheelchair, this can be difficult because the small front wheels on a wheelchair will get caught up and not roll smoothly over those ledges and cracks,” Moser said. “There have been numerous occasions where I have nearly fallen from my wheelchair or actually taken a spill because I was thrown off balance. The average pedestrian may be able to pick up their feet and avoid a small obstacle, but for someone in a wheelchair, their tires are always on the ground.”

Columbia’s Disabilities and Bicycle and Pedestrian Commission acknowledges the problems.

“The sidewalks are a problem; in some areas they are a severe problem. The city has been working to improve it, but there is still quite a bit of work to be done,” said Homer Page, chairman of the Disabilities Commission. “I think Columbia’s sidewalks are probably comparable or better than many cities in Missouri. However, I would also say that none of the cities are really adequate.”

Although Columbia did receive a $22 million federal grant for projects that promote non-motorized transportation, the city is running into problems using any of that for sidewalk repairs.

“We felt we could get into trouble spending federal money to fix sidewalks that are part of private housing,” said Ted Curtis, bike/ped project manager for the city. “If one person fixes their sidewalk with their own money, and then we come in and fix their neighbor’s sidewalk with our money, the person who fixed it with their own money may feel that that would be unfair.”

Still, the city is taking some steps. First, Curtis said the city has hired an engineer to work on adding sidewalk to areas where there are gaps. And the budget for fiscal 2008 shows the city spending about $200,000 in capital improvement sales tax money to improve downtown and Broadway sidewalks this year and about $703,000 worth of PedNet grant money to build new sidewalks.

Page noted that all new sidewalks have to conform to accessibility standards, so any new sidewalks should be easier for people in wheelchairs to use.

The Bicycle and Pedestrian Commission also proposed a series of recommendations to the city in April. These recommendations include public education, establishing priority sidewalks for the city to clear of hazards and obstacles and a plan of enforcement for the city to finalize.

“We are interested in working toward a more comprehensive sidewalk plan,” said David Heise, chairman of the Bicycle and Pedestrian Commission. “There is currently on the books a city ordinance that property owners maintain their sidewalks. Part of that is clearing any obstacles that inhibit passage. ... If we had some way of making citizens aware that this is something that needs to be done, many people will do it out of a sense of civic duty.”

The Bicycle and Pedestrian Commission suggests publicizing the ordinance through articles in the city source newsletter, establishing advertisements on the public access and city television channels, providing public service announcements and enforcing the ordinance through “complaint-driven enforcement combined with city initiated enforcement,” according to the April report.

Finally, the city’s 2007 sidewalk plan identifies the most important sidewalk locations in an attempt to “assist the city council in making capital budget decisions year to year, as well as inform the public of the city’s priorities in sidewalk construction.” But its projections are daunting. Completing all the priority 1 and priority 2 sidewalk projects it lists would cost $21.1 million.

But for Lewis, change can’t come soon enough. He suggested city officials might make sidewalks more of a priority if they had to experience them the way he does.

“I encourage any of our leading government officials or other citizens to utilize a wheelchair on these sidewalks for just half a day, and try to get over these barriers, just to get a glimpse or brief insight of the problems that face persons in wheelchairs,” he said.

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Charles Dudley Jr September 6, 2008 | 7:33 a.m.

And after all of this that was proposed our city's sidewalks are still in a sad and dilapidated condition. Wake up citizens of Columbia just what is being done to help our city problems such as this here?

(Report Comment)
Ray Shapiro September 6, 2008 | 11:45 a.m.

Side walks are not user friendly and we're busy taking care of seasonal bike riders and the occassional jogger. Even the local roads are in bad shape, yet we're afraid to spend money for improvements? What's the deal around the downtown area with those old, original, outdated brick roads which are no longer level and not user-friendly. There's always an appropriate time to update relics from the past!

(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr September 6, 2008 | 12:19 p.m.

Well ray shapiro you know how it is as we just had to have those bike trails and get people to waste their money on all of that ugly art work spread around town instead of donating to city infrastructure where it is actually needed but sidewalks are only used by everybody on bikes,wheel chairs and common pedestrians alike so does that put those people as well into a class of a "Select group of people"?

Did you see what I just did there?

(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr November 13, 2008 | 1:01 p.m.

I'm going to bump this article because this is an important issue to all disabled citizens in our community who use their wheel chairs and scooters to "GetAboutColumbia".

(Report Comment)
Ayn Rand November 13, 2008 | 1:09 p.m.

"And many residents don’t realize that it’s their own responsibility — not the city’s — to keep their sidewalks up to snuff."

Seems pretty straightforward: Identify the sidewalks that aren't up to snuff, notify the adjacent landowner and give them 60 days to fix it. If they don't, the city should repair it and add the cost to the landowner's taxes.

If the solution really is that straightforward, why isn't it being done?

(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr November 13, 2008 | 1:16 p.m.

>>> If the solution really is that straightforward, why isn't it being done? <<<

I do agree it can be that simple but it seems the city does not want to piss people off these days. Is that "Brown Nosing"? You decide.

Also I have emailed presentations to all City Council members on upgrading of the materials ordinance for sidewalks to include materials like they use on the "all weather running tracks" that are in most all educational institutions across our country as these materials are more weather resistant,longer lasting,more flexible to settling of the ground and so much more.

Go do a little research on those materials and you will see really nice and durable they are compared to concrete.

The main problem is bike trails are more important than city sidewalks or city streets.

(Report Comment)
Ayn Rand November 13, 2008 | 1:30 p.m.

If certain people in the city don't have the stones to do their jobs, then they need to find another line of work.

So here's a story for you, Missourian: Find a dozen or two bad sidewalks and then ask the city why it hasn't enforced this ordinance. Be sure to ask those landowners if the city ever contacted them. Of course, any ignorance of their responsibility doesn't excuse those landowners, but it would be interesting to know whether the city is even attempting enforcement.

While you're at it -- and Chuck, this where you come in -- find out if any municipalities have been sued under the ADA, etc, for not enforcing ordinances that directly affect the physically handicapped. In other words, could taxpayers wind up on the hook because certain landowners aren't doing their job?

(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr November 13, 2008 | 1:48 p.m.

All good questions I will admit/ It is though quite obvious that the City in general is quite complacent when it comes to alot of issues when it comes to City Infrastructure but we sure can be glad we have all of those fancy bike trails can't we.

(Report Comment)
Ayn Rand November 13, 2008 | 2:01 p.m.

For the most part, the sidewalks in this city are great. In fact, the intersection in this article has great sidewalks on either side for at least a mile.

(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr November 13, 2008 | 6:06 p.m.

Ayn Rand you are wrong and the Columbia Disability Advisory Commission as well will say you are wrong. This has been a very long running issue on their agendas. Maybe you should show up at their next meeting and tell them in person how good you think the sidewalks are. Obviously you do not use a power wheel chair to "GetAboutColumbia".

There is a commission person named Kathleen who will for sure tell you an ear full of just how wrong you are and how bad the sidewalks are. Many other commissioners will tell you the same as well who are wheel chair bound.

You can also contact Max Lewis or Bob Pund on this issue as well and ask them how bad the sidewalks are being both are front line disability advocates in this city.

Also some great news on the sidewalk issue is that new ordinances are in the process of being drafted for proposal to the City Council that will create "new sidewalk ordinances" that will require all property owners to fix and maintain the sidewalks in front of their properties and to bring them up to City Code or face potential fines for non compliance of ordinance.

This is being prepared rather thoroughly after alot of research of other city's sidewalk codes and ordinances and all that needs to be worked out is the legal lingo.

Look for this soon to be delivered to City Council for review and public hearing if the City Council agrees with all of the proposed ordinance as it will be presented.

All of this study and work on the proposal was funded by the "GetAboutColumbia" project.

This is probably going to be a great story the editors of this paper can run with in the near future.

(Report Comment)
Panama Red November 13, 2008 | 8:15 p.m.

I saw a man in a wheel chair who crashed out into Paris Road trying to negotiate the sidewalk. He fell right onto that newly painted bike lane ... he was okay ... this time ...

(Report Comment)
Ayn Rand November 13, 2008 | 10:14 p.m.

Chuck, most of the sidewalks along Broadway between Old 63 and 63 are only a few years old. They're in excellent shape (e.g., no heaves). The sidewalks going the other direction also are in excellent shape to College. In fact, I occasionally see people zipping up and down them in motorized chairs, so they can't be as bad as you make them out to be.

When was the last time you walked any of these?

(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr November 14, 2008 | 3:41 a.m.

Ayn Rand I'm talking city wide. Look at the bigger picture which obviously you are not,do not and do not navigate a powered wheel chair around.

There are areas around the hospitals that are deplorable in nature. There are areas going to major stores that are deplorable. There are areas around doctors offices and other community service outlets that are in deplorable condition. Even right down town is just deplorable.

(Report Comment)
Ayn Rand November 14, 2008 | 8:02 a.m.

As I said, Chuck, For the most part, the sidewalks in this city are great. I agree that there are sections that need work. But as I noted, the intersection in this article has great sidewalks on either side for at least a mile. It's mainly the immediate area around the intersection that needs some tweaks.

Now if you want a really bad sidewalk, check out Broadway west of Garth. There are stretches along there with heaves and other major problems.

(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr November 14, 2008 | 11:23 a.m.

Ayn Rand this is a city wide issue but it is quite obvious here you do not use a powered wheel chair or scooter to navigate around this city. Therefore you truly do not know how bad it is for those who are wheelchair or scooter bound.

(Report Comment)
Ayn Rand November 17, 2008 | 7:39 a.m.

How long have you been using a chair/scooter, Chuck?

(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr November 17, 2008 | 8:27 a.m.

Quite some time and I do get around to alot of this city in my weekly rounds so I see alot of sidewalks and as such they are not in very good shape. Also I know alot of disabled people in wheel chairs and scooters who feel the same way.

Obviously you do not Ayn Rand or you would truly know how bad the sidewalks are in this city.

(Report Comment)
Ayn Rand November 17, 2008 | 8:51 a.m.

Strange that I have never seen you in one, such as when you were picketing city hall a few months ago.

(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr November 17, 2008 | 10:52 a.m.

Ayn Rand because I do not need it 24/7 as alot do but I do use it for going places like to Walgreen's or to other places around downtown due to on long walks my back just cannot stand the strain anymore. There are alot of people who use their powered wheel chairs and scooters in the same ways trying to keep walking where they can but only use them when it is needed. You would know these things or you should being you claimed to be disabled here in the past.

Ayn Rand funny thing is you still refuse to use your real name for any creditability that might be able to be attached to you in real life if you actually have any real accountability and you have not presented here for all to read of "What is a true disability".

The fact is the sidewalks in the general part of this city are not disabled friendly by national standards and they need to be either replaced,upgraded,fixed and or improved upon and this would not only benefit the disabled but it would benefit every jogger as well as casual walkers through out this entire city.

Isn't that the heart and soul of "GetAboutColumbia" is and this project of making it pleasing for everybody to get around Columbia and not just bike rider but for all citizens to benefit.

(Report Comment)
Ayn Rand November 17, 2008 | 11:35 a.m.

Chuck, if the "the sidewalks in the general part of this city are not disabled friendly by national standards," why hasn't the disabled community sued the city and/or landowners by now to correct this situation? I suspect that it's because the sidewalks are in decent shape, for the most part, so it would be tough to argue otherwise in court.

(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr November 17, 2008 | 1:28 p.m.

Ayn Rand by your comments you are showing your total lack of an education in the aspects of being a disabled citizen as you have claimed to be.

If you were disabled as you say and involved in the disabled community here in Columbia or anywhere for that matter you would know these things take time and time is always something that in the case of this issue is ongoing.

Sure a group of citizens can go retain a lawyer and file a class action law suit and be tied up in courts for years with nothing being done but does that really make government work as it is supposed too? In most cases no it does not. It will do the exact opposite.

That is why you have City Commissions such as the Disability Advisory Commission made up of representatives from the disabled and non disabled community and you empower them to conduct studies,case reviews and more to get City Government moving in the right directions.

Now when you have the above in place that opens up "avenues or roadways" if you will for your advocates a place to work from as then you have a solid base to report into and to feed ideas into for inclusion.

Once you have the three latter groups working together then you see progress and also things begin to move. Although slowly they are moving forward where your City Government can enact new ordinances,revise old ordinances begin to look at it's infrastructure through another set of eyes or ideas if you will and can look at how to fix those problems whether it be through it's own funding or to go after Federal Grants if any are available.

This issue need not go to court by far but it does need to be worked on by our City Council being this city is advertised as being "Disabled Friendly" so that means to alot of people that this had better be shown to all disabled citizens who are looking to move here.

It is all about getting the City to move in the right directions so that all benefit out of this issue.

Who will benefit from fixing our sidewalks? The City for one on it's insurance policy it must carry by law which will help reduce that rate maybe. Joggers and walkers will benefit due to less trip hazards. The disabled in wheel chairs and scooters will benefit as they will not have to worry about crashing and burning as much. Kids walking to school benefit as there are less trip hazards. This entire city benefits as repairs and in nice condition sidewalks make this city look nice as well.

Everybody benefits from this issue not just a few but all benefit.

(Report Comment)
Ayn Rand November 17, 2008 | 2:33 p.m.

Simple question: If the sidewalks are really that bad, why hasn't the disabled community sued the city and/or landowners by now to correct this situation?

(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr November 17, 2008 | 3:05 p.m.

Ayn Rand read the above statement of how you let the city government work as it is supposed to not going around suing every person in this city.

This sidewalk issue has been being bounced around City Council for years. Where have you been?

As presented plainly above by my presentation. If you cannot understand how City Government is supposed to work I do not know what to tell you besides maybe go back to school and take some City Government Classes.

(Report Comment)
Ayn Rand November 17, 2008 | 4:28 p.m.

The council bounced it around rather than making it a priority because the council knows that most of the sidewalks are in good shape. THAT's how government works, Chuck: Governments prioritize things for certain reasons, such as to acknowledge a powerful constituency or to avoid a lawsuit. The council apparently sees neither here, or else it would have taken action by now.

(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr November 17, 2008 | 6:29 p.m.

Ayn Rand no they bounced it around due to lack of funding.

It has always been on the "side burner" but what do you do with "no funds available" go out and fix it with "silly puddy" or "bubble gum"?

They had very little funding to fix what they had already.

Now through this "GetAboutColumbia" grant they have some money that can be used as part of this grant on a "pilot project" and if the "pilot project" works out then they can possibly look into more funding in the future but they have to show the Feds where and how the last money was spent.

That is how Federal Grants work.

Also through this grant and the pilot program being studied they can look at changing or enacting new ordinances as well due to the Feds will want to see the City working on the issue themselves.

It does not just all happen over night by the "click of those pretty red shoes" but it does happen in a sequence of events as it has been happening for quite some time now.

(Report Comment)
Ayn Rand November 17, 2008 | 9:37 p.m.

But Chuck, as the article notes, it's the landowners', not the city's, responsibility to fix any sidewalks in disrepair or not up to code. So "no funds available" is not the issue here -- not in the past, and not now. The issue is that the city knows most sidewalks are in pretty good shape, so the city is not vulnerable to a lawsuit.

(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr November 18, 2008 | 4:28 a.m.

Ayn Rand the city did not have the funds to fix the sidewalks it does own itself. The present sidewalk ordinance is totally outdated just like the City Charter as well is outdated.

With this new "Sidewalk Survey" being conducted by "GetAboutColumbia" is the opportunity to enact new updated "Sidewalk Ordinances" to help bring all sidewalks in the city up to the new coming City Code if it is voted into the Charter.

It is not as you say the city thinks the present sidewalks are in good shape but it is about enacting ordinances that are fair to all parties involved. That takes time and alot of legal mumbo jumbo.

You really show how very little you know how city governments actually works as a whole by making your statements it is quite obvious you know nothing about.

Especially since you refuse to post with your real name. Your comments carry absolutely no weight with them.

Do you realize that if this new "Sidewalk Ordinance" is voted in as it will be presented that not only will every citizen of Columbia benefit but that it will keep present people in the construction field in jobs in the future as these sidewalks in our city are scheduled to for repairs or replacement as they are needed.

Oh I bet you did not think of that did you.

As I said it is a good thing this city needs and will benefit every citizen of this city.

(Report Comment)
Ayn Rand November 18, 2008 | 6:21 a.m.

Chuck, you keep posting over and over, "Your comments carry absolutely no weight with them." And yet you keep responding to them.

As the article notes -- twice! -- landowners, not the city, are legally responsible for maintaining sidewalks. Private landowners own the vast majority of properties with sidewalks. This issue is not about a lack of municipal funds. It's about a lack of enforcement. (What part of that don't you understand?) Perhaps the city has chosen not to enforce its ordinance because it believes that the vast majority of sidewalks are in good shape -- and they are. If they weren't, someone would have tried by now to sue the city to force it enforce an ordinance that's been in place for decades.

(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr November 18, 2008 | 7:11 a.m.

Ayn Rand you are still wrong and I will keep posting as such due to your obviously wanting to see this and other issues shoved more out of sight so others will not be aware of them.

That is your past mode of posting is to keep saying there are no problems when there obviously are problems. That is part of the plague of complacency and misinformation that impairs out country to the point of where it is now.

Yes the property owners own the sidewalks in front of their homes and this has been an ongoing issue with the City Council and the advocacy groups pushing to get the sidewalks fixed. As I openly presented though through the "GetAboutColumbia" program this new "Sidewalk Survey" will be looking to help fix all of these problems of the past.

It takes time.

Once again if the sidewalks are in such good shape how come the "City of Columbia Disability Advisory Commission" which works directly for the Mayor and the City Council in conjunction with the local "A.D.A. Representative" and other disability advocacy groups in this city are being listened to by the Mayor,City Council and the main spokes people of "GetAboutColumbia" in working on fixing this issue by enacting new ordinances to address this issue.

When citizens like you stop being the "Ministers of Misinformation" in this city and around this country then advocates like myself and others will have no more reasons to post except to give updates of good news of progress being made.

Until that time comes just get used to my pushing forward continually for that change that helps everybody.

(Report Comment)
Ayn Rand November 18, 2008 | 7:23 a.m.

Chuck, you would argue that a wall is black when you just painted it white yourself! You probably get mad at your socks when you wake up in the morning.

(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr November 18, 2008 | 8:24 a.m.

Ayn Rand not so but I do know "Ministers of Misinformation" when I smell them and the growing stench of your obvious total lack of an education on this issue reaks of it.

Have a nice day and get out of your own self and go out and help others who are obviously worse off than you are. I guarantee you that you will feel better.

(Report Comment)
Jake Sherlock November 18, 2008 | 8:57 a.m.

I think this point has been sufficiently argued, and since it's starting to devolve into personal affronts, I think it's time to let it go. Thanks.

(Report Comment)

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