Fort Lauderdale’s city manager has proposed shelling out $2.1 million in risk insurance funds to cover the cost of sidewalk repairs, following a new report indicating more than 100 miles of it in the city are unsafe.
That will only begin to cover the costs of fixing the walkways, though. The consultant’s study that opined a quarter of the city’s 425 miles of sidewalks are badly damaged (cracked, uneven or pocked), and the cost to fully repair those areas is going to be $16 million. But even paying that much won’t give the city the safe walkability label for which it’s striving. Even if the city doubled the number of sidewalks that currently exist, that wouldn’t be enough to place sidewalks on all the roads in the city that lack them. By some estimates, that cost could swell to $100 million.
But it’s a major concern when you consider two things:
- Florida has the highest rate of pedestrian accidents, fatalities and injuries in the nation.
- The city has spent $1.3 million in five years to settle trip-and-fall claims related to sidewalk falls, but it’s only spent about $750,000 in repairs during that time – with about $94,000 of that reimbursed by homeowners who live adjacent to those sidewalks.
Many people don’t realize that in many municipalities – Fort Lauderdale included – homeowners may be responsible for the sidewalks adjacent to their property. Failure to act – especially upon receiving notice from the city of a problem – could result in liens on their home and may open them to liability issues, should someone trip-and-fall.
But enforcement of this policy, which has been in place since the 1980s, has been extremely lax. The city spends about $250,000 annually settling trip-and-fall claims filed by pedestrians injured due to shoddy sidewalks.
The sidewalks slated for repair under the city manager’s recent direction, however, are located primarily in high-traffic areas that are the city’s responsibility. The walkways are located adjacent to property that is city-owned and in downtown thoroughfares, as well as in front of hospitals and schools and in areas where tree roots have severely damaged the walkways.
That last issue was a problem the city created. Years ago, in an effort to beautify the city, well-intentioned leaders hosted several “tree giveaways,” encouraging homeowners to plant the trees in the swales between their homes and the road. The idea was to provide more green and better shade to sidewalks and roadways. Unfortunately, the effort was short-sighted because the side effect was the roots of those trees decimated sidewalks in many areas.
The city is trying to rectify the problem by now offering smaller-growing trees that it encourages people to plant in narrower swales. But that still doesn’t fix the existing sidewalk problem.
Residents say the problem has gotten so bad, with so many slabs of sidewalk missing or broken, it’s difficult to navigate – especially at night. Those who are joggers or runners have to make sure to avoid the sidewalks after dark, some say, because the risk of falling is so high.
The $2.1 million would only repair about 14 percent of the affected sidewalks, but the idea is to do so in more highly-traversed areas, thereby significantly reducing the city’s potential liability to trip-and-fall lawsuits.
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Lauderdale Has 106 Miles of Bad Sidewalks, Oct. 9, 2015, By Larry Barszewski, Sun-Sentinel
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Baumann v. Zhukov – Fatal Truck Accident Liability Weighed, Oct. 12, 2015, Fort Lauderdale Sidewalk Injury Lawyer Blog