Atlanta’s elected officials express strong support for sidewalk maintenance. Yet they’ve done little to back their words with the funding needed to address the city’s enormous backlog of broken sidewalks.
It also estimated the cost of annual sidewalk and ramp deterioration at $15 million. Seven years have passed, so by now, the cost may exceed $300 million.
Repair projects may be even rarer than you think.
Documents provided recently by Public Works show that only 184 projects were completed during the past four years. That’s not all. Many projects that Public Works had itemized as sidewalk projects were actually investments in driveway aprons or granite curbs.
Project maps we created confirmed that sidewalk projects are concentrated in just a handful of zip codes. Not surprising, since Atlanta has a high poverty rate and all projects were initiated and paid for by abutting property owners.
Don’t let the shading confuse you. In zip codes with the palest shade of green, only one project was completed during 2014-2017. In zip codes with the slightly darker shade, two to six projects were completed during the four-year period. Put briefly: pathetic!
Renew Atlanta: One step forward; three steps back
In 2015 voters approved infrastructure bonds that enable Atlanta to invest $188 million to repair bridges, roads, traffic signals and sidewalks.
Through the end of 2014, the project list allocated $40 million to sidewalk repairs and $35 million to install or repair curb ramps. We applaud Atlanta officials and voters for recognizing the importance of routine infrastructure maintenance.
Since then, the City repeatedly stripped sidewalk funding from the program.
- In early 2015, the money for sidewalks vanished – and the money for curb ramps dropped to $5 million.
- In 2017, Public Works reneged on its promise to repair broken sidewalks on all streets that are resurfaced as part of the Renew Atlanta program.
- Meanwhile, city officials placed several Complete Streets projects on the back burner and diverted $2 million of Renew Atlanta funds to help pay for a glamorous, but ill-informed bridge over Northside Drive.
Transparency is not a strong suit, especially when it comes to money.
In 2015 the City Council approved 14-O-1361, which required the Department of Public Works to “update City Council on a quarterly basis as to all sidewalk repairs conducted by location, responsible party, and dollar amount of each repair.”
That never happened, so PEDS is working diligently to pull sidewalk spending out of the shadows.
What we’ve learned so far: Public Works uses money allocated from Atlanta’s General Fund to pay for some sidewalk projects. But so far, it hasn’t determined how much.
We’re working with newly-elected leaders at City Hall to identify policy changes and increase sidewalk funding. Several consider sidewalk maintenance a high priority, which makes us confident that our research, reports and advocacy will help make change happen.
We ‘ll keep you posted on our progress and let you know when your voice will make a difference.