6 things to know about LA’s plan to fix its awful sidewalks

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The Los Angeles City Council launched on Wednesday a long-awaited plan to address cracked, warped, and crumbling sidewalks citywide. Under the repair program, called “Safe Sidewalks LA,” the city will spend $1.4 billion repairing damaged sidewalks over the next three decades, then turn maintenance responsibilities over to property owners.

The plan is a bit complicated, but we’ve broken down some of the most important points about how the repairs will occur and who will pay for them. Here’s what you should know:

1. LA’s sidewalks are in really bad shape

No, it’s not your imagination. Sidewalks in Los Angeles are in poor condition indeed. According to the University of California’s Access Magazine, 4,600 of 10,750 total miles of sidewalks in Los Angeles need to be repaired.

Part of the reason the sidewalk conditions have gotten so bad is that the city took on responsibility for fixing them back in the 1970s, when federal dollars helped pay for the repairs. Since that cashflow dried up, the backlog of repairs has grown longer and longer.

2. Fixing them will take a long time

The $1.4 billion the city plans to spend will be spread out over 30 years, which actually represents a pretty significant increase over the current rate of repairs. Access notes that it would take nearly 70 years to fix all the sidewalks now in bad shape if the city conducted repairs at the same pace it did between 2000 and 2008.

3. The city is looking for help from property owners to speed up the process

If you own your home—or a commercial establishment—and don’t feel like waiting up to 30 years for the cracked concrete in front of your property to be patched up and properly leveled, you could simply fix the sidewalk yourself and take advantage of a limited time rebate the city is currently offering.

The rebate covers up to $2,000 of repairs to sidewalks in front of residential lots and $4,000 for commercial lots. As an added bonus, it comes with a limited “warranty,” under which the city will repair any additional damage that occurs within 20 years of the repairs for residential properties and within five years for commercial properties.

Rebates will be available for the first three years of the program. Property owners wanting to take advantage of the rebates will need to have a city official inspect the sidewalks beforehand to give an estimate of the total cost and the amount of money the city will pitch in. Work must be completed by a licensed contractor.

4. Fixing sidewalks can be insanely expensive

Turns out, there’s a reason the city plans to spend well over $1 billion on all those sidewalk repairs. According to a price calculator on the Safe Sidewalks LA website, repairs to a typical sidewalk run about $7 per square foot. If parts of a gutter need to be replaced, that will run you $70 per lineal foot. Other potential expenditures include tree removal, utility box replacement, and driveway repair.

All those costs add up. For instance, the city estimates that the strip of sidewalk shown below will cost a whopping $8,799 to repair (it would qualify for a full $4,000 rebate).

Sidewalk with tree forcing cracks in the pavementCity of Los Angeles

5. There’s a program to prioritize repairs for those who need them most

Part of Safe Sidewalks LA is the access request program, which Angelenos with mobility disabilities can use to request repairs of sidewalks and curbs that are in bad enough shape to present major accessibility problems.

6. The city still isn’t totally sure which sidewalks actually need repair

In 2015, a report from the City Administrative Officer suggested creating an inventory of all the sidewalks and curb ramps in the city to get a better sense of where to prioritize repairs. A spokesperson for Los Angeles City Councilman Paul Krekorian, who helped to initiate the sidewalk repair program, tells Curbed that option proved to be far too expensive.

Instead, the city will rely on a complaint-based system in which residents can report damaged sidewalks in their neighborhoods. Those reports can be made here.

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