City Maps Out Sidewalk Plan

The city has figured out whether you have a “poor” or “excellent” sidewalk—and whether a crew will come fix it soon.

Those decisions grow out of a just-completed survey of all 370 miles of New Haven sidewalks. The city graded every sidewalk as “excellent,” “good,” “fair,” or “poor.”

And it came up with this neat-o, color-coded map. Click here to check out the map at a size big enough to view details. (If you scroll on this city web page and click on “December 2012 Sidewalk Condition spreadsheet,” you can see a street-by-street listing.)

Based on that survey, the city has readied a list of 20,581 linear feet of sidewalks it plans to repair this coming spring at a total cost of around $1.5 million. The list includes portions of the sidewalk along Dixwell Avenue, Quinnipiac Avenue, Congress Avenue, Orange Street, Elm Street, Fair Street, Olive Street, Winthrop Avenue, Ella Grasso Boulevard, Winchester Avenue. Click here to see a spreadsheet detailing all the spots. (The list includes a few sidewalk repairs that are contingent on money expected to come from various outside sources.)

In deciding which sidewalks to fix first, the city relied on a new approach for this spring’s list. Rather than City Hall deciding on its own, a new four-member committee consisting of two aldermen and two administration officials made the call. (Click here to read how that came about.) They made the decision based both on condition of sidewalks and the needs of the surrounding area. The same group (official title: Resource Allocation Committee) also makes the call on which city streets to pave, which trees to trim, and where to carry out the traffic-calming “Complete Streets” plan.

Paul Bass PhotoTake Clay Street, instance. The chopped-up, cracked, uneven hazardous sidewalk near the corner of Poplar abuts a group of new homes built by Mutual Housing. The neighborhood’s alderwoman felt fixing that sidewalk should take precedence as part of an overall effort to improve the block.

Click on the play arrow on the video at the top of this story to join Rob Smuts, the point person for all things sidewalk as the city’s chief administrative officer, as he examines that Fair Haven sidewalk and then checks out a successful repair job nearby on Saltonstall Avenue.

The city had last surveyed all its sidewalks in 1999. The new survey took a month to complete. It was prepared for the city by VHB Engineering for $33,000. And it contained good news: The percentage of sidewalks rated “excellent” or “good” rose from 40.4 to 62.7.

The city has begun gradually improving that percentage since it began focusing on improving sidewalks again in the 1990s. Smuts said the city has been spending up to $4 million a year on sidewalks. That figures appears far smaller as a line item in the city’s capital projects budget. But outside money for all sorts of projects, such as downtown development or state road redos, often pays for new sidewalks as part of the deal.

The progress comes gradually. It would take $200 million to replace all sidewalks in town at once, Smuts said.

In addition to replacing sidewalks like the ones on Clay Street, the city does quick asphalt patch jobs to fix smaller sidewalk problems in the short run. A fully replaced sidewalks usually takes a good 50 years to wear out, or more like 30 in heavily trafficked areas like downtown, according to Smuts.

As he traversed the still-smooth concrete on Saltonstall, Smuts (pictured) was asked to channel New Haven’s late “sidewalk Mayor” Frank Rice and give the pitch for why sidewalks matter.

“You’re not worrying about tripping and falling on a good sidewalk ... There are no cracks in it. It’s flat. It’s smooth. It’s even. If you take a look up the street here you can see that there’s not really waves. Just a straight nice sidewalk”

Good sidewalks, he said, make “a city more walkable. I think that’s important. Visually what it does for the neighborhood and for property values, people’s feeling about whether the neighborhood is well-cared for ...

“We have a lot of people walk in this city. Having a place to walk is important.”

Past Episodes of “Rob Smuts Explains”:

• Rob Smuts Explains The Thermostat
Rob Smuts Explains Potholes, Part II
Rob Smuts Explains Haste On Trash Plan
Rob Smuts Explains The Pothole Menace
Rob Smuts Explains Cop Overtime
Rob Smuts Explains Your Garbage
Rob Smuts Explains The Search
Rob Smuts Explains The Fire Department

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posted by: anonymous on November 28, 2012  3:54pm

I agree with Rob that having a place to walk is important. We should also thank him for doing many extra hours of very hard work on this project. The problem in walking, however, is where the sidewalk ends and where the crosswalk begins.

There are many places in New Haven where the sidewalk is perfectly fine but the intersection is completely impossible for a pedestrian to cross, due to high speed, turning traffic. There are areas, like Valley Street, where seniors can not take the bus because they can not cross the street to get to their stop.  On Route 34/MLK, the City’s latest plan to rebuild (and widen) the street has pedestrians crossing five lanes, sixty feet of high speed traffic at Church Street.

These are the things that limit walkability in a significant way, not just sidewalks.

Unfortunately, nothing is being done about this issue, even though it would be much cheaper to fix than sidewalks. 

The city has brought in many high priced consultants—but apparently has little to no vision on how to address this issue.

Pouring money into sidewalks while not making the city more walkable, and more vibrant, is a recipe for a bankrupt city.

posted by: streever on November 28, 2012  5:37pm

Anonymous is right:
this is a catalog of problems, but absolutely no vision whatsoever toward a sustainable and long-term plan to make New Haven walk-able.

I’m glad the city has *finally* gotten this far. This type of data-driven decision making is about 20 years behind the curve of smart cities. Now we just need to get with the program and start having an ACTUAL vision of where we want to end up, instead of a task list of issues to resolve.

posted by: Pat from Westville on November 28, 2012  8:23pm

I don’t think of myself as particularly computer challenged, but I cannot find the “December 2012 Sidewalk Condition Spreadsheet” on the enlarged map. Nor is there any guide to the color coding. I assume that red might mean poor, but even that’s a guess. My block on Fountain Street between Harrison & Emerson is in red, and the sidewalk in front of my building is execrable!!! I would like to find the spreadsheet, please advise.

posted by: HhE on November 28, 2012  9:35pm

$200,000,000 divided by 50 years is $4,000,000—so far so good, but high traffic pavements have a 30 year life cycle, so we are behind the curve. 

anonymous and streever are right.  Now what.

posted by: tina tucci on November 28, 2012  9:56pm

This is just wonderful.  Several years ago when I requested sidewalk repairs from the city of New Haven I was told it was my own responsibility to keep my sidewalks in good condition.  So I had the crumbling concrete replaced at considerable personal expense only now to discover that I should have waited for the city to change its tune!

posted by: Anderson Scooper on November 29, 2012  2:11am

My god. If we want a walkable City let’s forget bad sidewalks and somehow make it safe to walk the mile to downtown from Westville or Beaver Hills.

Walkability isn’t cracked sidewalks. It’s more about Kensington Square and all the corner drug dealers.

posted by: anonymous on November 29, 2012  10:15am

Anderson, you are correct. 

But one of the best ways to make a neighborhood safer is to make it more pleasant to walk, bike, or take buses in, because there is a safety in numbers effect. 

I would also like attention paid to lighting and environmental design along the city’s key walking corridors, like Chapel Street and Grand Avenue.

Unfortunately, by widening streets like Whalley and MLK, and not doing much of anything significant to modify the disastrous road designs of the 1950s even when streets like Dixwell and Grand are rebuild this year, City Hall is going backwards - making the city even less walkable, which increases crime as a result. 

DeStefano had a golden opportunity to make the city more walkable over the past 20 years, and other than a few patches near Yale, he has miserably failed.

posted by: HewNaven on November 29, 2012  11:40am

Anderson Scooper is right. We should round up all the scary people on corners in between Westville/Beaver Hills and Downtown. At least then I could walk around without having to feel guilty about the glaring income inequality in my community. And, I don’t understand why those corner people don’t just go out and get a good job and buy a house like I did. It’s not like the game is rigged against them.

posted by: Sven Martson on November 29, 2012  12:06pm

Both Scooper and Anonymous make very good points.  Let’s replace both the bad sidewalks AND the Kensington Square housing project.  We have endured the obvious problems at Kensington for some 20 odd years.  For goodness sake get rid of it!

The beautiful antique red brick cobblestone sidewalk in front of my property on Edgewood Avenue is marked yellow on the above map.  I hope this does not mean that it’s scheduled to be replaced with dull gray concrete.  There are only a few of these original walks left in New Haven.

posted by: RHeerema on November 29, 2012  5:39pm

This is great transparency!  Thanks.  There’s a deep pothole in front of my home & several more minor cracks & places which are not level.  I wasn’t sure if this was a known issue or how to get this in the pipeline or if I was responsible!  Happy to have my concerns confirmed as my stretch is yellow on the map, or poor condition.  Just yesterday morning, I saw a Mom with baby in stroller struggle to get the wheel out.  Lots of walkers in my area.  Looking forward to great sidewalks at some point!

posted by: anonymous on November 29, 2012  6:12pm

RHeerema: Unattached to a timetable, these maps are a way of pretending that something may happen. In other words, you may be waiting for that sidewalk to be fixed for several decades.

If we want to have the resources to be able to ensure that every resident has access to a great sidewalk, we need to have much better economic development strategies than we currently have.

We should also be spending less money on road expansion and much more money on sidewalks, which incidentally create significantly more jobs per dollar spent than road construction does. That’s something to ask Rosa DeLauro about the next time you see her. She has helped secure billions for completely unnecessary new roads like the Route 34 flyover and Branford Amtrak bridge, but pittances for new sidewalks.