It's hard to argue with spending money on sidewalks. For one, as Fort Wayne City Councilman Russ Jehl suggests, the current state of sidewalks in the city's core says a great deal about inequity in the Summit City.
The second district councilman recently presented a special ordinance that would restart the 25-year period for local income tax non-reverting funds to be set aside for sidewalks, alleys and riverfront development.
As with most municipal finance, the finer points of the program are steeped in the language of accountants. But essentially the fund, without breaking the spirit of the original creation, would have a renewed focus on sidewalk repair.
A bill before City Council would allocate no less than a third of the fund to replace crumbling or troubled sidewalks at no cost to residents, with the priority going to “legacy neighborhoods” and “sidewalks with high amounts of foot traffic.” This excludes downtown or any active tax increment financing district.
Legacy neighborhoods, as defined in the proposal, comprise a large area with specific boundaries: Coliseum Boulevard/Indiana 930 to the north, 930/Wayne Trace to the east, Tillman Road to the south, and Winchester Road/Bluffton Road/Brooklyn Avenue and a western boundary created by Brooklyn Avenue and Taylor Street running north to Coliseum .
It's also hard to argue with the concerns by council members Michelle Chambers, D-at-large, and Sharon Tucker, D-6th. Both believe the language should be more specific: Repair ought to be free for people who cannot afford the current cost-sharing.
Finding ways to fix sidewalks makes sense aesthetically and financially. Yes, newer subdivisions in the north and west have better sidewalks due to age, as well as the use of cost-sharing options available to landowners.
Not only are the sidewalks level and walkable, but the upkeep also adds to the value of homes.
In the neighborhoods outlined in the proposal, the older infrastructure includes obstacles such as roots from mature trees upturning pavement. In some neighborhoods, the sidewalk is a series of concrete swells and ebbs. Such sidewalks might be great fun for imaginative children, but quite frustrating, if not scary, to older people and those with disabilities who are susceptible to injury.
Indeed, Jehl's plea comes from his own wish to live in the North Anthony neighborhood, but the infrastructure in his Pine Valley addition allows his daughter to “skate up and down the sidewalk.”
As Fort Wayne prepares for its future, particularly in reducing the gap between the southeast and other quadrants, repairing sidewalks may be considered mundane, possibly trivial, against other pressing matters, including public safety. However, it's a necessary action.
“Safe, accessible, well-maintained sidewalks are a fundamental community investment that enhances public health and maximizes social capital,” an AARP study on Walkability reported. “Sidewalks increase foot traffic in retail centers, delivering the customers (those) local shops and restaurants need in order to thrive.”
Interest in sidewalks is so important, AARP reports, that even a one-point increase in a community's Walk Score could increase home values by $700 to $3,000.
Walk Score, an online site, rates the three most walkable city ZIP codes as 46802, 46807 and 46805. Each has a score in the 50s, meaning some errands can be, or are, done on foot. The next highest ZIP code, 46825, scores a 24. Fort Wayne as a whole is rated a 32, which is car-dependent.
Given the importance of walkability, Jehl's proposal is a step in the right direction in building value in neighborhoods that have too long been neglected.