It’s no secret that Los Angeles’s sidewalks are in poor shape. They’re so bad that, in 2015, in order to settle a lawsuit, Los Angeles agreed to spend $1.4 billion repairing thousands of miles of cracked and broken walkways over the next 30 years.
Now, new numbers underscore just how vast the problem is. The engineering bureau estimates that every month, it’s flooded with 700 requests from the public for sidewalk repairs. Right now, it’s juggling a total of approximately 17,000 requests.
The city is inundated—and it can’t keep up. In the last fiscal year, which ended in July, the bureau repaired 482 sites. In other words: The city receives more requests for sidewalk repairs in one month than the number of sites it was able to mend in 12 months.
“When we call the city to get help, they say they just aren’t able to,” says Brenda Wickliffe, a Broadway-Manchester resident in her 70s. “They tell us that they don’t have the funds to do the street. I understand that—but these are real hazards.”
Wickliffe says the sidewalks on her street are practically unusable.
“You can get around, but it can be very dangerous. On my street, you can’t walk from one end to the other. You end up having go out into the street to get around the bad pavement,” she says. “The lady across the street has a handicapped son, and has a really hard time with his wheelchair. It’s the same for people with walkers.”
For now, city engineers say they are focusing on requests that come directly from people who have “mobility disabilities.” In a City Council committee meeting in November, deputy city engineer and head of sidewalk programs Julie Sauter said: “Our current budget is not set up to work on any of the requests that are not a part of the mobility disabled requests.”
City officials know they’re moving too slowly. That’s why they’re coming up with a new plan designed to make repairs more quickly. Called the Sidewalk Repair Program, it will guide LA as it makes good on the legal settlement it agreed to in 2015.
The class action lawsuit was filed in 2010 on behalf of Angelenos with disabilities over the poor condition of sidewalks. Lawyers argued that the city’s inattention to maintenance violated federal and state disability access laws by “denying individuals with mobility disabilities access to sidewalks, intersections, crosswalks,” and other “pedestrian facilities.”
Known as the Willits settlement, Los Angeles agreed to spend $1.4 billion over 30 years on repairs. The sidewalk repair plan city leaders are working on now stems from the settlement.
As it stands now, the plan calls for a two-part scoring process to evaluate where repairs need to be made. A focus of the program would be around nearly 3,000 city facilities where sidewalks are less than ship-shape, as well as locations reported by the public. Locations that impede wheelchair accessibility would be the priority.
Advocates for making Los Angeles more pedestrian-friendly say the plan is a missed opportunity as the city attempts to undo a century of car-centric planning. They argue it could be expanded to include other crucial components of the pedestrian experience, like crosswalks, trees and shade, and street furniture and bus benches.
“There’s a focus on the specifics of the settlement,” says Emilia Crotty, executive director of Los Angeles Walks. “Complete streets means not just curb to curb, but from wall to wall.”
She and others say pedestrian infrastructure deserves as much attention as public transit and cars. The city and Metro have adopted long-range, in-depth vision plans for transportation in Southern California, namely the Mobility Plan 2035, which focuses on wheeled-transportation—not pedestrians.
“We want a larger vision. We want trees, bus benches with dignity, and concrete that you don’t need to leap over. There’s no guiding principle for these public rights-of-way. There’s no overarching vision for sidewalks in the city,” says Jessica Meaney, executive director of Investing in Place. “We have lots of conversations about autonomous vehicles and microtransit, but we aren’t even addressing the most basic infrastructure we have.”