Where sidewalk ends, city’s responsibility begins

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By Meaghan Downs

Look closely at where the sidewalk ends.
If you’re like me, you usually don’t think about the short drop where the concrete curb’s lip meets the street.
For Anderson County residents like Lovada Melser, sometimes you’re forced to think of nothing else.
Melser, who lives in one of the Breckenridge Estates apartments off of US 62, describes herself as an independent woman.
It bothers her to have to ask people for help, she said.
Occasionally, she and another Breckenridge residents who travel onto Broadway via wheelchair will cross US 127 together in pairs, for safety purposes.
But if one of the wheels on her motorized wheelchair gets stuck on the curb and she’s alone, Melser’s got a hard decision to make — rolling down the hill or going into the street.
“I try to take all the side roads I can, but it’s not easy,” Melser said, adding that many of Lawrenceburg’s streets could use an update for accessibility, including North Main and Saffell streets.
I’d have to agree, although I understand what an undertaking it would be.  
Updating all of the city’s problematic sidewalks to make them more accessible for our handicapped and disabled residents would not be a cheap project.
That doesn’t mean it can’t be a priority for city projects in the future.
It definitely hasn’t been cheap for the state transportation department, which recently began work on two Lawrenceburg routes to be completed by Aug. 1.
Both sections of Main and Broadway will cost more than $680,000 for sidewalk repairs, including $38,281 for handicap accessible sidewalk ramps and detectable warnings for the visually impaired.
With an $8,800 decrease in funding for the city’s street department for the upcoming fiscal year, however, don’t expect an entire overhaul of the city’s sidewalks anytime soon.
Apparently the city has tried to receive funding for accessibility updates, according to public works director Larry Hazlett, applying for a grant (later denied) that would renovate the sidewalks near the Anderson County High School.
In my opinion, trying for accessibility just isn’t good enough.
Any building that has been constructed, renovated or altered since 1992 needs to be compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Many of our buildings, including city hall and the Anderson County courthouse, are accessible according to ADA regulations, but many of our streets are not.
According to Mayor Edwinna Baker, the city homeowner is responsible for maintaining sidewalks in front of property not owned by the city.
That may be true, but there are other avenues the city could pursue.
According to a city ordinance passed in 1989: “It shall be the duty of each owner of property in the city, within fifteen (15) days after the receipt of the notice provided for in Section 91.61 to repair, at his own expense, all holes, uneven surfaces, and other defects in the sidewalk on which his property abuts, as specified in the notice.”
But the state of the city sidewalks is not the same as citing someone for overgrown grass in the front yard.
It’s dangerous.
If the city is unable to fix the problem directly, at least make more of an effort to use the channels the city has established.
I don’t think that’s an unreasonable request.
According to the same section of the city ordinance, if the owner fails to comply, “the city may effect or cause to be effected the repair of such defect in the sidewalk, and the same shall be done at the expense of the owner of the property.”
Furthermore, subjecting physically disabled citizens to a literal maze of cracked sidewalks and dangerous drops into the street is not only unfair, it’s degrading.
Melser said one well-meaning bingo player this past winter called the city police to see if they would block traffic so that Melser could travel safely home.
According to Melser, the officer told her it’d be better if she stayed home and did not go to bingo.
“Well, no, I’m sorry,” Melser said. “You need to make the sidewalks better.
“We have as much right to ride around as anyone does.”
By all appearances, it’s unclear if the city agrees.

Want to weigh in on the accessibility of Lawrenceburg? Contact staff writer Meaghan Downs at mdowns@theandersonnews.com.