Jenkintown Borough

Statement before tonight’s Jenkintown Borough Council 

As the Lorax does for the trees, I come to speak for the sidewalks.

Understand that I have spent the last few months giving myself a crash course on civics as it applies to this borough and state. So I have asked a lot of questions. There are many things about Pennsylvania that distinguishes it — for better and for worse — but with regards to pedestrian infrastructure, I, like many of my contemporaries, believe that we are far behind the curve, especially with regards to the environment, property values, and the very concept of walkability. You might say that I have presented you with thousands of dollars of sidewalk consulting work free of charge. I believe that I have proven that any way you cut it, we are doing it wrong, and worse, we are doing it wrong because we have ALWAYS done it wrong. That’s no reason to continue doing it wrong. 

It seems that Pennsylvania’s sidewalk ordinances were drafted in the 19th century, a time when most people who owned urban property earned an income from it. After World War II, when mass home ownership became almost the norm, no one bothered to revisit this policy. The developers didn’t care if you wanted a sidewalk or not. The boroughs were fine with the policy because changing it meant work. And the residents sucked it up because its just how things are done. 

Any competent civil engineer or urban planner will tell you that our current policy is not cost effective — for anyone — except maybe the contractors who take advantage of the short deadlines and threats of legal action. 

Councilors have proudly claimed we haven’t raised taxes in a while, except that a $4000 sidewalk and curb rebuild sounds to me like a pretty serious tax hike, and sadly, one that I cannot deduct from my Federal income taxes. 

We need to stop doing this wrong. 

The right way is doing it with a comprehensive plan that addresses our concerns for affordability, quality, and fairness. We need a plan that recognizes our pedestrian infrastructure as a public resource and therefore a public responsibility. 

And if no other borough in this state is doing it, it is time for Jenkintown to lead the way. Imagine the positive publicity that will shine upon us for caring so much about its sidewalks and streetscapes, that it breaks ranks with anti-pedestrian Cheltenham and Abington. 

My wife and I are simply asking you to continue working on this issue. You will see that the numbers add up. The impact to our bottom line is minimal if there’s any at all. Under the focused management of the excellent people in our Borough government, this new approach all but guarantees better results. 

And best of all, the residents will no longer have to live in fear of waking up one day and finding a fresh crack or a white circle on their sidewalk. 

Instead they can take that money and buy a nice dinner at one the many fine restaurants in town or a tree-load of Christmas toys from Rhinocerous. 

Thank you for your time.