We missed a few examples on Greenwood that show Jenkintown needs a more pedestrian-first policy.
Anyone who thinks that this blog is devoted to the mere rantings of a disgruntled resident is wrong. This blog represents only the first step in getting this policy changed, because I believe that not only can we change it with minimal impact to our already-high property taxes, but that we must change it for the sake of our property values and for public safety.
We recognize that the current system is not only arbitrary, onerous, and inefficient, but that it produces unsatisfactory results. In light of that, plus the inevitable hardships current policy imposes upon people still struggling to recover from the worst recession in a generation, we believe that the Borough must find a better way.
As always, I welcome your comments and concerns. If you largely agree with what you read here, please forward to your Councilor with your comments.
Yesterday, I toured Greenwood Avenue, where a good part of the curbings appear to be made of granite, not slate. This interests me only because my hometown of Springfield, Massachusetts typically used granite curbs, which typically hold up better against the elements and snow plows. My mom’s neighborhood, built in 1971, and sees about the same amount of traffic as your average Jenkintown side street, has yet to repave the street or replace any of the curbs. No, she did not have sidewalks, but if she were still alive, she’s probably say “See? I told you so.” This, despite the fact that Springfield maintains its sidewalks. City ordinance only requires residents keep them clear.
The Verizon building near the train station does indeed cut a fine presence in our town, but it would appear that the Borough conveniently overlooked this patchwork. This meets code? [UPDATE: Soon after we published this photo, this section of sidewalk was fixed.]
At last night’s council meeting, we attended with the plan to ask a few questions and then to observe. However, another resident who spoke after us brought up many additional concerns, which also received plenty of sympathy but no relief. Seeing an ally, we followed him out the door after he aired his concerns to compare notes.
Last night, I had some specific questions:
1. When will the borough post all the agendas and meeting minutes missing since last April and February respectively?
Answer: They’re up! I checked the website around 4:00 P.M. yesterday and nothing had changed. Shortly after, I posted on Mayor Ed Foley’s Facebook page asking him why minutes and agendas where still missing. He did not know, but he’d check. Talk about our government in action!
2. With regards to the debt service line item in the posted budget summary, what is that $244,000 in debt (or 4% of the budget) servicing?
Answer: As I expected, mostly the new parking lot.
3. Why does the borough only post a summary of the budget on the website? Where is the document with the breakouts?
Answer: No real reason. Borough Manager George Locke assured the council that upon request, he will provide a PDF of the entire budget to anyone who asks. I followed up by asking why not just post the entire thing online? Unless the borough is penny pinching and can’t afford the extra (insignificant) bandwidth or server space, there’s no need to post a summary.
4. What can anyone who does not comply with this ordinance expect to happen?
Answer: This discussion prompted Council to jump ahead in their agenda to display a two-slide powerpoint show that outlines the process. In short, those not in compliance face a court date before the Honorable Judge Elizabeth McHugh, where she can levy fines up to $600. Mind you, the law also states that jail is also in the offing.
In an earlier email sent me, Councilor Rick Bunker told us that we could expect the borough to slap a lien on our property and the borough will do the work, except that this isn’t exactly true, either. As it happens, the borough has no budget for performing any of the work itself.
We are not civil engineers, but one would reasonably expect that with a project of this scope, statistics already exist that show a rate of non-compliance. This is what you budget for.
Finally, it’s hard to shake a sense that we’re living in a kind of Bizzaroland. Even in the face of many stories of hardship, mismanagement, and potentially brutal enforcement, the councilors who in theory represent our best interests as a community seem completely oblivious to the way they are dismantling it with this process. The councilors themselves used terms such as “onerous” and “hardship” in their discussions, but could only punctuate their remarks with shoulder shrugs.
I’m happy to say that we are finally hearing from a growing number of residents who have expressed utter disgust with how this program is being carried out. Please contact us here or via our Facebook page. We are planning to meet with other concerned residents to strategize for the September Council Meeting.
Let your voice be heard. The time is now.
I would hazard a guess that if you polled all twelve of Jenkintown’s volunteer councilors about finding a better way to pay for sidewalk and curb repair, to a person, they’d likely respond, “but how do we do this without raising taxes?” Indeed, Councilor Laurie Durkin said just that via email, following with, “Residents must pay one way or another.”
Maybe, but a one-time, four-figured, out-of-the-blue financial broadside hurts far more than a long-range, pedestrian-focused plan.
So when Ms. Durkin asks me, “Do you have another suggestion or source of funding?”
As a matter of fact, I do.
Over last week, I received a reply to my request for information from The Alliance for Biking and Walking. I was sent a link to a document that contains twenty-eight pages of information on the topic. In case no one at borough hall had a chance to look this over, I will present some of the more salients points here.
In the introduction, the authors acknowledge the problem of funding. Many towns struggle with this issue, but they seek sustainable solutions because:
The response we heard from communities who are overcoming this challenge was remarkably consistent across community size, context, and project type: We build and maintain our bicycling and walking facilities because they are a priority for our community. [Emphasis theirs.]
The portion on sidewalk maintenance begins on page 18. Among other reasons, sidewalks are great ideas because they:
…provide tremendous value to communities by making walking safer and easier. Even without sidewalks people will walk, leading the FHWA to recommend that “[g]iven that people walk despite not having facilities—for exercise, going to friends’ houses, accessing transit, etc.—it is neither rational nor acceptable to build places that do not have places for people to walk.” [emphasis mine] In addition, sidewalks, like trails, can be more than transportation facilities; they can be “a place to abide, to meet others, and to participate in neighborhood life.” The uniqueness of sidewalks as multi-functional facilities should be a great asset for their construction and maintenance.
…sidewalks often face challenges, particularly related to maintenance. Even where sidewalks are recognized for the integral role to access transit and other activities, the maintenance of sidewalks can be a complicated picture that, in the worst case, leads to disrepair of facilities and community and developer resistance to new sidewalks.
Suffice to say, the document shows the many ways to skin this cat, but the city of Long Beach, California — a state like Pennsylvania in terms of its sidewalk repair policy — fully funds sidewalk maintenance by budgeting a repair program according to a schedule. For its efforts, the city has been cited as “Silver Level Walk-Friendly Community“.
The City of Long Beach has good sidewalk design standards and 100 percent sidewalk coverage on arterial and non-arterial streets. Sidewalks are repaired on a regular maintenance schedule and the City has almost complete curb ramp access in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
On page 23, the document finally asks “How are cities funding sidewalk maintenance programs?” Of the sixteen suggestions, I would direct Ms. Durkin to these:
Community-wide Assessments: Ithaca, NY was identified for its yearly assessment of between $70 and $140 to be used for sidewalk repair and construction.
Coordination with other improvements: Ironwood, MO; and Davidson, NC were identified in the FHWA Research Report that accompanied the Guide as communities that were using coordination to facilitate and fund sidewalk improvements. In Ironwood, the city coordinated sidewalk replacement with water and sewer line replacement. In Davidson, the city has had success informally coordinating with developers.
Sidewalk millage tax: Ann Arbor, MI was identified as a community with a millage (property) tax that generated $560,000 or more per year for sidewalk repair and replacement. The tax was approved by over 60% of voters.
(Much of this information is sourced, believe it or not, from the Federal Highway Administration.)
Nobody wants to see their taxes go up, but we typically accept that the public at large pays for public goods. I would again further contend that because the borough does a poor job in explaining its actions or describing the inflows and outflows of our tax dollars at their brand new website, that perhaps we take a closer look at its fiscal behaviors. Maybe the borough is doing things it shouldn’t be doing. Given the shocking lack of detail in its latest budget posting, I think this is a fair concern. The borough does us a disservice, not a favor, by publishing a summary of a $6.7 million budget.
When you consider that no one reports on council hearings and that the borough hasn’t posted an agenda since April or meeting minutes since last February(!), then only a fool would not wonder how well the borough governs itself, never mind us.
In any case, the borough’s activities of late would indicate that no one, least of all our former-building-inspector-turned-borough-manager, has bothered to do even the slightest amount of research on the topic of sustainable pedestrian infrastructure. Time to crack the books, Mr. Locke.