New sidewalks are appearing in south KC

By Jill Draper

If you’ve been walking lately near the Red Bridge Shopping Center or parts of Holmes Road or along 75th Street or 107th and Blue Ridge, maybe you’ve seen sections of new sidewalks or places where curbs at intersections have been replaced with red, sloping bump strips. These improvements are just the beginning of a major sidewalk program being funded by the multi-million dollar GO (general obligation) bond passed by Kansas City voters in 2017. 

History

Sidewalks have always been a dilemma. The earliest ones were made of wood, but the planks were easily stolen for fuel, and sometimes built so steep that they collected inches of mud after a rainfall. According to the Midtown KC Post, citizens also complained that sidewalks were impassable in snow and ice, and often covered with weeds and tobacco spit.

Because of the filth, women were forced to hem their street dresses short enough to expose their ankles, “a deplorable necessity,” they complained in letters to the Kansas City Star. 

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Sidewalks were originally made of wood such as this one  on 12th Street between Euclid and Garfield. From Kansas City Public Library/ Missouri Valley Special Collections

In the 1890s the city decided that property owners should be liable for building and maintaining sidewalks, and by the end of that decade officials had banned the use of wood. But troubles persisted up to recent times, and an on-again, off-again committee met for years at City Hall to grapple with what to do about aging sidewalks that posed tripping hazards and lacked compliance for disability standards. 

Part of the problem was that many pedestrians were reluctant to complain about broken or buckled pavement knowing their neighbors might be sacked with a substantial bill. And when complaints were made, some homeowners did not have the money for the job.

Call-In Repairs

The GO bond changed all that. KCMO forgave all outstanding assessments and will no longer assess homeowners for sidewalk repairs. Instead the bond allocated $150 million for sidewalk improvements over the next 20 years or about $7.5 million annually. 

Here’s the progress so far: The city is concentrating first on making repairs based on a backlog of complaints compiled from 311 requests during 2008-2016. Contractors have been hired to fix bad spots, install new sections and add ADA-compliant curb strips. 

The bulk of old complaints is centered around downtown and midtown, with fewer in south KC. In City Council Districts 5 and 6 some 68 blocks have been repaired, according to Uday Manepalli, sidewalk program manager in the Public Works Department. This work is ongoing and should be completed in 2023. 

He says the department also has fixed 241 barrier curbs throughout the city. As part of a 2012 settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice, they eventually must fix every barrier curb—all 2,500 of them.

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Photo courtesy City of Kansas  City MO. 

Future projects

The next round of sidewalk repairs will be based on inspections, not 311 calls. Three consulting firms are helping city staff look at KCMO’s 3,000 miles of sidewalks. During the last fiscal year they inspected 750 miles, admittedly “just a chunk,” says Maggie Green, public information officer for Public Works.

In the past the city did not keep good records of sidewalk conditions, she says, noting, “This bond program is helping us get a more robust inventory—an asset management system.” She says the goal is to get all sidewalks inspected on a 10-year cycle and merge this information with other data, such as statistics on traffic accidents and rates of pedestrian use along a corridor.

Priority for new projects will be based on a system which assigns points for proximity to schools, hospitals, median household income, transit stops and grocery stores.

Last year the City Auditor’s Office reviewed the GO Sidewalk Repair Program and concluded that using a standardized checklist would help prevent mistakes being made by contractors, who sometimes had to tear out work and reinstall it. Green says the department agreed and subsequently developed a checklist.

To view a map showing the progress on sidewalk repairs, see kcmo.gov/city-hall/departments/public-works/sidewalks.