How Do You Tackle $1 Billion in Sidewalk Repair?

by Anne Conlon, Senior Planner with Collin Chesston, Planner

The City of Memphis’ pedestrian network includes over 3,400 miles of existing sidewalks. That’s roughly equivalent to the distance between Seattle and Miami! As the City’s public infrastructure has aged, the growing need for repair and maintenance of this network has significantly outpaced the maintenance completed by property owners and the City of Memphis.

In 2012, the City estimated the total cost of sidewalk repairs to be over $1.1 billion, including $343 million in “urgent repairs.” This inventory also demonstrated that over 250 miles of roadways have incomplete sidewalks, and over 750 miles of roadways have no sidewalks. Meanwhile, capital funds for pedestrian infrastructure continue to be limited, where the average annual budget for sidewalk repair has only been $33,400 since 2004. How could the City begin to prioritize the use of this limited amount of funding? Considering the City’s extensive area and street network mileage relative to its population and tax base, the task was daunting.

(left) Crumbling sidewalks and car-dominated streets are among the challenges faced by people who walk in Memphis. (right) 40 mph speed limit. Should lower city limit to 30 or below.

The City of Memphis began to tackle these challenges in the spring of 2013 by hiring a team of consultants, led by Alta. The result serves as the city’s first official plan to proactively address pedestrian infrastructure needs that impact all aspects of pedestrian transit, but especially safe access to public schools. By focusing on schools, the City hopes to prioritize improvements that benefit students, children, and families when walking to and from school, as well as increase resident access to the parks, community centers, and libraries often located near schools. Given the limited available public resources, the City is choosing to prioritize short-term improvements that will provide the highest benefit for the most vulnerable users.

Together, Alta and the City fine-tuned an analytical framework to meet two main objectives:

1) Developing a transparent, data-driven prioritization methodology that identifies sidewalk and pedestrian crossing projects serving public schools, and

2) crafting an implementation strategy capable of delivering high-priority, short-term projects.

These are the questions we asked that we found to be the most helpful during the process:

  • Where and when are pedestrian crashes happening, who is involved in them, and why are they happening? What patterns do we see between crashes and infrastructure characteristics?
  • In what areas are people most likely to be walking in the City?
  • Where is the infrastructure not meeting the needs of pedestrians?
  • What paths are pedestrians most likely to use to access schools, parks, transit stops, and employment centers?
  • Where are improvements needed to serve persons with disabilities?

The resulting analysis led us to a 20-year project list targeting the greatest needs around the City. Check it out on the Bike/Ped Memphis Blog or download the plan here.