Economic and social sustainability of sidewalk infrastructure

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Patel, Deep
Guensler, Randall L.
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The presence of sidewalks and quality of sidewalk infrastructure are important indicators of perceived pedestrian safety and the walkability of neighborhoods. However, a wide gap exists between the accessibility and quality of infrastructure provided for pedestrians compared to the infrastructure provided for motorized vehicles. While there may be numerous reasons for poor quality of pedestrian infrastructure across cities and neighborhoods, one of the main reasons is the lack of sustained operation and maintenance programs among these local government agencies. This study outlines an approach to quantify sidewalk infrastructure costs over an 80-year life cycle period. Equivalent annual costs for three different scenarios are allocated in part directly to property owners, with the remaining costs in each scenario recovered over time through an equivalent increase in property tax millage rates. The four sidewalk management scenarios are then examined in more detail to assess how implementation may differentially impact Atlanta’s 244 neighborhoods and their residents across income and ethnicity groups. The two somewhat surprising findings of the study are: 1) even though sidewalk infrastructure may have a lifespan of more than 40-years, the costs of owning and operating this infrastructure over an 80-year period with replacement are high; and 2) low income neighborhoods are negatively impacted when portions of sidewalk infrastructure management costs are allocated directly to property owners, rather than handling sustainable management through traditional property tax assessment methods.
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