Follow-up: Houston makes progress on fast-tracked sidewalk repairs

Sidewalk improvements
(Jennifer Draper/Community Impact Newspaper)

(Jennifer Draper/Community Impact Newspaper)

Image description
(Jennifer Draper/Community Impact Newspaper)
A 2-mile journey from Jay Malone’s home in Montrose to his office in the Heights takes him 45 minutes.

“I’ve actually walked it before, and it’s an hour to walk versus 45 minutes to take two buses,” he said.

Malone, who relies on public transportation because his epilepsy prevents him from driving, said his difficulty traversing the city inspired him to start Walkable Houston, an advocacy group that promotes accessible transportation and sidewalk infrastructure in the city.

In recent months, it appears that the city is making strides toward these goals.

In April, after a fatal pedestrian accident in the Heights involving a person in wheelchair, Mayor Sylvester Turner promised the city would “fast-track” over 40 sidewalk repair requests initiated by residents with disabilities or by residents advocating on behalf of residents with disabilities.


Since then, the city has spent $2.4 million completing 28 out of the 40 projects and has spent $100,000 improving the intersection where the accident occurred, Houston Public Works confirmed.

Long-term progress, however, will require more systemic change, Malone said.

An ordinance with ‘no teeth’


Houston’s municipal code states that sidewalk maintenance is considered the responsibility of private property owners.

If a sidewalk falls into disrepair and the property owner does not fix it, residents can file a request with the city through 311. However, there are no penalties specified by Houston’s municipal code to penalize property owners for unkempt sidewalks.

“There’s no teeth to the statute, so nothing will get done,” said Craig Stone, an Upper Kirby resident who put in a sidewalk repair request.

With a property owner’s permission, the city will agree to construct new sidewalks in certain high-need areas but typically will not assume responsibility for repairs, city officials said. In some cases, poor sidewalks can be filled with crushed rock as a temporary fix.

Stone said he filed a request with the city to repair a sidewalk along Greenbriar Drive, where his wife regularly walks with their baby stroller and has to direct her path into the street. After getting permission from the neighboring property owner, his request to Houston Public Works was initially denied, his correspondence with the city showed.

“Leaving sidewalk repairs up to the property owners makes Houston different than a lot of other major cities,” Malone said. “Austin, for example, has taken on the ultimate responsibility for the sidewalks.”

Taking responsibility of all sidewalk maintenance would have a dramatic effect of Houston’s budget, city officials confirmed.

For now, Stone and Malone both said the most meaningful progress in accessibility would come from amending the ordinance to include penalties for property owners with poorly kept sidewalks or to establish city ownership of sidewalks.

“When your main mode of getting around is walking, you feel like you might be the only one who is seeing this, especially in car-centric cities like Houston, but there’s a large percentage of Houstonians who do walk and see the problems and are frustrated.”
By Emma Whalen
Emma is Community Impact Newspaper's Houston City Hall reporter. Previously, she covered public health, education and features for several Austin-area publications. A Boston native, she is a former student athlete and alumna of The University of Texas at Austin.


MOST RECENT

Eleven days after officials across Harris County's criminal justice system met to discuss how to alleviate overcrowding at the county jail during the coronavirus pandemic, progress has been "excruciatingly slow," according to the Harris County Sheriff's Office. (Courtesy Brian Jackson/Adobe Stock)
Progress 'excruciatingly slow' on effort to address overcrowding at Harris County Jail

"I know it is keeping many of us awake at night, and it should. It absolutely should," said U.S. District Judge Lee Rosenthal, who is presiding over an ongoing lawsuit dealing with the county's felony bail practices.

Texas Medical Center offers coronavirus updates

More than 118,000 people have received their first shot.

Harris County Flood Control District is planning to submit preliminary flood plain maps to the Federal Emergency Management Agency in late 2021. (Kelly Schafler/Community Impact Newspaper)
Harris County's preliminary flood plain maps to be released in late 2021

The new flood insurance rates in Harris County could take effect in 2023 or 2024.

vaccine drive-thru
Houston opens first drive-thru vaccination site

The site aims to distribute 1,000 doses per day for the first week and can scale up if more doses become available.

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo announced the opening of a COVID-19 vaccine waitlist at a Jan. 25 press conference. (Screenshot courtesy Facebook)
Harris County to open waitlist for COVID-19 vaccines Jan. 26

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo warned that vaccine supply remains "extremely limited," and it will still take time for those waitlisted to get an appointment.

A monthslong process to reach an understanding between regional leaders and the Texas Department of Transportation about objectives of the I-45 project stalled Jan. 22. (Nathan Colbert/Community Impact Newspaper)
H-GAC group stalls I-45 resolution after TxDOT objects to agreement

TxDOT officials told members of the Houston-Galveston Area Council’s Transportation Policy Council that the agency’s lawyers advised them not to sign off on the new resolution.

“Hope is on the horizon,” Fort Bend County Judge KP George said at a press conference Jan. 4. “The vaccine is here.”
Vaccine distribution starts in Fort Bend County and more top Houston-area news

Read the most popular news from the past week from the Houston area.

Novel at River Oaks
Inner Loop apartment rents tumbled by as much as 16% in 2020

"I would hope that these operators in those areas—at some point, you can’t lower rents anymore. They just have to wait for people to show up," ApartmentData's Bruce McClenny said.

The first-ever Houston Reads Day will take place March 2. (Courtesy Pexels)
Volunteers needed for inaugural literacy-focused Houston Reads Day

Volunteers will read to 10,000 kindergarten through third-grade students.

Van Leeuwen Ice Cream
Van Leeuwen Ice Cream is coming to Montrose Collective

"What attracted us to Houston was the incredible cultural and culinary diversity and the feeling of progress, growth in modernity the city radiates. The average daily temperature didn’t hurt either,” co-founder Ben Van Leeuwen said.

One local health system leader said he expects everyone, including those under age 65, will have access to the vaccine within the next 90 days. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
Houston-area health system leaders talk progress, hurdles during COVID-19

Officials from CHI St. Luke’s Health and UTMB Health said community members must remain vigilant as case counts climb but that they expect the current surge to peak by early February.