Walking in Memphis can be a treacherous — even dangerous — endeavor, and that's just not because of the heat or the crime. It's also because of the sidewalks.
Almost all of Memphis' 3,429 miles of sidewalks need repair, with a third of them requiring immediate repair. That's according to a report issued last week that lays out the biggest challenges for the city's sidewalk system.
The Memphis Pedestrian and School Safety Plan proposes spending $200 million over 20 years to fix city sidewalks and crosswalks. The plan prioritizes projects close to schools or in high-use areas; walkways that provide access to transit hubs, businesses, and attractions; and areas that have high rates of pedestrian crashes.
"At the end of the day, we're all pedestrians," said Memphis Mayor A C Wharton. "The moment we get out of our cars to go in a store, take a walk to the park with our families, or step out of the office to grab lunch at the restaurant next door, we each expose ourselves to an environment that should be welcoming and safe."
But many Memphis sidewalks are neither. "Crumbling or uprooted sidewalk panels" create tripping hazards and limit accessibility for people with disabilities, the study says. Utility poles and street signs block walkways and force pedestrians to walk in the roads. Too few crosswalks cause pedestrians to cross streets mid-block.
Between 2007 and 2011, 1,725 car crashes involved pedestrians. Of those, 75 were fatalities, the study says. The pedestrian crashes occurred mainly in downtown and Midtown and frequently involved youth aged 10 to 19.
Replacing all the city's sidewalks would cost $1.1 billion, the study says. Just making all those "immediate repairs" would cost $363 million. To properly maintain existing city sidewalks would cost $19 million every year indefinitely. But since 2004, the city has spent an average of $33,400 ever year on sidewalk maintenance.
"With a maintenance burden so vast, it has always been difficult to evaluate where the greatest needs for sidewalk repair or sidewalk improvements were at any given time," said city engineer John Cameron.
To pay for the program, the study suggests partnering with organizations like the Memphis Area Transit Authority, Memphis Light Gas & Water, and the Tennessee Department of Transportation to leverage grant funds.
The first phase of the proposed projects span the city in every Memphis City Council district and range in scope in size. One project would fix a Frayser sidewalk that stretches one-tenth of mile at cost of about $48,000. Another would build a new sidewalk in Whitehaven at a cost of about $1.3 million.