Sidewalks are a public right-of-way

Forgive me for stating the obvious, but you wouldn’t know it from the way Jenkintown funds sidewalk repair.

I cannot be the only one in Jenkintown that thinks the way we (and many other towns in Pennsylvania) fund the repair of sidewalks and curbings borders on insanity. In our borough, homeowners are expected to bear full financial responsibility for the public right-of-way adjacent to their property right up to the edge of the asphalt. In some cases, rebuilding your stretch of sidewalk exceeds your entire yearly tax bill.

In our case, we face a $3800 bill for replacing 35 linear feet of curbing and four sidewalk blocks. I don’t know about you, but my wife and I simply cannot afford this. Even if we could, the idea that the borough shunts this financial burden upon homeowners flies in the face of reason and the concept of private property rights. I do not own that sidewalk.

We must now choose between our sidewalks and our mortgage. We just put a new roof on our house, painted it, and we face a heating system upgrade. Our current furnace dates back to the Nixon administration. We do not live lavishly, and our combined income would make nobody in this borough envious.

All that aside, I regard this mostly as a matter of principle. Taxpayer funds to pay to insure a clear and smooth path is cleared for automobiles. Why do not we give pedestrians similar priority?

I have recently drafted and sent a letter to borough manager George Locke. In it, I state:

Property owners such as us should not be faced with a law that forces them to assume full financial responsibility for a public good that:

A. they actually use less than many of their neighbors, and
B. for which they hold no deed.

This insidiously anti-pedestrian policy has resulted in a patchwork of walkways of varying styles, conditions, and qualities. The fact that taxes pay to keep the path clear and smooth for automobiles unambiguously declares the hegemony of the automobile in this borough and state. And worst of all, it creates a tragic disincentive to build more walkable communities.

Should the Borough claim budgetary constraints from assuming this burden, I would remind you of its decision to borrow more than $2 million for an eminent domain seizure to build a parking lot. I know a great deal of debate ensued over the merits of that action, but the fact is $2 million could rebuild the sidewalks and curbing for most of the borough. I am fully aware that part of that loan was offset by a $1 million grant from the state, but again I would emphasize the anti-pedestrian nature of that policy, not to mention its affront to property rights. Does not the state make funds available to improve the streetscapes of historic, walkable communities such as ours? If not, perhaps we should direct our efforts there. Subsidizing the construction of parking lots in this day and age is not only fiscally irresponsible, it is detrimental to the environment.

If you agree with me, I would love to hear from you. If you don’t, please explain why.

I came to Jenkintown in 2002 from a state where this issue would never come up, and where people generally accept that — because they are a public good — the municipality pays for the sidewalks. The thought that property owners would pay directly for their upkeep isn’t even on the radar. When I mention this issue to friends, they universally think it’s nuts.

I think the time has come to fight this. The insanity must stop.


  1. Somebody in the town is NOT doing their job. There MUST be monies available through federal or state programs that can help the town with this…and it should be someone’s job to ferret them out.

    If not, then the taxpayers must rise up and in union use the town system of government to deal with this.

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