Walking Away

We have made our case. Either the citizens of Jenkintown will accept and embrace the concept of public responsibility for public assets, or it will continue to allow the status quo to molder on and degrade our walkable environment.

The facts are these:

  1. The public financing of roads but not of sidewalks amounts to a subsidy for automobile usage. In an age of climate change and an obesity epidemic, it shows a misguided priority for machines over man.
  2. The borough claims facetiously that it cannot afford to take on this responsibility. Actually, it has the money, but it chooses to spend it elsewhere, and often on things where it should not. (For instance, we have more police cars per capita than New York City.)
  3. The borough does not choose to lead the way. It can if it wants, but an element on the Council sees no reason to change its ways or to even discuss it. Such attitudes speaks not only of ignorance, but it leads to dangerous long-term consequences for the viability of the community.
  4. The current sidewalk policy has resulted in an unsightly hodge-podge of substandard construction that will degrade far faster and cost more than a unified, single-payer approach. The process has proven arbitrary and subject to political manipulation. In other words, it helps to know someone.
  5. The current process currently does not accommodate hardship. You either pay up or you will go to court, face a fine, and ultimately find a lien slapped on your house. The borough shows no interest whatsoever in working with families that for reasons beyond their control cannot afford to maintain what is public space.

This situation will not change without public pressure. I have done my best to enlist the help of my neighbors, some of whom have urged me to draft a petition to get this changed. In fact, most of the people I’ve spoken with about this issue tend to agree with me, but what they will do to further this remains an open question.  I would happily help in this effort, but I cannot and should not do it by myself.

I stand ready to press on, but I will need your help. If you would like to meet to discuss what more we can do, let me know. Velvet Sky makes for a perfect meeting spot, and its one of those places that I’ll miss when my family and I can finally move away — which we will if this borough — and commonwealth — continues its oppressive policies against working class homeowners.

5 comments

  1. Are there any examples of where there is public financing of the maintenance of sidewalks rather than relying on property owners in our region?

    1. At least four of the six New England states publicly finance the entire right of way. If you believe Rick Bunker, no municipality in Pennsylvania does. I think New York is at least mostly like Pennsylvania. Unfortunately, there is no one place you can go and see who does and who doesn’t.

  2. Fischer V City of Philadelphia, 112 Pa. Super. 226,170 A.875 says that a “long line of cases in this State” in holding that a property owner was liable to third persons injured as a result of defects in the sidewalk abutting their property, and to the City for reimbursement if the City, as in this case, was found liable to the plaintiff who suffered a fall. The PA Supreme Court later stated that:
    Although the rule might be to the contrary in other jurisdictions, in Pennsylvania it is well settled that the owner or tenant in possession is primarily liable and responsible for keeping in repair the sidewalk in front of the proper owned or occupied by him…
    Ignatowicz v. Pittsburgh, 375 PA. 352, 100 A.2d 608, 609-10 also says that “Curb maintenance is also part of the owner’s sidewalk responsibility”.
    Further, PA has many cases where property owners were made to repair their sidewalks and curbs and if they failed to do so, the city would assess a fee and bill the home owner for repairs. If this was not paid, the city would place a lien on the property.
    Only the installation of ADA compliant ramps are treated differently but nothing in the Federal ADA or other law prohibits a city, county or borough from continuing to require the property owners to bear the primary responsibility for sidewalk and curb maintenance.

    Check out what Doylestown borough has to say about their sidewalks here:
    http://www.doylestownborough.net/resident-eservices/sidewalks

    1. We’re well aware of the law in this matter. This does not make it right. The land belongs to the municipality, and the law was drafted during a period when property owners typically made an income from their property. In the 19th century, if you owned property, you were either extremely well-to-do, a landlord, or a farmer. This is not the case today. If anything, property is at best a break-even “investment.” Sidewalks and curbs are part of the public realm, so it’s long overdue for the law to catch up to reality.

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