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Letter to the Editor: Sidewalks are always right, legally and civically

Posted: Sun, Jun 9, 2019 12:26 PM

(The following Letter to the Editor has been received by Decorah resident Aaron J. Detter, AICP):

"Sidewalks are a critical component of our local transportation system, and the system needs to work for people of all ages and abilities.

The City of Decorah is obligated, under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), to provide all services and programs without discrimination based on disability. Transportation infrastructure in the public right-of-way must include facilities that are safe and accessible for those who cannot drive. There are virtually no legally valid reasons not to provide sidewalks in a neighborhood, including topography, budgets, climate, and opposition from property-owners.

A safe, connected sidewalk network elevates our quality of life and brings immeasurable benefits to the entire community. Sidewalks are part of one infrastructure system that provides one service: mobility. Yet we treat sidewalks differently than the rest of that infrastructure. Why?

Our current system for providing and maintaining sidewalks is dysfunctional. Many areas of the city have dilapidated sidewalks, gaps, or no sidewalks at all. During winter, sections go unshoveled and become a mess of dangerous, impassable ice that can stick around for days or months. The functionality of the system breaks down when even the smallest sections are missing or neglected. In light of the ADA's three-decade-old promise of accessibility, the magnitude of these failures comes into sharp focus.

Our history of ignorance and inaction on this issue is not an excuse to continue down the same path. We have to turn the corner. The City's commitment to fill in sidewalk gaps is a necessary and admirable step in the right direction. I encourage the City to explore innovative and equitable ways to not only finance construction and maintenance of sidewalks, but to ensure their accessibility and operability year-round

Let's be the example for others to follow. Let's be the city that does this right."