Sidewalks for The People: The Benefits of a Municipal Sidewalk Maintenance Program


Municipal Sidewalks have been an idea many have had in the past; however, with a city teetering on the brink of financial collapse, taking over maintenance of sidewalks appeared to be one of those unachievable items on a Mayor’s wish list. However, most of the Common Council was in favor and after a few false starts the program received approval from Mayor Ben Walsh, who then issued a statement commending the Council’s actions. The proposal gained support, as many Syracuse homeowners and businesses recall having to pay thousands of dollars for sidewalk replacement. If the city performed the replacement the cost can be spread over a 10-year period.

Given the changes in our city, our previous form of sidewalk maintenance is no longer working. The result is a city with some sidewalks well maintained, while others are ground embedded crumbled remnants of sidewalks like Roman Colosseum pieces that at some point in time, fit together. These once formed our extensive walkways; time has taken its toll as some sidewalks lead to nowhere, disintegrate or abruptly end.

There are those who have long supported the idea of municipal maintenance of sidewalks, Frank Cetera was one of many neighborhood first activists that took matters of sidewalk safety from a talking point to neighborhood concern. Snow removal from major walked routes was the first achievement, as the city began a sidewalk snow removal plan. Unfortunately, snow removal was paused due to reduced spending during the pandemic.

Sidewalk, St. Marks Ave.

This time, there’s actually a plan and a budget which creates an affordable plan spreading the costs allowing the city to aggressively tackle one of our infrastructure nightmares, crumbling and/or nonexistent sidewalks.  With a 4 million dollar budget, fees will start  at $20 per year for residents and $60 for commercial properties in the city of Syracuse, after annual increases topping off at $100 per resident and $300 per commercial properties.

This is an aggressive move by a city which only a decade ago, was teetering on the brink of fiscal collapse. Additional property tax revenue is projected to move upward as high-end properties tax exemptions come to an end, adding these properties to the city’s tax rolls.

Statement by Syracuse Mayor Ben Walsh:

“Sidewalks are for the people, and they are every bit as important to our quality of life and economy as the roads they are next to. From children walking to school to seniors going shopping, the municipal sidewalk maintenance program will benefit all Syracuse residents,” said Mayor Walsh. “In just a few weeks, we will begin doing away with dangerous unwalkable sidewalks in Syracuse. The old complaint-driven system will be replaced by a data-driven, well-planned and executed approach. We will make this City safer and relieve property owners of the burden of high-cost sidewalk repairs. I commend the Syracuse Common Council on approving the program.”

Click here for a fact sheet on the Municipal Sidewalk Maintenance Program.

Municipal Sidewalk Maintenance Program Overview Facts 

Sidewalks are a public good. Whether we have one in front of our house or not, sidewalks make walking in the city safer and more enjoyable. Mayor Ben Walsh and the members of the Syracuse Common Council have identified implementation of a municipal sidewalk program as a top priority for the City of Syracuse.

Enhancing accessibility is a benefit to residents, property owners and businesses throughout the City and will help improve health and safety, the local economy, and quality of life. Under the proposed Municipal Sidewalk Maintenance Program, the City would take responsibility for sidewalks in the in the second half of 2021. In the first year of the program, there will be no cost to property owners. Fees will be introduced on a phased-in basis over the following five years.

Current Sidewalks

Policy Property owners are responsible for maintenance and replacement of sidewalks, including removal of snow and ice. Sidewalks are condemned if identified as unsafe; citations are primarily complaint-driven. Property owners are required to pay for the construction of new sidewalks and can choose a city financing program.

 Challenges

Poor sidewalk conditions reduce accessibility. The process is complaint-driven instead of being based on data and equitable sidewalk conditions. Condemning sidewalks creates unexpected significant repair costs to property owners.

Municipal Sidewalks

The City will assume responsibility for repair and replacement of existing sidewalks beginning in the second half of 2021. This includes repair and replacement of existing sidewalks. The program will also:

Include annual expansion of the existing sidewalk network by installing new sidewalks Make permanent and phase-in expansion of the Supplemental Sidewalk Snow Removal Pilot Program

The program will establish four districts within the City in line with the current Department of Public Works quadrant boundaries. The funding collected within each district will be used in that same district. A portion of funds from each district will be dedicated to newly-constructed sidewalks in that area. DPW will work with Syracuse Metropolitan Transportation Council (SMTC), the regional transportation planner, to prioritize: safety of pedestrians; access to schools, grocery stores and other neighborhood destinations; and coordination with other infrastructure projects.

Enhancing accessibility is a benefit to residents, property owners and businesses throughout the City.

Cost to Property Owners

In year one of the program, financing will be bonded for or, if applicable, funded through Federal Aid. The fee to be charged to city property owners will be implemented in year two of the program and shall be $20 for residential properties and $60 for commercial properties.

All properties will be subject to the fee, including those exempt from property taxes. There will be a fee exemption for property owners who completed permitted sidewalk work within ten years from permit issuance. The annual cost and fees for the program are estimated at $4.5 million. Each year thereafter the fees will increase by $20 and $60, respectively, until year six when the annual fees will reach the set annual rate of $100 for residential properties and $300 for commercial properties.