Side Streets: Hope for an end to sidewalk rescues

By Bill Vogrin Updated: December 6, 2013 at 8:55 am • Published: December 6, 2013 | 12:00 am 0

For years, Duncan MacDonald tried to patch the public sidewalk in front of his little bungalow.

But his patches failed and the concrete cracked and heaved and flaked away, creating a trap for anyone in a wheelchair in front of his home near Fillmore Street and Templeton Gap Road.

"My sidewalk is a mess," MacDonald said. "Twice I've rescued people in a wheelchair who got stuck out there.

"And there's another fellow who rides in the street in his wheelchair to avoid our sidewalk."

MacDonald hoped the city would fix the problem after voters passed the 1-cent sales tax in 2004 to fund the Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority.

To help sell the tax to voters, the city agreed to take responsibility for maintaining sidewalks, curbs and gutters using tax proceeds.

And, in fact, the city has repaired and replaced an amazing number of sidewalks, curbs and gutters using PPRTA funds.

The street division reports that since 2006, it has fixed 109.6 miles of curb and gutter, 3,811 pedestrian ramps, 13,621 "trip hazards" where sidewalks have heaved creating dangerous conditions, and a whopping 54.1 miles of sidewalk.

After the tax passed, MacDonald dutifully reported his sidewalk to the city and waited for crews to show.

He's still waiting even though he has called back several times seeking help.

Mike Chaves, a senior civil engineer for the city, said MacDonald hasn't been forgotten. His sidewalk was evaluated in 2005 and 2007 and remains on the waiting list.

"We're slowly getting to everyone," Chaves said.

Unfortunately, that waiting list is long with lots of folks such as MacDonald. While dozens of miles of sidewalk have been fixed, there are 2,362 miles of curb and gutter and sidewalk in the city. And many of them are cracked and heaving and flaking.

MacDonald has patiently waited for his name to reach the top of the list. But he's getting concerned the next person in a wheelchair who gets stuck in the sidewalk may be himself.

"I'm disabled now," said MacDonald, an 86-year-old retired builder and inspector.

He explained that he suffers from a degenerative lung disease that requires constant oxygen, and he needs a walker to get around.

"I'm going to need a wheelchair, but I won't be able to get out of my house in it," he said, shaking his head. "I need to replace the sidewalk to my front door, too. But they can't do it until the city fixes the public sidewalk out front.

"I couldn't get off my own property in a wheelchair."

When I told Chaves that MacDonald may be trapped in his home by the sidewalk, the engineer said he may be able to bump him to the top of the list.

"Handicapped accessibility is one of the criteria we look at," Chaves said. "It's a priority."

A couple of days later, Chaves called me back with good news.

"I think we can get something going for him after the first of the year," Chaves said. "We looked at the extenuating circumstances - the fact he's disabled and can't use a wheelchair on the sidewalk.

"We're going to go fix that sidewalk for him."

Of course, the work is weather-dependent. And it will have to be scheduled with a city contractor.

But Chaves said MacDonald will not be waiting years for help.

"We'll be there in the near future," he said. "We'll make an effort to get in there as quickly as possible."

Hopefully, MacDonald has made his last wheelchair rescue in front of his home.

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Read my blog updates at blogs.gazette.com/sidestreets.

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