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Posted on Fri, Mar 11, 2011 : 9:19 a.m.

Q&A with Sue McCormick: Responsibility for fixing sidewalks might shift to city

By Lucy Ann Lance

According to the City of Ann Arbor Transportation Planning, there are approximately 100 miles of sidewalks and shared-use paths throughout the city. Some 56 percent of the primary roads have sidewalks on both sides of the road. While the total number of sidewalks has not increased, sidewalks that are not in good condition are being replaced across the city.

Six years ago the city launched an aggressive campaign to get property owners to repair damaged sidewalks. City Code stipulates that it’s the responsibility of the property owner to maintain and repair the public sidewalks and walkways. This seemed to be a big surprise to many residents, perhaps because it previously had been enforced only if there was a complaint. In the summer of 2005, the Public Services Area initiated a citywide inspection program to identify and cite hazardous sidewalks, and force property owners to arrange and pay for the work.

That may be changing. During her budget presentation to Ann Arbor City Council, Public Service Administrator Sue McCormick recommended that the city now assume responsibility for any future repairs. She answered some of my questions about the program, in an email interview.

Lucy Ann: How was it decided to pull the Sidewalk Repair program back into the responsibility of the city?

Sue McCormick: Just a bit of clarification first. The administrative ‘program’ has been the city’s responsibility, while the responsibility for maintaining and replacing sidewalk slabs has been the responsibility of the individual property owners. What that means is that the city incurred expenses for mailings, public meetings, inspection and markings, inspection of forms, etc. to support the property owner’s efforts. What we are proposing is that much like the city resurfaces streets with the community’s support of the surfacing millage, the city could also assume the responsibility for replacing sidewalks. Staff is making the suggestion because we heard from many residents who would rather have the city do this for them, understanding that might be at some cost or assessment. We also had council members who similarly shared suggestions from their constituents and asked whether we could roll this into an existing millage. Lucy Ann: Any idea how many or what percentage of homeowners complied with getting their walks repaired? Sue McCormick: Outside of the student areas where there is a high percentage of rentals, the vast majority of property owners complied, though a few voluntarily deferred to the city, albeit at a higher cost that they may have incurred if they had arranged their own repair or replacement.

Lucy Ann: How did it become the direct responsibility of residents to take care of the repairs?

Sue McCormick: The ordinance requirements have been in place for many years. Like many of the ordinance requirements, the city was enforcing the standards (condition requirements) on a complaint driven basis, sort of like sidewalk snow and ice clearance. Early in this decade the deteriorating condition of the sidewalks was becoming more obvious and the city was seeing injury incidents increase as a result. The city began what was intended to be a 5-year program in 2005. The final effort for this program cycle will be completed this summer.

Lucy Ann: Where is the funding coming from to have the city take care of the repairs under this new proposal?

Sue McCormick: The approach staff has proposed to council is to include this as an eligible activity the city can perform at the time the street resurfacing millage is considered for renewal this November. Much community discussion will occur before then to determine how the millage language should be revised and whether the millage amount should be reconsidered as a result.

Lucy Ann: Does the city code have to be changed if the city is now going to be responsible rather than the homeowner or business?

Sue McCormick: Yes. Very preliminarily, the code is clear about the property owner’s responsibility. We would need at least a provision that allows the city to perform this work with voter authorization. We have not worked out the details of this with the City Attorney’s Office, so I have little more to offer. Lucy Ann: Do you know if City Council supports this idea? If so, when would it go into effect?

Sue McCormick: The net result of our budget proposal is that beyond the repairs I mentioned that we will complete this summer, there is no funding proposed to support a future program. I cannot presume council’s support. They could choose to accept the budget as is - which is with no program provision, wait to see what will come from the community dialogue this summer around the renewal of the street resurfacing millage and then determine how to proceed, or modify the budget to maintain administrative support and continue as we have. Their options are open.


On my radio show recently, Ann Arbor Mayor John Hieftje said, “We are going to seriously look at the city taking this on, and that would allow us to maintain Ann Arbor’s sidewalks in a more timely manner. If you keep up with the maintenance, you don’t come up with this big burden (for property owners) that we saw a few years ago.” Will council support this? “Don’t know. We’ll take a really close look at it.”

If this is tied to a street millage, whether it’s a renewal or increase, it’ll be interesting to see if Ann Arbor voters support it. The lingering sound of the jackhammer burrowing into blocks of concrete, and the painful memory of having to directly pay for it, may be all that’s needed for approval. It should be noted that if property owners haven't fixed walks that the city marked, they are still responsible to get the work done.

One positive outcome from all of this was that many of us met neighbors whom we didn’t know until they organized to get group pricing on sidewalk repairs. That gave new meaning to “block” party.

Lucy Ann Lance is co-owner of Lance & Erskine Communications, which produces “The Lucy Ann Lance Business Insider” (M-F, 8 a.m.-11 a.m.) and “The Lucy Ann Lance Show” (Saturdays, 9 a.m.-12 p.m.) on 1290 WLBY. The programs are live streamed at, and podcast on



Sun, Mar 13, 2011 : 1:49 a.m.

Just thinking about this sidewalk program makes my blood boil. There was no logic whatsoever to the sections that were marked and easily half of the ones I was forced to replace did not need replacing. Stability and shifting are the important factors -- not cracks. This program and the city's rental property inspection program are the worst managed affairs I have encountered. Don't hope our elected officials on the council will help. They seem to have more important things to do.


Sat, Mar 12, 2011 : 2:07 p.m.

Follow the money. The city takes the program in house and then has to use city (union) labor to do the work. Did a mob of property owners desend on City Hall asking for relief from a reletively modest repair cost. (I have lived in my house 27 years and spent $500 to fix my sidewalk. $18.50 per year) "Staff is making the suggestion because we heard from many residents who would rather have the city do this for them" How many residents asked the city to relieve them of this onerous burden? Snow removal from residential sidewalks is a public safety issue. Will the city take that over as well?


Sat, Mar 12, 2011 : 11 a.m.

What about first taking better care of the streets, which are already (theoretically) the city's responsibility and which are in unbelievably atrocious shape? And as far as fairness and common sense are concerned, out of the way sidewalks on small side streets are marked for repair, but right downtown on Main St., where hundreds of people walk every day, the sidewalks seem less important. For instance, there is a big patch of uneven walk, supposedly repaired, in front of a store in the block between Liberty and Washington where I have seen two people trip and actually fall. Talk about selective enforcement! The city's sidewalk program is draconian, unfair, and a complete failure.


Sat, Mar 12, 2011 : 2:48 a.m.

They have never finished Huron at least frm 7th east.Might send the teeny boppers out and git er done. Cost me $650, can't see anyone escaping without spending the bucks. Those sidewalks are trashed.

Are you serious?

Fri, Mar 11, 2011 : 10:08 p.m.

I've lived in AA for a number of decades and this so called sidewalk repair program was the craziest thing I have ever encountered. The City Council didn't care that the burden could fall heavily and unfairly on the property owners. My neighbor who lives on a corner lot had to pay over $1,000 and their next door neighbor paid nothing. The standards used to require repair were incomprehensible and inconsistent. I walked my neighborhood and saw widely different sidewalk conditions that were flagged. Many of the things flagged were so minor that they would not trip anybody. Obviously too late (?) to remedy any of that but how could it have possibly been justified? I always figured that the next thing the City would do is require us to pay for fixing the pot holes in the street. After all the street is "shared use" infrastructure. What is different about it? Sigh - there I go again expecting the City to do something rational. Sorry...

Alan Goldsmith

Fri, Mar 11, 2011 : 7:51 p.m.

Since Lucy Ann Lance is actually paid by the City of Ann Arbor for her job at CTN and a city employee, a fact curiously missing from her biography here, I guess it's an added bonus she can do PR for her bosses TOO. Whatever you call it, it's certainly doesn't stand the conflict of interest smell test.


Fri, Mar 11, 2011 : 6:50 p.m.

Along these lines - can we have an update to the Footing Drain Disconnect Program? The A2 website is useless in figuring out what's going on/when to get things done, if you can get the work done early, etc. etc.


Fri, Mar 11, 2011 : 6:48 p.m.

We had to have 3 blocks replaced 2 years ago (when the city was sending out "get it done or we'll do it for 3x the cost" letters) and we ended up clubbing together with our neighbors up/down the whole street - and ended up paying around $80/block which was FAR less than the City of A2 proposed cost. So far so good - it's even, hasn't shifted/settled or cracked.


Fri, Mar 11, 2011 : 5:29 p.m.

Wait, wait. Always follow the money. Who created the aggressive push to repair side walks? Who received money subsequent to that push? Who needs to be sued for selective enforcement? Bad list to be on. Maybe the city should work their original plan until completed and then change the rules. If you can't find integrity in your office maybe you can hire some.


Fri, Mar 11, 2011 : 4 p.m.

I will never forget a bunch teenage girls spraying up our sidewalks and disappearing. Shortly thereafter, we received a notice of the required sidewalk repairs. Then, we had a eight slaps replaced at a cost of 120 per slap. Finally, and this is a hoot, the city repaved our cul-de-sac and installed new drains and pipes and replaced all eight slaps (less then 1 year old) with new concrete and new access ramps. True story. I should have just taken a thousand dollars out of my account and just fed it to my cats.


Tue, Mar 15, 2011 : 3:38 a.m.

My neighborhood as well. I also know that the city did not check on sidewalks to see that they were repaired. About 20 years ago, they only hit 2 sectors of the city and then stopped the program (after 2 years). They had a bit more energy this time around, but did a slipshod job of it.


Fri, Mar 11, 2011 : 4:50 p.m.

I know you're telling the truth because I saw the same thing happen in my neighborhood. It's as if the ability to look ahead and plan was thrown out the window. Un-freaking-believable.


Fri, Mar 11, 2011 : 3:46 p.m.

Not thrilled about this either. I think we also spent a chunk of our kids college fund on sidwalk repair. Personlly, I didn't have a problem getting the work done and being responsible for it, as long as it was consistently applied. Guess that is about to change. The other issue is that we will get to pay union wages for some cement work. I think we spent $125/square, if the city can do it cheaper, let them have it. If not, give it to the guy that can. thing that cheesed me off, was that the city would plant trees, the trees would tear up the sidewalk with thier roots and then I would get the bill. My solution would be to not plant trees where they cause damage. Crazy, but true.


Fri, Mar 11, 2011 : 4:22 p.m.

That is my plan. Trust me. I don't neet this bat ___ crazy stuff anymore.


Fri, Mar 11, 2011 : 4:01 p.m.

Then you should leave Ann Arbor, get it Ann's Arbor.


Fri, Mar 11, 2011 : 3:45 p.m.

The city of Ann Arbor's so called "sidewalk program" is the worst managed and most onerous homeowner program that the city has ever inflicted on property owners.

Ron Granger

Fri, Mar 11, 2011 : 3:19 p.m.

Having been forced to spend THOUSANDS in the past three years to replace sidewalks, I am shocked. Now I'm supposed to pay for everyone else's sidewalk? When the inspectors came, they were extremely picky about what they flagged, and what they required repaired. How is this anything but selective enforcement? Where is the data on where inspectors flagged sidewalks? Someone needs to get the data on flagging and on repairs, and do a mashup to ask those hard questions. I'll bet it will be a real eye opener. And what about compliance in rental areas? What'd the city do about that? The slumlords can fix their properties just like everyone else.


Fri, Mar 11, 2011 : 3:51 p.m.

If you don't want to walk on the sidewalk in front of my home, then stay off my street or else I'll have to make you pay a toll for using MY "sidewalk". Sidewalks serve the interest of everyone in in every part of the city whether they walk on them or not.


Fri, Mar 11, 2011 : 3:15 p.m.

If the city does take responsibility for the maintenance of the sidewaks, will they also pay any damages resulting from lawsuits where someone tripped on a substandard sidewalk?