Where the Sidewalk Stops: The fight to navigate Tucson on foot

Published: Mar. 7, 2017 at 11:12 AM MST|Updated: Mar. 2, 2018 at 11:21 AM MST
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TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - When southern Arizona sidewalks suddenly stop, doubt can dictate daily travel.

As Manny Aregullin walks around Tucson without his sense of sight, suspense lurks with every step he talks

"There's the occasional time where I'll slip and catch myself on my hands," Aregullin said.

Cracks, cut offs and curb drops are just a few things he and other walkers face around Tucson.

"I fell into an open hole," Aregullin said. "Being blind, I've been blind a long time. There's certain things you learn to expect."

A push for improved pavement

Aregullin is not alone in his want for a better sidewalk system in Tucson.

"We have a lot of people who need to walk," said Emily Yetman of Living Streets Alliance. "They don't have choices. They don't have options."

Yetman said she sees a lot of inner-city neighborhoods in need of sidewalks.

"There's no way to fund that, so that's a big challenge," she added.

Living Streets Alliance has pushed for sidewalk improvement options in past Pima County bond elections, but propositions failed.

"Great cities have great sidewalks," she said. "We need to go there."

Sidewalk regulations falling short

The Americans with Disabilities Act, which sets sidewalk regulations across the country, said while they don't keep track of violations by city, they see around 16,000 safety complaints nationally every year.

The ADA's settlement with the City of Tucson reads as follows:

"The city will provide curb ramps or other sloped areas complying with the standards at all intersections of the streets, roads and highways."

Tucson Transportation Director Daryl Cole said the city's current conditions don't make the cut for a few reasons.

Some historic areas have a different set of standards.

"If we had not changed those standards or done any major work," Cole said, "they are all grandfathered in."

Other parts of town rely on city expansion.

"Over the years the city has annexed into the county," Cole said. "Some of the roadways and sidewalks are nonexistent."

To top it all off, the Tucson Department of Transportation only has one, four-person sidewalk repair crew.

The city can rarely install new sidewalks unless they come with a subsequent road upgrade.

Paving a brighter future

Thanks to Federal Highway Administration Funds, there is a long list of areas needing safety step ups.

"It will tell folks what it's going to take," Cole said. "How we address it funding wise is yet to come."

[To see the city's 2012 ADA Sidewalk Inventory Report, click here: http://bit.ly/2mhGYYr]

The price for that process sits around $20 million. Repairs raise that price to more than $100 million.

"It's really expensive to put a sidewalk in," Cole said. "It's a major undertaking."

Without a concrete solution in place, controversy over a smooth sidewalk network continues.

"It doesn't do us much good to have a segment if it doesn't connect to a network that is accessible," Yetman said. "If we look at Tucson in particular...We know that people here need to walk."

For Aregullin, his feet are his transportation.

"It really makes a difference on how practical getting around our city is, based on how well I can get around," he said.

The Pima County Department of Transportation says they don't have any plans to make changes in their sidewalk system.

Like the city, they also add sidewalks to corresponding road upgrades.

More information

For a list of Pima County's current and future roadway projects, click here--- http://bit.ly/2mAwynJ

For a list of City of Tucson's current and future roadway projects, click here --- http://bit.ly/2lY21wy

To report a sidewalk that needs repair in the city, call (520) 791-3154 or email TDOTSR@tucsonaz.gov

To report a sidewalk that needs repair in the county, call (520) 724-2639 or submit a work order here -- http://bit.ly/1O5ENMq

Copyright 2017 Tucson News Now. All rights reserved.

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