Editorial: Pressure the City to Protect Sidewalks

Here’s how bad the sidewalks in Gilroy are: People in wheelchairs are using the streets to get around, threading through dangerous traffic and risking their lives.

Some streets have sidewalks that start and stop with no logic and no ability for people to use them consistently. Businesses—including the towing company owned by City Councilman Dion Bracco—have no sidewalk in front of them. A developer shorted the width of a sidewalk it built and the city inspectors missed it. The same developer moved a soundwall, cutting six inches of space from the public which it gave it to its residents.

These were some of the complaints the city’s bike and pedestrian commission brought up before the City Council last week in a stinging report that should be a wake up call for city residents. Sidewalks are like the canary in the coal mine. If a city doesn’t take care of something seemingly small, but so important to the quality of life, how can we depend on it to take care of our other needs?

Leo Gonzalez, the vice chair of the commission, who has stepped up to head it, took a huge leap last week, outlining the problem and complaining about the city’s lack of response. The previous year the report was a whitewash, he says, talking about how much progress the city has made. Gonzalez is fine with the progress, but he wants residents to realize how much still needs to be done.

He wants the city to be more active in requiring businesses and residents to pay for and maintain sidewalks and the city to be more strict in what it allows.

For example, the city is allowing new developments without enough visitor or resident parking spaces, so that developers profit more. The result is four-bedroom homes with two spaces for cars, but more drivers. Cars end up double-parking in their driveways and blocking sidewalks or parking in cramped streets, which blocks access to bikers and endangers passengers when car doors are opened.

Then there are older parts of the city, such as Ronan Avenue on the northside, which were unincorporated and brought into the city without sidewalks and are an obstacle course for people on foot, bike or wheelchair. The city never stepped in to build sidewalks there.

The city is being sued by the developer of low-income housing on Monterey Street, who claims that because it is a nonprofit, it shouldn’t be required to pay for sidewalks. Gonzalez salutes the city for fighting it. How else are senior citizens in the project supposed to get around, he asks, crossing the “freeway of Monterey Street?”

There aren’t even sidewalks leading up to the Monterey bus and train transit center, which is supposed to be a hub for those who want to give up their cars!

“Sidewalks are very important, but they are one of the things you take for granted,” says Gonzalez, a sheriff’s deputy who lives in Gilroy.

“The majority of people who use the sidewalks are younger kids, elderly people and people with disabilities,” he says. “It’s not until you are in a position like that when you can’t step over steps that you realize how important they are.”

We agree with Gonzalez that a city which likes to bill itself as a white picket fence, residential area, needs to make sidewalks and bike paths a much bigger priority than it is doing.

As Gonzalez says, you pay for it now, or you pay more later, when someone walking along a street with no safe area dies in an accident and the city is sued.

To see the full commission report on sidewalks, go here: http://gilroy.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=16&clip_id=1466