More than a century old, Montrose is one of the most well-known neighborhoods in Houston. In that time, it’s been home to American Presidents, world-famous celebrities and various counter-cultural movements. It’s also quite possible that many Montrose residents and visitors are walking on 100-year old, original sidewalks. One can only imagine the poor condition when many sidewalks haven’t been repaired since the Wilson administration. As KPRC Local 2 reports, many in the neighborhood are fed up.
Families in Montrose are circulating a petition demanding the city to fix a dangerous problem in their neighborhood. We’re talking about sidewalks, or the lack of them, in some areas of Montrose.
The group has sent out a letter to residents asking them to sign a petition to ask the city for help in getting some repairs to the sidewalks. The sidewalks are chipped, broken or missing altogether, but the city says the repairs are not necessarily its responsibility.
Montrose is one of the trendiest neighborhoods inside the Loop, filed with little shops, restaurants and quaint homes. But now, more than ever, residents say the neighborhood’s aging sidewalks and streets are in desperate need of repair.
“They are always uneven, they are always littered, they’re impassable, so I end up walking in the street,” said resident Anna La Perna. “You can’t use the sidewalk.” The Montrose Sidewalks Coalition, a group made up of residents, sent a letter to neighbors asking them to sign a petition to encourage Mayor Annise Parker and the city to help with the issue.
“I think she is doing nothing and not enough. She is worried about a select few and not all of us,” said La Perna. The group also says people are tripping and getting hurt because of the mess.
Full disclosure… I am both a resident of Montrose and a frequent pedestrian and user of public transportation. Just like the above, I end up walking on the street rather than risk tripping on large, broken pieces of sidewalk. That said, I fully share the frustration of my neighbors and want these sidewalks fixed. But under current municipal law, the City of Houston is not responsible for fixing sidewalks, and instead passes that burden on to property owners.
As the Montrose Sidewalks Coalition points out in their petition, the current ordinance may also present some bigger problems…
Our community’s children do not have safe routes to school and are forced into the street with oncoming traffic due to missing and broken sidewalks. We have many schools within easy walking distance, however the state of our school routes is appalling.
Many visually and mobility impaired citizens live in or visit Montrose for specialized services available in Montrose. The infrastructure is not ADA compliant and a significant barrier to access. Accessible design for the visually impaired is almost non existent. As older residents age in place, this will increasingly become a safety issue of large proportions.
Several sections of Montrose, suffering from a triumvirate of poor sidewalks, jagged curbs and pothole-ridden streets do not meet basic compliance standards of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Could the lack of maintenance on Houston’s sidewalks leave the city liable in an injury or death case? Would it leave property owners liable if someone hurts themselves on a poor sidewalk?
Poor sidewalks are a problem in every corner of Houston… not just Montrose. A constant complaint shared by Houstonians, it is starting to capture major attention in the city’s political debate. Jenifer Rene Pool, a long-time public advocate and candidate for Houston City Council, made sidewalks a central issue of her 2013 campaign, and even recorded a YouTube video to state why these repairs are so important. As Pool points out below, sidewalks should be a cornerstone of the city’s general mobility plan. For seniors or someone with a disability, it’s just not safe to get around by foot or in a wheelchair. If other neighborhoods follow the lead of the Montrose petitioners, you can be sure sidewalks will be a hot topic in the 2015 elections.
This is not to say that nothing has been done. Mayor Parker has made some good faith efforts to address the problem, most notably a complete streets executive order that ensures any future construction done by the city will take into account all forms of mobility, including safe, usable sidewalks. Even if city government can’t immediately correct mistakes of the past, at least someone has a better plan for the future. But until this executive order becomes an ordinance, there’s no guarantee that a future Mayoral administration would follow these practices.
Houston is changing rapidly, and perhaps no area has experienced those changes faster than Montrose. But every resident of the Bayou City deserves top quality infrastructure. After so many decades of neglect and a massive amount of ground to cover, it’s going to be a massive challenge to accomplish and pay for such repairs. But waiting any longer is also not an option. If Houston is to be a true national leader in the 21st century, we can’t do it on infrastructure from the early 20th century. True leadership has to start from the ground up.