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Buffalo public works chief walks the streets to find sidewalks in need of repair

There are mall walkers, street walkers and walkers for the infirm.

Add to that sidewalk walkers.

A City Hall team has decided the best way to update the city's sidewalk master plan — identifying which city sidewalks are in the worst shape — is to get out of their cars and walk the sidewalks.

The three-man crew, headed by Steven Stepniak, the city's public works commissioner, has been spending Saturdays walking city sidewalks since July, when the city replaced a sidewalk on Moselle Street, where a mother and baby in a carriage were struck by a car. The baby was killed. The mother said she was walking in the street because the Moselle Street sidewalks were in such bad condition.

That day, Stepniak walked around Moselle and neighboring streets on the city's East Side. And it appears that he and his assistants, including an engineer, have been walking every since.

"It's been a rewarding experience," Stepniak said of his Saturday walks. "You can't give sidewalks justice without walking, without feet to the ground."

Typically, Stepniak said, the city updates its worst-sidewalks list by riding around the city, taking recommendations from Common Council members and reviewing complaints residents file with the city.

But nothing is a substitute for getting an up-close, firsthand look at the sidewalks, Stepniak said, and the only way to do that is to walk.

East Side residents, including activists critical of the city's sidewalk replacement ever since the Moselle accident in June, seem happy with the walk-the-sidewalks approach.

Stepniak is talking with residents while walking the streets, said activist Carolette Meadows.

"I commended him for that," she said.

The city is spending about $11 million on residential sidewalks and streets this year, according to Mayor Byron W. Brown, who along with Fillmore Councilman David A. Franczyk, recently announced a $100,000 sidewalk replacement project will begin on Bissell Avenue, between East Ferry and Genesee streets.

This year's spending on residential sidewalks and streets is slightly higher than last year's, and next year's is expected to be slightly higher than this year's, Brown said.

"Every year we do a lot, but every year, there are not enough resources to do everything that needs to be done," the mayor said.

Given that, Brown said, it's important for the city to update its sidewalk master plan to identify the sidewalks most in need of repair and replacement.

"We have been out walking on the East Side," Brown said, "to check out and update our survey information."

While the focus is on sidewalks, Stepniak said he and his assistants are also addressing other problems  they find, such as  dead trees that need removal.

Generally, Brown noted, sidewalks are the responsibility of homeowners, except for some property owners in low-income areas, or when the city is responsible for a sidewalks deteriorating, such as when roots from a city tree on the city's right of way lift and crack the sidewalk.

The city uses a combination of city, state and federal funds for its sidewalk program, and some of those funds carry restrictions on when, even in low-income neighborhoods, the money can be used for sidewalks.  Federal  anti-poverty funds, for example, cannot be used on sidewalk replacement on streets that contain a large number of vacant lots, city officials said.









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