Mark Combs hates it when people park cars and trucks on city sidewalks. As Asheville’s Public Works director, he knows firsthand that sidewalks can’t take the weight, and that the bad habit ends up costing city taxpayers money.
“The life of a sidewalk is significantly diminished when vehicles park on it,” says Combs. “A sidewalk costs the city about $7 per linear foot to install, and destroying them is like pouring money down the drain.” One mile of five-foot-wide sidewalk costs roughly $200,000, he notes.
All told, Asheville’s sidewalks need an estimated $6.2 million worth of repairs, according to City Council’s proposed Pedestrian Thoroughfare Plan. But the budget sets aside a mere $300,000 for such repairs each year. As Combs puts it, “Sidewalks are tearing up faster than we can fix them.”
So his department is taking the offensive: Anyone caught parking in a crosswalk, in front of a private driveway, or on any sidewalk, median or landscaped area within a public right-of-way will receive a warning notice from Public Works staff. “This is an education campaign — not a we-want-you-to-die campaign,” Combs explains, adding, “We just want to make people aware that they’re hurting other people and the city. They’re destroying what they’re paying for as taxpayers.”
Education aside, though, the warnings are still serious: Repeat offenders could end up with a ticket from the Asheville Police Department, because Public Works staff will forward copies of their warnings to the APD and request “more vigorous action,” says Asheville Safety and Training Coordinator Jim Haga. He believes the warnings are already getting results: “I personally wrote 21 warnings in two days, in neighborhoods around Asheville. When I checked back in those locations, 12 vehicles were parked in the same area, but were not in violation,” Haga recounts.
It’s against city ordinances to park in such places, stesses Combs, and sidewalks simply aren’t made to carry that much weight. While driveways are typically poured with six inches of concrete, to withstand the weight of motor vehicles, most sidewalks are just four inches thick — or else they’re brick. Either way, that means they’ll crack and break up when people park on them, and repairing those breaks takes money that might otherwise be used for much-needed new sidewalks, Combs argues.
Crosswalks, medians and curbs are also damaged by illegal parking; and in the city’s older neighborhoods, many of the curbs are granite, making them expensive to replace.
Parking on sidewalks, adds Combs, may also force pedestrians — or even people in wheelchairs — out into the streets, a dangerous option at best. “It’s rough on the handicapped community when they go down the sidewalk and have to detour around a parked vehicle,” comments Combs. He adds that delivery trucks — UPS and Fed Ex included — are not exempt from the no-sidewalk-parking rule.
Says Haga, ” If we can make folks aware of the violation before they get a ticket from [the APD], everyone wins.”