City Pushing for Flexible Sidewalk Patches Over Objections

The DC Department of Transportation is pushing ahead with its plans to repair sidewalks throughout Georgetown with composite material over the objections of the ANC.

As every resident knows, while they are lovely, brick sidewalks can be hazardous. It does not take much to make them a tripping hazard. And growing tree roots are especially a problem in terms of pushing the bricks up. Historically, to fix this the city would occasionally come in and remove the offending bricks and replace them with an asphalt patch. This would often sit for months or years before the city would then get around to rebuilding that portion of the brick sidewalk.

Starting recently, the city began taking a different approach. It started using porous flexible pavement (PFP). PFP has the appearance of asphalt but is–as the name suggests–flexible. This has the benefit of allowing the sidewalk to bend around the growing tree root while still maintaining a smooth and safe sidewalk.

Win, win, right? Well that depends. The PFP clearly keeps the sidewalk safe (and reduces water run-off) but it doesn’t look remotely like brick. That is why the ANC (and CAG) wrote off a nearly apoplectic letter to the Mayor objecting that the PFP was illegal and an affront to the historic nature of Georgetown. On the illegal charge, the letter points out that under DC regulations, brick sidewalks in historic districts need to be repaired with bricks only. The city has cited the federal Americans with Disabilities Act as a superseding reason to proceed with their plan and has largely ignored the objections of the ANC.

You might wonder, what about the Old Georgetown Board? Isn’t that federal too? Here’s the thing about the OGB and DC: DC is under no obligation to listen to it. It is purely advisory. This has caused tension over the years as the ANC has strongly urged DDOT to comply with OGB decisions even though it doesn’t have to. This came up with the tree box fences years ago. And before that it came up in…the design of brick sidewalks.

This was during the Georgetown Project of the early 2000s, when all the sidewalks were rebuilt along the commercial corridors. There were still many concrete sidewalks. The city wanted to convert them to brick but to simply lay the bricks in the same pattern throughout the neighborhood. OGB wanted a variety to make it look like they were built over time. Ultimately the OGB won out.

It is undeniable that the PFP patches will look bad if they are used wherever tree roots cause a hazard. Here and there might not be that noticeable (except for the people who live next to it) but all over would start to look pretty shabby. If the city insists on using them for safety’s sake, then perhaps the answer is to move away from brick sidewalks entirely. This seems like a radical response, but have you ever noticed that Reservoir Rd. east of Wisconsin has concrete sidewalks? No? Then maybe it’s not that radical.

But if you do object, the ANC is encouraging you to write to:

2 Comments

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2 responses to “City Pushing for Flexible Sidewalk Patches Over Objections

  1. georgetowncitizen

    If lobbying and persuasion do not work with DDOT, a further option would be for the CAG or other Georgetown organization to bring legal suit against DDOT in order to test the merits of DDOT’s contention that the Americans with Disabilities Act is relevant to these circumstances and takes precedence over DC statutes requiring sidewalk repairs with bricks.

  2. Topher

    They would probably lose that fight. There’s no question that the ADA applies and takes precedence over DC municipal regulations. The only question is whether the city has a way to satisfy both, and they could pretty easily say “we looked into it, and given the cost we decided we can’t satisfy both and we think that it’s more important to comply with the ADA.” A court is likely to defer to DC on that call.

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