Flint, MI — Donelle Ketchum has lived in her home on Flint’s west side for 30 years. Over that time, she said she’s watched the sidewalks around her deteriorate.
Across the street, a fire hydrant has been leaking for so long that it caused the sidewalk in front of it to start sinking into the ground.
But the hydrant isn’t the neighborhood’s only concern. Ketchum said many of the sidewalks around her house aren’t safe to use.
“When I take the kids on their bikes we always stay in the streets because the sidewalks throughout here are so horrendous,” she said. “They are horrible, and it’s safer in the street than it is on sidewalks.”
But, she added, the streets aren’t very safe either because people often speed.
LaJoyce Howard, who lives across the street from Ketchum, said she began calling Flint Mayor Sheldon Neeley’s office in March 2021 about the sidewalk in front of her house.
The city replaced her pipes in fall 2020 and covered the area where the sidewalk was with gravel, leaving room for tree roots to grow over it.
“I’m a senior citizen, what if I trip and fall on that gravel?” she said.
Howard told Flint Beat she was still calling and sending emails to the city in September 2022.
“I guess I just kind of got tired of calling them. I even sent emails. But they tore up the walk and then they said it was the tree that caused it to buckle,” she said.
Flint Communications Director Caitie O’Neill did not respond to a request to comment on Howard’s claims.
Though some residents like Howard and Ketchum remain wary, the city is now working toward improving Flint’s sidewalks through a city-wide sidewalk assessment.
Flint City Council approved a $111,000 contract with Spalding DeDecker to complete the assessment at a July 10, 2023 meeting.
According to the resolution, Spalding DeDecker will evaluate “all sidewalks within wards 1 to 9” and share that data, which will include defect information, “location, pictures and quantities” with the city of Flint for follow-up.
Flint Transportation Director Rod McGaha wrote in an email that the assessment will start in the first ward and will continue in numerical order through the remaining wards. Ketchum and Howard live in the sixth ward.
The assessment will be done on foot and the assessors will use a Geographical Information System map to show defects, locations and photos, according to McGaha.
He wrote that the assessment will help the city develop a five-year plan to replace “existing defects” on sidewalks.
Once the assessment is complete, the city will know the extent of sidewalk replacements needed and the cost, he said.
In the meantime, to file a complaint about a sidewalk, McGaha added that residents can call the city’s Street Maintenance team at (810) 766-7343.
“If the sidewalk has been damaged by tree roots from a city tree in the right-of-way, the City will complete an inspection and the sidewalk will be added to the list of repairs,” McGaha wrote. “If a damaged sidewalk in front of a residents’ home is not related to street trees, residents can sign up for the 50/50 sidewalk replacement program. The City pays half and the resident pays half of the sidewalk replacement cost. The City works with contractors to complete this work.”
According to McGaha, the city spent $64,000 in the 2022-2023 fiscal year on the 50/50 sidewalk program, and it has $165,000 available this fiscal year.
Last year, City Council allocated $2 million of American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds to be used for replacing sidewalks in Flint. The cost the sidewalk assessment came out of those funds.
For Ketchum, though, she said she doesn’t have a lot of faith in Flint’s leadership on the ongoing issue.
“I think if enough people are getting their pockets lined, we’ll get it done,” Ketchum said. “They might sprinkle some crumbs out to the rest of us, but that’s really how I feel. You know . . . it’s a way of Flint thinking, unfortunately, for a lot of people in power.”
At a city council finance committee meeting on July 5, 2023, McGaha said the city-wide sidewalk assessment would take four or five months to complete.