January 27, 2011, Kitchener, Ontario
Posted by: Robert Deutschmann, Personal Injury Lawyer
As reported in the Waterloo Region Record, cities are required to repair trip hazards in excess of 1/2 inches (2 centimeters) within 14 days. In Kitchener alone, payouts for damages due to injuries arising from trip and falls exceeded $2 million.
City sidewalks to undergo mandatory annual inspections
KITCHENER — City sidewalks must now be inspected annually and trip-hazards higher than two centimetres (about half an inch) must be repaired within 14 days.
Dozens of people now trip on sidewalks in Kitchener, Waterloo and Cambridge every year and the cities pay out thousands of dollars in compensation for broken bones, torn clothes and smashed glasses.
The provincial regulations, which were handed down a year ago, will also make it easier for wheelchairs and strollers to roll over sidewalks.
The move is getting praise from a citizen’s group called the Pedestrian Charter Steering Committee, which advocates for better and safer walking infrastructure in the cities of this region.
“It is refreshing to see the province formally recognize, through this mandate, that sidewalks and not just roads are an important means for people to navigate their city,” Jennifer Robertson-Wilson, chair of the pedestrian committee, said in an email.
As such, sidewalks “deserve to be maintained from a safety, convenience and accessibility perspective,” Robertson-Wilson said.
But there is a cost.
Kitchener now spends about $695,000 on sidewalk repairs, but more defects will be detected with increased inspections so more money is needed to comply with the provincial regulations.
City staff wants to increase the budget for sidewalk inspections and repairs to $716,000 for 2011. In 2012, the suggested budget is $882,000.
Last year, 5,600 defects were found on Kitchener sidewalks. City workers must catch up on a backlog of repairs and keep up with new ones.
Before the new rules, cities inspected sidewalks once every three years. Kitchener was spending about $240,000 annually to find and repair problems.
Jim Witmer, director of operations in Kitchener, said the “trip-lips” form when a sidewalk panel heaves. Grinders can smooth out the hazards. Sometimes asphalt is used to make a smooth ramp. A more permanent fix is achieved with “mud jacking.”
Holes are drilled into the heaving slabs and a slurry mixture of cement and top soil is pumped under the sidewalk until it rises and levels out, Witmer said.
“If residents see something, then let us know,” Witmer said. “The sooner we get notified the sooner we can identify it and correct it.”
Residents can call the City of Kitchener’s contact centre at 519-741-2345.
The three cities in the region spend widely varying amounts on sidewalk repairs.
In Kitchener, a couple of summer students ride over the 1,045 kilometres of sidewalks on large tricycles looking for defects. City staff proposes spending $716,000 on repairs this year.
In Waterloo, city workers inspected the 500 kilometres of sidewalks on foot last year and the city will spend up to $50,000 on repairs this year.
In Cambridge, there are 631 kilometres of sidewalks that get about $500,000 annually in repairs. A mountain bike equipped with mobile technology is used for the inspections.
“We are accommodating what we have to do within our existing budget this year,” Phil Hewitson, the director of transportation in Waterloo, said.
But next year, Hewitson expects more money will be needed, perhaps $200,000 or more.
The change in provincial regulations came out of a task force that included insurance adjusters, lawyers, municipal-risk managers, municipal and public works people and the Ontario Ministry of Transportation.
City councillors in Kitchener will consider spending more on sidewalks when voting on the 2001 operating budget on March 1. A public information session is set for Feb. 15. At this point the proposed tax-rate increase is 1.94 per cent. But the big financial impact in this year’s budget is a new storm-water fee which will cost the average homeowner about $126 a year.
Sidewalk lawsuits 2001-2010:
Kitchener—221 trip and fall claims. Total payout $2.05 million.
Waterloo—69 trip and fall claims. Total payout $579,788.
Cambridge—66 claims. Total payouts $207,000.