Treviño Demands ‘Concrete Solutions’ for San Antonio’s $760M Sidewalk Gap

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Crews work on a downtown sidewalk project at the corner of East Houston and Soledad.

Scott Ball / Rivard Report

Crews work on a downtown sidewalk project at the corrner of East Houston and Soledad.

More than half of the City of San Antonio's sidewalk budget doesn't actually go to sidewalks, Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1) said Monday, and it's time to accelerate filling in nearly 1,900 miles of missing sidewalks in the city.

Under the City's current construction policies, City staff said during a meeting of Council's Transportation Committee Monday, closing that gap will cost an estimated $760 million and take roughly 50 years. Sidewalks are among San Antonians' top budget priorities – but receive far less funding than streets and drainage projects, which also top the list.

The first step in closing that gap, Treviño said, is implementing a new policy that limits the amount of secondary costs associated with sidewalks – such as landscaping, sometimes unnecessary curb replacements, and retaining walls – and redirecting those funds to the concrete people can walk on.

"I'm not saying those ancillary things should be absent," he said. "I'm saying it should be a lot less of the total. ... This is going to allow [the City] to have more capacity [to fix sidewalks].”

That spending cap will drive the City's engineers and the private sector to start looking at projects differently and inspire cost- and time-saving solutions, he added, calling for the development of a master plan for sidewalks.

"Innovation can't be requested, it must be demanded," he said. Click here to download a sidewalk budget overview the city auditor prepared for Treviño.

City staff with the Transportation and Capital Improvements department, or TCI, agree that collecting community and Council feedback would help inform a so-called "Sidewalk Transformation Plan," but are cautious of Treviño's approach to reducing the scope of sidewalk projects.

Not all sidewalks are created equally, said Anthony Chukwudolue, assistant director of TCI. Some require new Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant driveways and curb cuts, others are on streets that require additional safety measures for construction workers, and some require landscape remediation as sidewalk installation can mean tearing up sod and water pipelines.

By Chukwudolue's own analysis, about 64 percent of the budget goes to the essential materials, construction, and safety measures required for sidewalk projects, he told the committee. Some streets don't need a sidewalk, he added, and that has been considered in cost and gap estimates citywide.

The remaining 36 percent should be used for more sidewalks, Treviño said, and a more robust communication strategy with residents to help explain when, where, and why sidewalk projects are occurring near their property. Treviño said he has spent three years trying to formulate better policies and practices regarding sidewalks in San Antonio.

Reducing the scope of work on sidewalks might increase the number of complaints to the department, TCI Director Mike Frisbie said. "Property owners are very protective of their frontages, and they take a lot of pride in that. So when we come there with a project, they want it to function well during construction, and they want it to be nice when it's done."

But better and more sidewalks are already the top request he gets from constituents, Treviño said. "There's no higher number than No. 1."

The City currently prioritizes projects that are near schools, hospitals, parks, libraries, commercial centers, and places that have seen traffic accidents involving pedestrians, Chukwudolue said, but it focuses on those that would fill sidewalk gaps, repair hazardous conditions, and bring existing sidewalks up to ADA compliance.

Sidewalk costs more than the price of materials and labor, City officials said. There are other costs associated with administration and public safety.

Courtesy / City of San Antonio

Sidewalk costs more than the price of materials and labor, City officials said. There are other costs associated with administration and public safety.

Technically, the City's charter and development code attribute responsibility of continued maintenance sidewalks to property owners, Chukwudolue said. Like most other American cities, "we have not necessarily enforced it."

Council members agreed that forcing residents to handle costly repairs to sidewalks won't happen, though the city does pursue cost-sharing program for some repairs. City attorneys are looking into the origin and true meaning of the charter language, Deputy City Manager Peter Zanoni said, but it may have to do with accident liability issues.

Councilman Greg Brockhouse (D6) said holding residents responsible for sidewalk repairs is "ridiculous" and "never a winning argument."

Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1) shows off his 'World of Concrete' from Las Vegas, NV.

Scott Ball / Rivard Report

Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1) shows off his 'World of Concrete' shirt.

Brockhouse applauded Treviño's work on the issue, referring to him as "Concrete Man" and referencing Treviño's shirt from the recent World of Concrete conference he attended.

Treviño also organized a "sidewalk summit" last week that invited dozens of public and private engineers, consultants, and other stakeholders to tackle the industry's challenges.

The 2017-2022 bond allocated $78 million to sidewalks, with $48 million going to stand-alone sidewalk projects and $30 million to sidewalks as part of street improvement projects. The fiscal year 2018 budget dedicated $5 million to sidewalks.

Annual funding for sidewalks in San Antonio has steadily increased over the years.

Courtesy / City of San Antonio

Annual City budget funding for sidewalks has steadily increased over the years, but the FY 2018 budget included $5 million for sidewalks.

Developers are required to construct sidewalks, but that wasn't the case in older neighborhoods, Councilwoman Shirley Gonzales (D5) said.

Those older neighborhoods with minority populations should be prioritized as the City develops its master plan, she said, because these neighborhoods were often "red-lined" and discriminated against while "wealthier neighborhoods" received public and private investment.

Brockhouse took issue with Gonzales' characterization of fund allocation, saying it "politicizes" the issue.

"I own zero shame [for] racism [or] redlining," that occurred in San Antonio's past, Brockhouse said. ”I own the current condition and status of the community and what we do going forward."

He told City staff to avoid the same kind of "equity lens" used in previous budget allocations that favored council districts with a higher percentage of failing-grade streets. While his and other districts all received a roughly equal base allocation, Districts 1, 2, 5, and 10 received extra funding for street repairs.

Brockhouse agreed that the City needs a more tactical approach to address the worst street, sidewalk, and other infrastructure conditions in the city, but the equity lens should not use political district boundaries, he said. Instead of using district-wide averages, more specific data is needed about where the need truly is, he said. "We almost have to go down to census-tract [level].”

Toward the end of the meeting, TCI staff asked the five-member Transportation Committee what the next steps should be.

“I don’t know if we're fully baked here,” said Councilman Rey Saldaña (D4), who chairs the committee. He suggested that staff come back to the committee with information about how quickly the City could close the sidewalk gap if it eliminated the secondary costs entirely and, alternatively, if the City cut back on most – but not all – secondary costs.

Committee members, including Councilman Manny Pelaez (D8), welcomed the conversation about “how to make our buck go a little further.”

During an interview before the meeting, Treviño said he doesn’t blame City staff for the status quo.

“I respect what it takes to build this [network of sidewalks],” he said. “It’s a complex process. What I think has occurred is in an effort to just get things done, we don’t think that there’s any other way.

"But if we don’t create policy that sets better expectations, he added, "how can we expect to grow?"

8 thoughts on “Treviño Demands ‘Concrete Solutions’ for San Antonio’s $760M Sidewalk Gap

  1. If Trevino wants to truly improve safety and access for people walking, he will also advocate for road diets, slower traffic, less dependence on the auto, good transit, wider sidewalks, fewer driveways and big surface parking lots, planting lots of trees for shade, and getting utility polls out of the way. Sidewalks alone do not improve safety for people walking; in fact, sidewalks alone do very little for safety.

  2. Thanks for the opportunity to tell you about my sidewalk experience. I took photos of a new sidewalk while walking to lunch. The photos were taken on Cevallos between S. Flores and Probandt. There is always something new going up on many of the streets, we usually walk both Cevallos and Clay, but this side walk wins my version of the Bum Steer Award. Since I can’t post them let me attempt to describe the situation of which there were two:
    1. A light pole with loose wires hanging on the sidewalk, hopefully not hot!
    2. A metal O ring of some sort in the middle of the side walk extending approximately 9″ above ground level and approximately 3″ in diameter.
    Would have loved to figure out how to post the photos!
    GOOD job TCI!!!

  3. Kudos to Council and TCI for trying to close the gap. Instead of horse-trading within the sidewalk budget to do it, be bold and find more money. Decide that sidewalks are actually a priority and act/fund accordingly. How much money do we spend on projects that are really just for cars (probably at least 10x more than on sidewalks)? Use more of that money for people (sidewalks, trees, etc…).

  4. Interesting Mr. Trevino………… Doesn’t “”World of Concrete” = Impervious Cover??? What a dichotomy!
    The City is already penalizing property owners with higher stormwater fees through SAWS. The higher the percentage of impervious cover, like SIDEWALKS, concrete and asphalt parking lots, the higher the monthly SAWS bill. This affects commercial building, multi-family housing, apartment complexes, condo owners (already complaining of higher HOA due to higher SAWS billing), etc. Oh but the good news is that the world of concrete is bringing in more revenue to the City. So maybe the additional revenue will go to a new and better world of concrete with more sidewalks; especially to the constanty mentioned left behind city council districts like 3,4,5,and 6. (Wait a minute, did I just speak in a circle??!)
    Also, Mr. Frisbie……. since you are so aware that people are so protective of their property frontage, why do you continue to put public utilities in the Right of Way, and telephone/electric poles and VIA bus stops in the middle of a sidewalk, ruining the view, creating hostility, and creating a trash collection hazard??? Oh, yes, and then more revenue; the code enforcement police fine the property owners for the trash buildup and the non maintenance of the right of way and sidewalks. It sounds to me like double taxation.

    • You sound… really angry about a lot of different things. And you’re not making a lot of sense.

      Can you take a few deep breaths and try that again, more calmly?

  5. In terms of cost I really hope San Antonio starts competing these public works contracts to reduce cost per project. It has got to move to fixed price and/or milestone based contracts. If the city owns that form of construction I hope they are still looking at price shopping these projects comparably.

  6. I agree with councilman trevino. We need more
    Side walks in our community. I want one of those t-shirts. Residents should not be responsible. We have seniors who cannot afford it.

    Government Hill is hurting for sidewalks.
    The city needs to start listening to the community before they spend their monies on
    Of less importance.

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