City of Los Angeles sidewalks are in serious disrepair and pose a hazard to Angeleno pedestrian and cyclists, not to mention those who have to traverse the sidewalks by way of a wheelchair, walker, or by other means. Angelenos
routinely stumble, trip, fall, and roll ankles. One of the most serious injuries we could suffer as a result of sidewalk disrepair is a brain injury if we strike our heads after falling. In fact, the number one leading cause of brain injuries is when people strike their heads due to a fall.
Brain injuries can vary in severity and in long term disability. A mild traumatic brain injury (TBI) is an occurrence of injury to the head resulting from blunt trauma or acceleration or deceleration forces with a period of confusion, disorientation, or impaired consciousness or dysfunction of memory. Even a mild traumatic brain injury can cause dizziness, vomiting, or seizures. More severe brain injuries can be anoxic or hyoxic brain injuries where the brain either receives little or no oxygen. A concussion can cause a diffuse axonal injury—one of the most common and devastating types of traumatic brain injury– and is a major cause of unconsciousness and persistent vegetative state after severe head traumas. They can also cause a blood clot in the brain and can be fatal.
Los Angeles is home to over 10 million trees, with approximately 700,000 street trees growing along almost 7,000 miles of City of Los Angeles streets. When he was mayor, Antonio Villaraigosa launched a program to plant 1 million trees, “Million Trees L.A.”and was largely successful. As trees, their trunks, and their root systems grow and expand, the concrete sidewalk slabs lift and crack, and cause broken and uneven sidewalks.
In 2010, Access Magazine estimated that 4,600 of the city’s 10,750 miles of sidewalks were in need of repair. A 2015 Los Angeles Times report found that 40 percent of sidewalk damage complaint cases received no repairs, and that the city estimated nearly 5,000 miles of sidewalks that were in need of replacement.
A 2002 federal court decision, Barden v. City of Sacramento, held that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) applied to public sidewalks. That holding led to Willits v. City of Los Angeles, which was the largest disability class action settlement in U.S. history ($1.4 billion). It will make the City’s sidewalk system accessible to persons with mobility disabilities, fix sidewalks, and remove barriers.
About 40 years ago, Los Angeles adopted an ordinance that transferred the responsibility for fixing sidewalks damaged by tree roots from adjacent property owners to the City. Yet now with nearly 5,000 miles of sidewalks in need of replacement, the City simply cannot afford it. The City is pursuing a program it’s referring to as a “fix-and-release” strategy whereby the City makes the necessary repairs and then the City transfers responsibility to the adjacent landowner.
While the City is required to fix its decaying sidewalks pursuant to Willits v. City of Los Angeles, and it has implemented a plan for long term manageability, the sidewalks will be in disrepair for many more years. Indeed, in the meantime, City of L.A. sidewalks pose a serious threat to our safety. Of potentially grave concern is trauma to one’s head which could cause a traumatic brain injury and even death. Not only must be we hyper aware of the state of dangerousness of the paths we choose to walk, but we need to hold the City accountable for disregarding this public safety risk and abdicating responsibility until required to do so.