Don’t blame UT for your sidewalk woes: Step up

AddThis

Photo Credit: Alexandra Vanderhider | Daily Texan Staff

Lopsided chunks of pavement, unpaved treks marked with loose rocks and pools of mud in sunken concrete: The West Campus sidewalk horror stories are true, and student pedestrians bear the brunt of these defects. 

In my time at the University of Texas, I’ve seen everything from the daily stumble students experience on a protruding sidewalk slab to a full-on scooter wipeout caused by an uneven curb ramp. My first impulse was to blame the University for neglect, as many Longhorns living in West Campus do. However, if we want a shot at fixing our walkways, the responsibility falls on residents to take action and request city repair services.

“Near me, the sidewalks are basically trails that lead into dirt paths,” economics sophomore Alex Anderson said. “On 25th, there’s a strip of sidewalk next to (the Sigma Alpha) fraternity that’s basically a mix of gravel, mud and concrete blocks.”

Walking down 24th toward Lamar, there’s a noticeable decline in sidewalk infrastructure, which makes an already difficult trek all the more tiring. These West Campus sidewalk ills become more than a sprained ankle waiting to happen — they’re a source of anxiety. 

“Once you go past Leon Street, all of the sidewalks are messed up, and the streets are very poorly lit,” Anderson said. “I’m always worried for friends walking alone there at night. It’s hard enough to get around, and you don’t know what’s going to happen especially with people out drinking.” 

While these concerns are warranted, there are more complex factors at play.

According to a statement from Mike Carmagnola, director of UT’s Project Management and Construction Services, the University “executes sidewalk repairs on campus along streets the University controls.” A zoning map from UT’s Maintenance Operations page shows every street west of Guadalupe falls under the City of Austin’s maintenance responsibility.

While the waits for repairs can seem unbearably long, it’s important to understand the scope overseen by Austin’s Public Works Department. In addition to West Campus, the department manages sidewalk repairs for every remaining public space in Austin, which explains the delays. 

Justin Norvell, an engineer at the City of Austin, said over 4,000 sidewalk repair requests are currently undergoing review. The backlog, he said, results from a lack of dedicated funding. 

“We try to focus our funds on high-priority areas, and we do a systematic evaluation of all those requests so that we can make efficient repairs,” Norvell said.

Norvell cited West Campus as a high-priority area due to population and pedestrian density. Other evaluation factors include sidewalk condition and request frequency. The only requests that bypass the evaluative process are those involving disabled persons, in which case the City has an obligation to make immediate repairs.

Though West Campus is a high-priority area, the City won’t fix existing problems unless students file an online request or call 3-1-1. For once, let’s put our griping to good use with the hope that we’ll one day walk West Campus without fearing the ground.

David is a rhetoric and writing sophomore from Allen.