A pedestrian walks along a construction zone at East Houston Street as concrete is poured for a nearby sidewalk.
A pedestrian walks along a construction zone at East Houston Street as concrete is poured for a nearby sidewalk. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

The City of San Antonio needs to spend $18 million per year until 2043 to add nearly 2,000 miles worth of needed sidewalks across the city, according to officials. Future funding levels will depend on the priorities of future City Councils, but as the City prepares its fiscal year 2019 budget, sidewalks will be near the top of the list.

Residents frequently ask for construction of additional sidewalks and repair of existing ones, several Council members said. Almost 65 percent of residents surveyed as part of the budget process said they want increased funding for sidewalks, according to the City’s SASpeakUp data.

While the City develops its first-ever sidewalk master plan, led by Councilman Roberto Treviño and staff from the City’s Transportation and Capital Improvements (TCI) department, it will get a start on building and fixing sidewalks through its annual budget, bond programs, and other sources.

The City will spend $22.2 million this year on sidewalks, TCI Director Mike Frisbie told Council on Wednesday, and prioritize “quality sidewalks in the areas that need them the most first.”

The City determines the areas of highest need through a scoring matrix that gives pedestrian safety the most weight (30 points), followed by proximity to schools (20), mass transit (20), arterial roadways (12.5), clinics and hospitals (10), and other destinations (7.5).

Previously, TCI recommended giving pedestrian safety the second-to-lowest weight, but assigned it higher weight after getting feedback from the Council’s five-member Transportation Committee. TCI will start with the three miles with the highest scores. District 3, which includes much of the Southside, needs 320 miles of sidewalks – the most in the city –while District 6 requires the fewest at 92 miles.

It’s possible that the total number of gap miles per district could change, Frisbie said, as more areas are identified where no sidewalks exist but none are found to be needed. So far the City has found more than 450 miles throughout the city “where sidewalks are not desired,” he said.

The scoring matrix for sidewalk project priorities puts pedestrian safety above all else.
The updated scoring matrix for sidewalk project priorities puts pedestrian safety above all else. Credit: Courtesy / City of San Antonio

There are a lot of reasons that some blocks or streets don’t have sidewalks, Frisbie told reporters after the meeting. That “could be because [the adjacent property is] not developed yet, or … there was an era back in the 1960s and ’70s when development occurred without sidewalks. They didn’t see the need for them, they didn’t put them in, and now we’re trying to retrofit.”

Developers are now required to build sidewalks, barring any physical limitations with the property. City Council is also slated to consider a sidewalk mitigation fee for developers who don’t build sidewalk infrastructure with their projects, but that revenue is not expected to have a large impact on sidewalk funding.

During the meeting, Council also signaled support for setting aside 5 percent of sidewalk funds to repair the existing network.

The City is conducting a comprehensive report on the conditions of the city’s sidewalks that will be used to again prioritize repair work, Frisbie said. In the meantime, TCI staff will work with Council members to identify the greatest needs in their respective districts.

The final master plan that addresses variables such as costs, scope, and methodology will take shape later this year, Treviño said.

“Costs are central to this plan as well as construction methodology and implementation,” he said. “We will have a component that includes a broad spectrum of community advisors to help support [the City] as well as setting up guidelines.”

Treviño, who organized a sidewalk summit in February, has been critical of how much of the sidewalk budget goes towards secondary costs such as landscaping.

Senior Reporter Iris Dimmick covers public policy pertaining to social issues, ranging from affordable housing and economic disparity to policing reform and mental health. She was the San Antonio Report's...