Conquering the challenge of our dangerous sidewalks

I had a near-death experience recently.

My cane and I were out for a stroll, planning to wander up and down the streets, seeing if any flowers had burst forth, what type of fence is in vogue, who's remodeling what, and what new intriguing wheels are parked on the street. All at once I was rapidly heading toward the pavement.

Fortunately, I managed to avoid broken bones, but black-and-blue marks tattoo almost my entire body. After I wiggled moveable parts to make sure I was unbroken, I very slowly eased myself to a standing position with my cane as an upright and looked to see what had undone me.

It took only a second to realize I had broken a primary precept: Keep your eyes on the sidewalk. Do not raise them or look to the right or the left.

To disregard this rule is to invite disaster.

We live in an area that seems ideal for taking a pleasant walk, an evening stroll, but you do so at your own risk. I have stitches hither and yon to prove it.

On the other hand, such tumbles have revived my faith in the kindness of others as people have stopped cars and emerged to see if I'm all right and then helped me try to look dignified as I get to my feet. Even children have come to pick up my cane.

However I'd much rather there was a way to demonstrate this compassion other than my falling on my face.

Our sidewalks are lethal for strollers, toddlers learning to walk, people with crutches or walkers, even for friends walking along having an enjoyable conversation, unaware of the danger at their feet.

It has been this way ever since I've lived here, and I shudder to think how long before that.

Much of the damage appears to have been caused by trees or sewer lines. Being a tree hugger, I don't recommend cutting down trees, but sometimes the guilty root can be removed with no damage to the tree. Or the damaging root can be cemented over and one would have a little hill to surmount, thereby increasing the aerobic effects of the walk.

As for the sinking sewers, I'd suggest filling in the dipping sidewalk and assume the sewer will sink no more.

There is a caveat to all this: I've always assumed the city is responsible for the sidewalks as they are for the streets. I called the powers-that-be to verify that assumption and was told that I was mistaken.

It is the owner of the property adjacent to the sidewalk who bears the responsibility for keeping the sidewalk repaired and safe for walkers.

If I owned a house, I suspect that I wouldn't pay much attention to the sidewalk, what with the garden and the lawn requiring constant care. I might not even know it's my responsibility.

But suppose one day someone falls, is injured, and is the suing type. I would sadly learn that ignorance of the law is, in fact, no excuse.

I'd do the math and figure out how much more I would have to pay than if I'd had the sidewalk fixed in the first place.

I'm left with a real dilemma: Do I give up my walk, or do I fall and sue a friend? And just when the weather is changing the leaves. What to do? What to do?

Freelance columnist Roberta Cole can be reached via e-mail at[[In-content Ad]]