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San Diego Doesn't Know How Many Sidewalks It Has

It turns out the city’s estimate of 5,000 miles of sidewalks is made up. That’s supposed to change starting Friday.

A while ago, some people decided the city of San Diego had 5,000 miles of sidewalks. To get that number, the people didn’t analyze city documents or data. All they did was assume all city roads had sidewalks on both sides, then take the city’s roughly 2,500 miles of streets and multiply by two.

“We’ve never mapped it so we don’t know,” said Walter Gefrom, a senior civil engineer.

This is supposed to change starting Friday. Interim Mayor Todd Gloria and City Councilman Mark Kersey officially unleashed teams of local college student engineers to walk all the city’s sidewalks – however many there are – to see where they’re broken and prioritize fixes. It’s a major part of the new effort to deal with the city’s busted sidewalks and busted sidewalk policies for the first time.

The students, wearing yellow safety jackets with “Sidewalk Assessment Team” on the back, joined Gloria and Kersey at a press conference in Golden Hill Friday morning. Here’s one of the students, Derek Mack a 23-year-old senior at San Diego State University.

Photo by Liam Dillon

Photo by Liam Dillon

He grew up in Spring Valley and said he’s excited to see different parts of the city while he’s walking around – and get paid for the privilege.

On his walks, Mack will be carrying a Spectra Precision MobileMapper 120 GPS unit:

Photo by Liam Dillon

Photo by Liam Dillon

The GPS unit will allow Mack and the other students to map cracks and tree roots uplifting the sidewalks and beam the information back to city staff within 18 inches of the spot.

Ultimately, the data will go into an algorithm that scores the condition of each sidewalk and rank them citywide to prioritize fixes.

“I don’t think it’s going to be pretty,” Gefrom said.

The sidewalk evaluation is supposed to take a year and cost $1 million. Gefrom said engineers decided to get some other things done while people are walking the city’s entire sidewalk network for the first time. The students will be noting curb heights and gutters to improve the city’s knowledge of drainage problems. They’ll also be marking the location of all the city trees they find, which should help us have a better answer to another question we don’t know: how many trees are in San Diego.

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