resistance to sidewalks can be quite challenging. Constructing new sidewalks in front of existing lots often encounters opposition from residential and commercial property owners who, not recognizing the public right-of-way, perceive that all land to the street curb is private property. There are many common arguments against sidewalks, including:
- “No one will use it”
- “No one has been hurt in a pedestrian accident yet”
- “The street is so dangerous we should not encourage people to walk there”
- “It will ruin property values”
- “It will cost me money”
- “It will damage the trees”
In truth, most of these objections are just excuses to mask concern over sidewalk maintenance responsibility and fears of liability.
Who Maintains Sidewalks in New Jersey?
With the long service life of concrete, many sidewalks in older cities have remained in good condition even after 75 years of service. Street trees, while valuable assets that help create a more inviting walking environment, occasionally cause damage that can significantly shorten a sidewalk’s useable life. The primary cause of tree damage relates to inadequate space allotted for a tree to grow, which can be compounded by poor tree species selection. In New Jersey, municipalities
have the authority to determine who pays for sidewalk maintenance —whether it is the municipality, the adjacent property owner, or a combination of the two. Though street trees are a municipal responsibility if located within the public right-of-way, abutting property owners in most municipalities are held responsible for repairing damage caused by tree roots.
In addition to repairing sidewalk damage, abutting property owners are also responsible for snow and ice removal. While specific regulations vary from community to community, if property owners have not cleared the snow within a certain period of time following the end of a snowstorm, they can be ticketed. Although sidewalks serve a public good, many homeowners resent the responsibilities associated with maintaining a sidewalk. In fact, some homeowners purposely select homes that do not have sidewalks in order to avoid winter maintenance. These homeowners will be some of the most vocal if sidewalk construction is proposed in front of their property.
Fears of Liability
Liability for injuries suffered on sidewalks is frequently cited as a reason why some property owners oppose sidewalk construction in their neighborhood. The exposure to liability for injuries suffered on sidewalks has evolved under common law in New Jersey. While there have