Photo by HÃ¥kon K. Olafsen on Flickr.

When utilty companies tear up sidewalks in the District, they often don’t put them back. The resulting bumps and holes make annoying or often hazardous obstacles for pedestrians. Residents and leaders in Glover Park have been pushing for fixes, and getting results.

Local groups are trying to make their neighborhood better for pedestrians. Glover Park Village, a nonprofit that supports seniors, proposed placing benches so they could take breaks. Volunteers created a snow shoveling service to clear sidewalks for older residents. Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 3B is trying to get funding for pedestrian safety improvements identified in a 2007 transportation study.

So when residents began to see dangerous holes and temporary asphalt patches on Tunlaw Road and Benton Street after Pepco removed old utility poles and DC Water repaired a fire hydrant, they reached out to the District Department of Transportation (DDOT), which stepped in to get them fixed.

"By the time the construction permit expires, full restoration of the concrete is expected and required by regulation,” said Elliot Garrett, Chief Public Space Enforcement Officer at DDOT. The agency successfully got DC Water to replace the concrete sidewalks along Tunlaw Road. It allowed the Benton Street hole to remain until DC Water’s construction permit ended 2 months later, by which time DC Water restored the sidewalk.

After the early successes, Garrett assured the community that DDOT would investigate every location someone reported. Glover Park residents kicked off a comprehensive effort to identify every sidewalk with unfinished utility construction.

Hole the in sidewalk at 39th Street and Calvert Place NW. Photo by anonymous volunteer.

Articles on the listserv and in the Glover Park Gazette encouraged residents to report problem locations. One resident, who asked to remain anonymous, volunteered to take a photo of every location to assist DDOT with their investigation.

For each location, residents created a 311 ticket using the online tool SeeClickFix to specify the location, describe the specific problem and upload a photo. Within hours or a day at most, each report gets a 311 tracking number. And residents created an online spreadsheet and a shared folder containing information and photos of each location.

Initially, the neighborhood submitted 24 sidewalk problems into the District’s 311 system for evaluation. Nearly all of them were near telephone poles, water valve covers or appeared to be utility repairs. A few of the locations, however, were near recently fallen trees and probably unrelated to utilities.

Temporary asphalt patch in 2100 block of 37th Street NW.

DDOT promptly inspected each location. In 17 of 24 instances, officials assigned responsibility to utility companies: 12 for Pepco, 3 for Washington Gas and 2 for DC Water. DDOT assigned work orders to itself for the remaining 7, some of which were due to fallen trees and others for which the agency could not determine responsibility. Residents added 3 more locations later, which are pending further DDOT investigation.

Most of the agencies responsible for damaging the sidewalk restored several locations to their original state. Others no longer have a valid construction permit. For these, the utilities are required to apply for a new permit and complete the restoration in accordance with DDOT standards.

How are utilities held accountable for restoring sidewalks, streets or other public spaces? According to DDOT spokesperson Monica Hernandez, the agency has public space inspectors who “routinely monitor their respective wards for any public space work, whether done under permit or not.”

Partial asphalt patch near water valve in 2100 block of Tunlaw Road NW.

Glover Park residents found 17 places where utilities hadn’t properly repaired the sidewalks, meaning there could be hundreds of temporary or unfinished repairs citywide. DDOT says that they have enough inspectors, technology and training in place to make utilities responsible for their work, and does outreach work to get them to finish it. 

Hernandez says that once reported, DDOT typically resolves sidewalk repair requests within 45 days, unless permitting processes or contractor mobilization cause delays. DDOT continues to hold monthly meetings with utility companies to coordinate work and highlight opportunities to ensure repairs are done on time and to their standards.

Does your neighborhood have sidewalks with unfinished utility company work? Have you reported the repairs to DDOT using SeeClickFix or 311? Have the issues been completely resolved within a timely manner?

Mitch Wander first arrived in Washington, DC over 25 years ago as a US House of Representatives page while in high school. An avid promoter of DC living, Mitch has lived in wards 1, 2, 3, and 6. He and his wife are proud DC Public School parents. He serves as an officer in the US Army Reserve.