Speak up about potholes and cracked sidewalks

This week’s question comes from Daniela in Bernal Heights, who told me the other day about a pothole in a crosswalk in her neighborhood that never seems to get fixed and keeps getting worse. She is afraid a bicyclist or pedestrian is going to get seriously injured and wonders why The City has not repaired the crosswalk.

Daniela, I am glad you are alarmed. You should be. It’s so important to prevent injuries and keep people safe. Fortunately, you can turn your concern into action by taking steps to help make San Francisco a better place for older people, disabled people, people on bicycles and everyone else. You can report dangerous conditions before people are injured.

Streets, crosswalks and sidewalks in San Francisco are often a mess. Cracks, potholes, sidewalk sections displaced by tree roots and missing utility covers injure too many people every year. The City has admitted in lawsuits that cracks or holes in sidewalks and crosswalks that have a “vertical separation” of only half an inch or more are “obstructions” that can cause people to trip and fall or that can impede disabled people. Falls can be devastating and can cause long-lasting, debilitating injuries.

San Francisco claims to inspect the condition of its roadways every two years, so they can create a “condition score” for the pavement. The City also has a program that tries to inspect a set number of blocks of sidewalks each year. Unfortunately, potholes, cracks and other dangerous conditions arise more frequently and can severely injure people before The City gets around to performing scheduled inspections.

This is where you come in. The City of San Francisco has a program called “311 San Francisco At Your Service.” It allows you to obtain a great deal of information from The City, but it also allows you to report dangerous conditions in sidewalks and streets. You can go online to www.sf311.org and make a service request. You can either create an account with SF311 that will allow you to track your request, or you can make a request for repairs anonymously. You can even attach photographs of the dangerous condition to document what needs to be fixed.

If you have a smartphone, it is even easier. You can download the SF311 app, which allows you to take photographs of dangerous sidewalks, streets and sidewalks and alert The City immediately about the problem. You can literally do it as soon as you see the hazard. Take a picture and report the danger to The City as you walk away.

Once San Francisco receives a 311 complaint about a problem, it should send an inspector from the Department of Public Works, or another responsible department, to inspect the scene. The inspectors are supposed to document the condition and contact whomever is responsible for fixing it. I have seen letters that inspectors have sent to property owners about repairing sidewalks and to utilities such as PG&E about replacing missing utility box covers in sidewalks. I have even seen letters that San Francisco inspectors have sent to other city departments telling them to fix dangerous conditions in sidewalks, such as missing water meter lids.

Unfortunately, I have seen these letters after there has been an injury when The City or the property owner fails to take action to repair the defect and a lawsuit is brought. You see, a city can only be held legacy accountable for conditions that they knew, or should have known, about. Therefore, your report should prompt The City to take action so they don’t get sued and, if they fail to act responsibly, it creates a trail to show liability when they fail to inspect and correct the defect.

Please, download the SF311 app on your cellphone and let San Francisco know as soon as you see something dangerous. You will probably never know whose life or health you have saved, but you will know that you are doing your part to make San Francisco a safer place for everyone.

Christopher B. Dolan is owner of the Dolan Law Firm. Email questions to help@dolanlawfirm.com.

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