Just as Las Vegas City Councilman Bob Coffin was explaining what he sees as dangerously narrow sidewalks along Charleston Boulevard Thursday morning, a woman dragging a wheeled cart walked past, illustrating the problem.
The cart couldn’t fit in the space between a traffic signal pole and the edge of the curb. So one wheel tipped the cart into the street, forcing her to step into the busy thoroughfare to lift it back onto the sidewalk.
Coffin raised the issue at a City Council meeting Wednesday, calling it an “urgent situation,” and calling Charleston Boulevard among the least safe streets in Las Vegas.
“One person is going to walk around this pole and get hit by a car or sucked in by a bus. It’s inevitable, with this thing in the middle,” he said, nodding to a traffic signal pole.
Coffin is pitching what he sees as a relatively easy and inexpensive remedy: in areas where light poles, traffic signal poles and other infrastructure block sidewalks, city officials can approach the adjacent property owners and offer to pay them for a strip of their land that can be used to widen the sidewalks.
The city could then lay a “corridor of concrete” to widen walkways, which Coffin said will be a simpler and less expensive task than narrowing driving lanes or moving infrastructure. As the streets have been widened over the years, there’s been less space to work with for sidewalks.
“I think most property owners would agree to giving up 18 inches of land, and we’d pay them for it. This is so simple,” Coffin said. “There’s not a lot of design, not a lot of time, not a lot of architect and engineer fees. Sometimes we do get this stuff done without a lot of red tape.”
The biggest areas of concern for Coffin are Charleston and Las Vegas boulevards. In some places, there’s not enough room for a wheelchair or for two people walking side by side, he said.
At the northwest corner, the traffic signal pole sits 18 to 20 inches from the property line. On the pole’s other side, even less sidewalk space exists between it and the street. Adult-sized wheelchairs are often 26 inches wide, measured from the outside of the wheels on either side.
Coffin saw a person in a wheelchair try to get around a pole in the sidewalk, but when the whole chair couldn’t fit, one wheel tipped into the traffic lane, dumping the person into the roadway. Traffic stopped in time, but Coffin worries that won’t always be the case.
The city is in the midst of a sidewalk infill project that, when complete, will have invested $40 million in sidewalks and ramps that are compliant with the Americans With Disabilities Act in downtown Las Vegas and the immediately surrounding area. In the past three fiscal years and in the upcoming fiscal year 2017, there’s a combined more than $12 million allocated for such improvements. The share in the upcoming fiscal year is $2.2 million of sidewalk work, city spokesman Jace Radke said.
The ADA-compliance portions of that ongoing city sidewalk project address areas where poles are situated on the pathway itself, Radke said.
“We hear you,” City Manager Betsy Fretwell told Coffin at the council meeting, noting the sidewalk work. “I just don’t want it to sound like this has fallen on deaf ears and nothing is happening.”
Coffin sees his proposal as a way to expedite the process, and he wants sidewalks along Charleston and Las Vegas boulevards to be addressed as soon as possible.
“It’s so urgent, it’s really not part of a plan, it should be today’s solution,” Coffin said.
City resident Francis Vani typically walks along Charleston Boulevard once a month to pay his phone bill, which he was on his way to do Thursday morning.
“There is some concern. You’ve got the light pole right in the center of the sidewalk. Sometimes there are damaged areas and you have to go around,” Vani said. “It’s very tough coming through there.”
Contact Jamie Munks at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0354. Follow @JamieMunksRJ on Twitter.