After petitioning the city for years, Kevin Cox may soon see a dirt path on East High Road converted into a proper sidewalk.
Cox, who has long been determined to see more sidewalks built in Charlottesville, received an update Thursday from new City Manager Sam Sanders.
In an email sent days after The Daily Progress published a story about the matter, Sanders said that the proposed sidewalk would not be completed before the start of the school year, as had once been indicated to Cox.
“But the good news is still that the timeline I provided of this project happening this year is still the intended deadline for the project to be completed,” Sanders wrote.
Cox said he found the message encouraging.
“It’s a little different than previous promises, because he qualified it. He said, ‘We’re going to try to get it done,’ and put in bold font and underlined ‘this year,’” Cox told The Daily Progress. “Both are good signs to me that maybe actually it will get done.”
Still, after decades crusading for sidewalks, the Charlottesville resident is remaining vigilant.
“I do think this is legit and I do think Sanders means it, but I have been burned before. Many promises have been made to me about that little dirt path, so I’m a little bit cautious,” Cox said. “But I like Sanders, and I do believe he means it this time.”
The Daily Progress recently visited the little dirt path in question.
During the course of 10 minutes, multiple people walked across the parking lot in front of Charlottesville Glass and Mirror and onto the narrow cowpath, which has been formed over time by the heavy foot traffic that passes along each day.
In a video recorded by Cox and later shown to The Daily Progress, a man in a wheelchair had to push himself onto busy East High, unable to take his chair across the dirt and grass. In another video, a mother with a stroller took a long detour around a building’s back parking lot rather than risk the more rugged dirt route or taking her child out into the street.
In Sanders’ email to Cox, the city manager said a survey of the path has been initiated. He expects it to be finished by the end of August.
Next month, the city will attempt to find a contractor and will also consider using city staff for construction.
“We could see construction in October, but I am not committing to that just yet,” Sanders wrote. “The update is that we are still working to finally deliver this long-awaited sidewalk section this year, as indicated by me earlier this year.”
That would be music to Cox’s ears.
“It’d be great because that little missing piece of sidewalk is an important link in a regular pedestrian route than many people use. You can take a wheelchair from Downtown all the way to Pantops except for that link,” Cox said.
It would also be a success for Sanders.
Building a new sidewalk, even a small one, would be a direct response to demands city taxpayers have had for years.
And it could also help prevent a scenario that has been “terrifying” Sanders: a lawsuit for not complying with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
“We’re at risk. We could get hit with a lawsuit any day from anyone. And the Department of Justice, if they came here, would tell us to pay up. That’s how bad it is,” Sanders told listeners at a July 20 meet-and-greet shortly after being named city manager.
Sanders said he’s been working very hard to improve the city’s ADA compliance, including adding an additional staff position to support those efforts and selecting a contractor for a new transition plan.
At minimum, if a federal or state official inspected the city’s ADA compliance, Sanders said he wanted to be able to “show best efforts.”
That could prevent Charlottesville from “being a headline in national news like some other communities that have chosen to do nothing,” Sanders said. “We have a lot of folks who love to come to the city, and we should ensure that those folks get to experience it the same as everyone else.”
Still, there is much work to be done. And Cox said he knows it.
His wife, Sarah Pool, is blind. She frequently emails the city about its ADA violations, and she has trouble navigating sidewalks that are cracked, nonexistent or covered with vegetation.
“People are forced into the street after getting smacked in the face by a stray branch or getting their wheelchairs tangled up in vines on the sidewalk,” Cox wrote on Friday to Stacey Smalls, the city’s director of public works, in an email obtained by The Daily Progress. “Blocked and missing sidewalks make many disabled people prisoners in their own homes.”