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NYC sidewalks damaged by trees take more than a year to fix: report

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One repair took 11 years to complete, a new audit says

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NYC’s Department of Parks and Recreation took 419 days on average to repair tree-damaged sidewalks in 2017, a new audit by Comptroller Scott Stringer’s office found.

The audit, which aimed at analyzing repairs timeliness under NYC Parks’s Trees & Sidewalks Program, also found that the average wait time for an inspection of sidewalks damaged by trees’s roots after submitting a service request was 101 days. One repair took 11 years to complete, the report says. According to the report, NYC Parks does not keep track of the time frames of inspection and repairs for these sidewalks.

The Trees & Sidewalks Program was created in 2005 to maintain the city’s 650,000 street trees and manage sidewalks damaged by them in front of “owner occupied one-, two-, and three-family homes,” the study says.

Recommendations from the Comptroller’s office to NYC Parks, based on the audit’s findings, include establishing metrics to track “timeliness in inspecting reported tree-damaged sidewalks outside one- two- and three- family homes,” as well as “reasonable targets for the time it should take to complete a repair” following an inspection request.

The report also notes that unrepaired sidewalks are a tripping hazard and a potential liability to the city. During fiscal year 2017, the city settled six claims for a total of $1.3 million with people who reported they were injured because of a sidewalk defect caused by roots of trees, the report says.

“Our street trees are some of our most vibrant neighborhood markers, yet New Yorkers often have to wait more than a year for basic maintenance,” Stringer said in a statement. “That delay could be the difference between an accident and a safe walk or passage for a stroller or a wheelchair.”

During fiscal years 2016 and 2017, the Parks Department received 16,558 service requests for tree-damaged sidewalks, but achieved their internal 30-day response target with only 27 percent of them, according to the report. (A source familiar with the Trees & Sidewalks program said that since the beginning of this year, over 99 percent of service requests have been inspected within 30 business days.)

But NYC Parks says the report misunderstands the mission of the Trees & Sidewalks Program.

“The audit findings represent a fundamental misconception of the mission of the Trees and Sidewalks program,” Meghan Lalor, a spokesperson for NYC Parks, told Curbed in a statement. “Repairs are prioritized based on relative risk to public safety and impact on the tree—not the age of the service requests.”

A source said that under city law, property owners are responsible for maintaining their sidewalks—even when the damage is caused by tree roots—and that the Parks Department can only address the most severe cases. The source also said that Parks Department inspectors qualify and quantify the damage based on criteria including the volume of pedestrian usage, passable sidewalk width, and vertical lift.