Do big streetscape projects bring maintenance headaches

by George
(New York State)

Tree grate and up light maintenance cart

Tree grate and up light maintenance cart

Last Reviewed: June 17, 2024

Visitor Question: I'm on the board of a business improvement district. Several of our board members want to see a major revamp of our streetscape, including new sidewalks with decorative paver accents, new custom street lights that are low enough to light the sidewalk for pedestrians, new street trees replaced at a height of 6 to 8 feet, new benches, decorative bicycle racks, custom trash cans that complement our architecture, a seating wall, permanent planters, and some decorative up lighting to accent the trees and a couple of pieces of public art. Some even want to put glitter in the concrete for the new sidewalks.

Besides all of these streetscape improvements being so expensive that I don't know if we can afford it, I'm starting to worry about the maintenance costs a few years down the line. What's it like to have to pay to maintain these big projects?

Editors Reply: Your instincts to think about the cost of maintenance are certainly correct. Your street trees will have to be watered and pruned, your plantings will have to be watered (and if they are annuals, they have to be replanted each year), and your street lights and decorative accent lighting for trees and sculpture require bulb changes and cleaning of the globes for best results.

We added a couple of photos of tree grate and tree up light maintenance, showing that your business district or city government will need a cart, array of equipment, labor, and a scheduling routine to assure that your expensive lighting continues to give you the pedestrian friendly environment you wish to create.

Notice that in our list of maintenance tasks, we didn't include the more serious things that can go wrong. This includes potential painting of benches, replacement of missing elements of benches or missing bricks from pavers or seating walls, and re-setting of pavers and reconstruction of sidewalks when trees or seismic conditions begin to create uneven sidewalks that are actually tripping hazards.

Besides maintenance as such, your business district will need to plan a complete revamp of your streetscape within 15 years, if not sooner. If you choose less durable materials and construction methods, that day when the streets really do not look attractive can arrive much sooner.

So we recommend that your business improvement district analyze seriously whether you have the financial capacity to hire maintenance crews, whether you can receive adequate maintenance free from your city, and what you will do if seven or eight years from now, the city says it can no longer afford the maintenance frequency that you think is critical to preserving a positive shopping and workplace environment.

Many times special districts struggle to understand how to finance the capital improvements but then ignore ongoing maintenance and the inevitable replacement needs. Keep in mind that replacement may not be warranted all at one time, making debt financing less desirable. For instance, your trash cans might look worn out in eight years while your benches last 10 to 15 years if they are repainted a couple of times. Then what will you do?

All in all, we applaud your concerns and urge you to continue asking the same questions that you've been wondering about.

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