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Orange's cracked footpaths: "It’s hard enough for people who can see, let alone those who can’t."

May 11, 2023


Matt Bryant on Summer Street. Copyright: Orange News Examiner.


By Peter Holmes


Matt Bryant, who is vision impaired, works at Optus Business Centre on Summer Street, and is assisted in getting around by his guide dog Kobe.


On Kobe’s days off Bryant uses a retractable walking stick.



Bryant believes it’s only a matter of time before someone in Orange suffers a catastrophic injury after tripping on a footpath. If it hasn't happened already.



“It’s hard enough for people who can see, let alone those who can’t,” he told The Orange News Examiner. “It’s terrible out here. In particular, just down Summer Street.”


Pavers on Summer Street. Copyright: Orange News Examiner.

He mentions loose pavers near Chemist Warehouse, just down the road from his office.


“If you step on these loose pavers the wrong way, or in a certain way, you nearly roll your ankle. I’ve nearly gone down a few times,” Bryant said. “Not a complete tumble, but very close.”

He said while Kobe was trained to walk around obstacles such as chairs, bollards, barricades and holes, dogs weren’t able to discern uneven surfaces on concrete footpaths and brick pavers





He said cracks and uneven surfaces had forced him to use his walking stick differently.



“You hit the crack with your stick and it goes ‘Bang!’ straight into your guts.”

When this occurred, Bryant said he could usually be heard muttering something along the lines of “f**king footpaths!” to himself.


Loose pavers on Summer Street. Copyright: Orange News Examiner.

“I’ve had to sort of try and remember to hold it out here [to the side], because you hit the cracks too often.


"If you have it [in front of you] where you’re supposed to have it, you hit a crack, bang. I’ve had bruises from it.”


Asked how Orange footpaths compared to other places he’d been to, he said they were “pretty bad”.


He had praise for the area down by the cab rank on Lords Place at Robertson Park.


“That’s fantastic now, really good. But Summer Street with the pavers, and McNamara Lane is terrible. I’ve got to walk very, very slowly just to get through there. I had to go up there the other day, and I’m glad I don’t have to do it too often.”

 
IN Orange’s footpath lottery, some strike the jackpot while others are left tearing up their tickets and tossing them in the air.

Take the multi-stage Shiralee Estate development southwest of the CBD near Philip Shaw Wines.


Shiralee Estate. Orange City Council.

When The Orange News Examiner visited this week, it was a hive of activity as dozens of tradies - with their vans and trucks lining the new roads - worked on the edges of the estate constructing properties for companies including Hotondo, Thrive and G.J. Gardner.


The main thoroughfares through the Shiralee Estate at the moment are Sweetheart Drive and Lysterfield Road, which both run off Shiralee Road.


Sweetheart Drive, Shiralee Estate. Video: Orange News Examiner


Dozens of houses have been constructed along Sweetheart Drive and Lysterfield Road, and on a few side roads such as Tanika Street, and a community is growing. Google Earth is struggling to keep up.



In the Shiralee Estate there are new footpaths on both sides of the roads. Doesn’t matter if it’s a main thoroughfare or a side street, you get a footpath on both sides.

As the estate expands, so will the network of roads and footpaths. People will be able to stroll, push prams and walk dogs.


And, as our video (below) shows, there is even footpath on sections of roads that currently lead to nowhere.



The residents have hit the footpath lottery jackpot.


According to Orange City Council documents the “design principles” for Shiralee would “Encourage walking by providing footpaths on all streets”.


Shiralee Estate. Video: Orange News Examiner.


“Street trees and street lights are to be staggered so that footpaths maintain sufficient light levels,” council stated. “Footpaths to be provided on both sides of the street.”



And then the kicker: “A developer shall construct all footpaths … prior to sale of building blocks.”

[In fact, houses are currently being built on streets in Shiralee without footpaths, however council said this was due to the fact heavy machinery and trucks could damage new footpaths, and that they are being completed after houses are built, but before they are occupied.]


 

HEAD back into town and what you find is a footpath network built up over more than 150 years.


Taken as a whole, it appears to have been designed by someone throwing darts at a map while wearing an eye mask.

There are clear winners and losers.


Video: No footpaths on this section of Endsleigh Avenue. Orange News Examiner.



This is urban progress. Different councils, different priorities, different budgets. Boom times, Bust times. The decades roll by - one step forward, two back, three forward, one sideways.


It is, frankly, a bit of a mess, and unbecoming of a modern regional city with high council rates.


Drive around the city and there often seems no obvious explanation as to why one side street has footpaths on both sides of the road, the next has a footpath on one side of the road, and the next has nothing.


Phillip Street north of the CBD didn't go too well in the footpath lottery. Copyright: Orange News Examiner.

Take Phillip Street north of the CBD, as it heads off Anson Street at the roundabout. A wide street with plenty of traffic, it has no footpaths. None. Who was responsible for this? And why has it never been sorted?


Take Heatherbrae Parade, also north of the CBD. An extension of the main road Peisley Street, it is a key thoroughfare - along with Anson and Hill streets - from the CBD to the Northern Distributor Road.


It is also used by people walking to work at North Orange shops.


No footpaths in the estate north of the CBD. Google Earth.

It has no footpath on either side of the road. The side streets and cul-de-sacs running off this arterial also have no footpaths.


There is uneven and rocky terrain, ideal for slips and trips, and so people are forced to push prams, stroll, run and walk dogs on the road.

How did this happen? Who let a developer loose on a new estate 30-odd years ago without insisting on footpaths? And why has no council lifted a finger to sort it out since?



The footpath stops at the corner of Prince and Clinton streets. Google Street View.

Take Prince Street, which would have been gazetted when Adam was in nappies. Much of the street has footpaths on both sides of the road, befitting a key thoroughfare.


However on the left side of the road as you head towards the small Greengate shopping centre on the corner of Prince and Woodward streets, the pathway just stops on the corner of Prince and Clinton streets, seemingly for no rhyme or reason.

 
A HISTORY of Orange published by council shows that roads have been a key issue in Orange for more than 170 years, and were a key driver in a group of men organising for Orange to become a municipality.
Footpath in Orange in the 1880s. Orange City Library.

“In 1853, the roads in the township were in deplorable condition," the history stated. "Day after day there were accidents with horses, bullocks and drays. Occasionally, the Government provided a little money to do urgently needed repairs to the streets.”



In July 1859 a meeting to discuss the incorporation of Orange was held at the Royal Hotel, when it was unanimously decided to take steps to establish a municipality. Within a week, 74 signatures had been obtained on a petition which was sent to the government.

The town became a municipality in January 1860 and in February the first election was held, with John Woodward, James Dale, George McKay, Denis Hanrahan, John Peisley and W.T. Evans elected as aldermen.


Footpath in Orange in the 1920s. Orange Museum.

“The first work carried out by the Council was the removal of the stumps in the streets, a job of some magnitude.”

 

THE problem with footpaths, as with roads, is that once you build them, you need to maintain them. The more you build, the more maintenance you must build into future budgets.



Wear and tear, underground root systems and weather events can lead to cracks and shifting in footpaths. All of a sudden one piece of footpath is an inch higher than the piece next to it.

People can trip over as the toe of their footwear becomes wedged against the raised piece of concrete. Things get sprained, or stretched, or bruised, or broken.


As you walk around the city you may notice two orange lines painted onto parts of footpaths.


Councils do this for three reasons.


The first is safety - to warn people who are walking by, to take note of a surface that is cracked.


The second is that it allows for maintenance to be pushed back.

The third is that it gives local government some legal width if and when personal injury cases are brought.


A section of footpath on Margaret Street. Leaves were cleared to take this photo. Copyright: Orange News Examiner.

But what if the maintenance work isn’t done to repair potentially dangerous footpaths and the painted lines fade and are no longer clearly visible? What if people are walking in poor light? What if the painted lines are covered in leaves?



Two readers wrote to us last week about their experiences with footpaths in Orange.

“Council in Orange are wasting ratepayers money,” one wrote. “We should all have a footpath. I'm sick of walking to Alpine shops on the road or dirt.”


Faded paint marker around Alpine shops. Copyright: Orange News Examiner.
Alpine shops. Copyright: Orange News Examiner.
Alpine shops. Copyright: Orange News Examiner.

The Orange News Examiner visited the Alpine shops. From a vehicle it appeared as if the L-shaped retail strip was well-serviced for footpaths, irrespective of which direction you approached from.


Patch up job at Alpine shops. Copyright: Orange News Examiner.

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On closer inspection the pavement had split in multiple locations at all entrances, creating booby traps for the elderly, the infirm or those who were not focused on the footpath.

Faded paint at Alpine shops. Copyright: Orange News Examiner.

Parallel orange lines had been painted alongside some of the cracks, but some were so faded as to be of little to no use.



One lawyer told us that it wasn’t easy to sue a council or state government in NSW over injuries caused by roads and footpaths, as they had “some solid [legal] protections”.

Successful litigation can rest on whether a government body was aware of the risks, had done anything to mitigate them, and to what extent a pedestrian was taking note of their surroundings as they walked. There is an onus on all parties to play a role.



Such disputes in NSW are often settled between insurers and the aggrieved party before matters reach court, with the signing of a non-disclosure agreement - ensuring the person doesn’t talk about their experience to reporters or anyone else - part of the resolution.

 

THE saying that councils should focus on the three Rs - rates, roads and rubbish - before concerning itself with other matters, is plainly an unreasonable one.



Councils are required to do a lot more than just set rates at a fair level, ensure rubbish is collected in a timely manner, and keep the roads (and footpaths) in good working order.

But at what point should a lack of success in one of the basic areas - footpaths - take precedence over the other things council spends money on?





There is no correct answer, of course. Only opinions. Even though councils have stand-alone budgets across a range of areas, theoretically every dollar it spends on a footpath is a dollar that might not be able to be spent on a local community group, park, event or sporting team.



In 2018 OCC’s media wing issued a statement about footpaths.


“Orange City Council crews have laid 462 tonnes of concrete as part of the city’s footpath network, this financial year,” it read.

A 2018 photo of workers building footpath. Orange City Council.

At the time, the council’s Infrastructure Committee chair and deputy mayor Sam Romano said the work was part of council’s “record commitment” of $350,000 per year for new footpaths and upgrades.



“As part of the council’s record footpath program valued at more than $1.4 million over four years, crews have upgraded and built new paths on March Street, from Spring Street to Nile Street; replaced a footpath on March Street from Hill Street to Sale Street; and replaced a footpath in Caroline Street from McLachlan to Edward Street,” Romano said.


The former councillor was quoted as saying “every footpath in Orange is routinely checked for factors like wear and tear, and damage from tree roots”.

“There are always difficult decisions to be made whether a new path should be built in one location or another,” he said. “There are objective criteria around the condition of the surface, the amount of foot traffic and the site’s accident history that are used to make those decisions.”




He also said council needed to factor into its priorities “planned major projects, such as the CBD upgrade”.


In September 2020 Orange City Council released a media statement saying it had tripled its footpath budget in 2020-2021 to $900,000. This included $550,000 for new footpaths and $350,000 renewing old footpaths.


“The spending is part of a three-year boost to footpath funding for the city, with a further $750,000 slated for next year [2021-22] and $600,000 the year after that [2022-23],” council said.



Council footpath maps.


Council footpath maps.


Melanie McDonell, on her first term as an Orange councillor, was elected in part on a platform of delivering more footpaths in Orange.


She attended a staff briefing from council recently on this very topic, and believed council needed to hike its footpath budget significantly.


Even then, it would take many years to catch up on the cumulative deficit left by previous councils.

Councillor Steve Peterson also attended the briefing, and on the same day - April 28, 2023 - posted on social media: "Today’s briefing was on the progress of road and footpath renewal and repair. Plenty of concerns and queries were covered.


"The council is spending more on footpaths than ever before, but this is scheduled to decrease from the next budget. I’m sure many other councillors would join me in planning to find the money to maintain current spending as so many footpaths need replacement."



A draft budget for 2023-24 is being prepared by council staff.


“I’m going to be jumping up and down about this to try and get the budget at least tripled,” McDonell told The Orange News Examiner.


“Decades ago, for some reason, [council] stopped the requirement [for footpaths to be built in new estates]. It is absurd. We are 30 to 40 years behind, and at the current pace it’d take 50-plus years to make up to what we have now. We need massive investment.”



Facebook comments on Orange footpaths, taken from a post earlier this year. In the background, a marked piece of raised concrete near Alpine shops.

She said that a draft Development Control Plan being worked on at the moment was “sticking with the Shiralee-style requirements for footpaths, but we’ve got this massive deficit we need to make up for”.


McDonell believed most people in the city would support a big increase in footpath budgets. The question - how do we pay for it?
 

IN August 2022 The Orange News Examiner reported on advice from council staff to councillors that one way of speeding up the building of footpaths would be to charge the landowner 50 percent of the cost of building a footpath.





Councillor McDonell had raised the matter during an infrastructure committee meeting.


According to the minutes she sought information on how the new footpaths were prioritised, “particularly where some areas are having footpaths renewed or installed on both sides of street, where other areas have none at all”.


The director technical services told councillors high use areas close to the CBD and schools received preference on having footpaths on both sides of the road.


“Council often gets requests for both sides, but it does not always mean this will happen,” the minutes stated.


McDonell noted some areas had not had footpaths for many years, and sought advice on how to best advocate for those areas.





It was at this point councillors were told that “there are mechanisms under the Local Government Act to charge 50 percent cost to landowner. This is something we currently do not do however it is available if council wished to extend its footpath budget further”.


It'd be a brave councillor who endorsed the concept of charging people who don't have footpaths 50 percent of the cost of building one. Particularly those living on thoroughfares that should have had one decades ago.


The test now is for the 12 Orange City councillors.


Do they care enough to create a stink and demand more money be found to ramp up the footpath program? Or are they content with the way things are?


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