Columns » Public Eye

Kissing the pavement of public safety



It's always embarrassing when -- bam! --out of the blue, you fall down in public. In front of your boss. In front of a whole bunch of strangers, watching as you kiss the pavement.

It's even worse when you find your foot stuck in a pothole filled with putrid water, with more of it splashed on your arms and face and good clothes, a nice new pair of pants ruined and a chunk of your knee gnawed up to a pulpy, bloody mess.

It's worst of all when venders who saw your fall immediately inform you that the same pothole that took you to the pavement at the Farmers Market downtown on Monday has also wreaked similar havoc on at least a half-dozen other victims over the past several weeks. In one incident, the above-mentioned pothole reportedly seized an occupied baby stroller and tossed it on its side.

This year, after a quarter century in downtown's Acacia Park, the City moved what is supposed to be a pedestrian-friendly Farmers' Market to the west side of the Pioneers' Museum. There, along Tejon Street in front of the museum, regional farmers peddle their delicious wares of honey, vegetables, Palisade peaches and Rocky Ford cantaloupe to hundreds of customers every week.

Unfortunately, during its first year there, it has been a public safety hazard. Numerous deep potholes, as well as one hefty sinkhole, have lined the street and gutter since the market opened in late June.

"Since we've been down here we've been so flustrated trying to get this fixed," said Frank Schmidt, of Schmidt Apiaries, who organizes the Farmers' Market.

When Schmidt realized the treacherous layout, he first called the City Parks Department. They referred him to the city's street department, which took his report and his telephone number but never called back. Then, he tried the city's Department of Safety. Nothing happened. Then, he explained the situation to City Councilman Richard Skorman, who happened to be shopping at the Market. Finally, a couple of weeks ago, the City repaired a half-block stretch along Tejon Street from Vermijo northward.

That, Schmidt noted, essentially half-repaired the problem, as the remaining stretch remained unfixed. He has tried to avert further injuries by renting, at his own expense, orange cones to alert pedestrian shoppers.

In addition, Schmidt is concerned about two sinkholes in the asphalt directly in front of the Plaza of the Rockies' new high-rise building on Tejon. Schmidt recently demonstrated the depth of sinkholes with a two-foot tire iron, which he shoved into up to the hilt.

As far back as July 1, Schmidt said, he attempted to get the City to fix that additional safety hazard. The City responded by putting a sandbagged barricade over one of the sinkholes, which on Monday had blown over in the wind.

Which means the City has been aware of a hazard in the path of hundreds of pedestrians and vehicles for nearly two months, without doing a thing to fix the problem.

"This is really uncalled for," Schmidt said. "If a truck pulled in over this spot, [the road] would just collapse."

On Monday, after the pothole took me down, I contacted Larry Sidberry, maintenance supervisor for the city's street division. Sidberry initially claimed that the city-owned Colorado Springs Utilities was responsible for fixing the problem. Still, Sidberry agreed to meet me in 20 minutes at the scene.

There, Sidberry again said the sinkholes were the responsibility of the Utilities department. As for the deep potholes along the stretch of Tejon, he said, the City has not been able to fix the street because cars have been parked there.

"We'd have to cover the meter-heads," Sidberry said. "I don't know why that's not been done."

So when will it be fixed? Well, now that we asked, Sidberry said he is sure the work will be completed by next Monday, the day of the next downtown Farmers' Market.

We don't doubt Sidberry's promise.

We're more than a little disgusted, though, that it took a newspaper column, a chewed-up knee and a new pair of pants to make the point.


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