BLOOMINGTON — Donna Thacker had no idea the concrete slabs between the curb and sidewalk in front of her house held any significance, or that the city could remove them.

"I just thought it was a little piece of the sidewalk," said Thacker, who lives in a house in 1500 block of North Lee Street that her parents purchased in 1972.

For Thacker, who is disabled, the concrete pathway is essential because she does not have a driveway to allow access to her front door.

The walkway means she can get to the street without worrying about slipping on the grassy slope in front of her home — a concern that became all too real after the death of a neighbor in April when he slipped in his yard and hit his head on the pavement, Thacker said.

The Public Works Department calls the pathways "carriage walks" because many date to a pre-automobile society. Most are located in the city's oldest neighborhoods, meaning they hold historic value for some property owners.

The one in front of Andy Streenz's Queen Anne Victorian home on North Lee Street near Locust was added probably in the 1950s.

And while his carriage walk is not fancy or historic, "I love having it," Streenz said. 

"We are examples of residents who literally use it on a daily basis,” he said. "It's funny we call them carriage walks — probably because carriages were being used when they were put in — but they are just as useful for automobiles as they were for carriages. They are the point where you can get out of your car in front of your house and there isn't mud or wet grass."

When Public Works removed Thacker's carriage walk in June, she was upset. The pathway, and others, were removed after city workers came across the carriage walks as they were repairing sidewalks and streets in her neighborhood.

Thacker said her carriage walk was in good condition, but she was told it was being removed because just having one made it non-compliant.

The removal was done under a Public Works policy allowing removal of the private pathways in public right-of-ways unless the property owner signs a waiver of liability.

Thacker said she agreed to sign the waiver, but apparently not in time to save her carriage walk.

She contacted Mayor Tari Renner and Scott Black, her alderman.

“They understood that with my physical limitations I really needed it,” she said.

Renner, Black and city staff helped Thacker, who lives on limited disability income, get her carriage walk replaced at no cost to her through the assistance of the Cornbelt Chapter of National AMBUCS, a local organization dedicated to creating mobility and independence for individual with disabilities.

After council members, residents and city administrators raised additional concerns, City Manager David Hales sent a memo instructing Public Works to stop removing the carriage walks until the issue is addressed by the City Council. 

"It's a very draconian policy," said Black, who represents Ward 7 in one of the city's older areas. "I had five or six people call me, and as a result I had them stop removing them until the council could discuss it. I think we have to hash out a real process for those who want to keep their carriage walks and are not up to code."

The city had been removing carriage walks for several reasons, said Public Works Director Jim Karch.

In many instances, the pathways were placing pressure on adjacent sidewalks and curbs, causing damage to the public infrastructure. Also, there are liability questions related to injuries caused by a fall. And the city was hoping to discourage people using them to cross the street mid-block, where it is less safe.

Alderman Judy Stearns sees the historical value of the walks, calling them an "integral element of the architecture of historic homes. When you alter these historical elements, you will reduce the property value of the home." Stearns represents the historic Franklin Park area where she grew up and where carriage walks are common.

"I really hope that they don't remove any more. It's interventionism that isn't warranted. Leave them alone as we always have."

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