Closing Center City Sidewalks More Than Inconvenience

Forget the dark alleys or sleazy street corners. You may be facing danger every day while walking in Center City.

Harry Hairston and the NBC 10 Investigators explain how easy it is to accidentally walk right into a path of danger.

Construction appears to be everywhere. It's growth that's sending Philadelphia's skyline reaching for the clouds like never before.

But as buildings go up, sidewalks shut down, making it difficult for many pedestrians to get around.

"It's a little inconvenience to have to walk out into the middle of the street when cars are coming. It's inconvenience," one person said.

"It causes blind spots, so you can't see what's coming. So you basically have to stand in the middle of the street," said another.

But some said it's much more than just an inconvenience.

"People are in danger. They don't realize until they get up to the barricade that they have to cross the street," said Philadelphia City Councilman James Kenney.

According to Kenney, it's time for the city to take back its sidewalks from the clutches of contractors.

"There are times -- for example, during the demolition -- where you need to have the sidewalk closed. But once the demolition's done and the construction starts, you don't need to have the sidewalk closed," said the at-large councilman and Democrat.

And for some, the closed sidewalks create dangers that many of us may not think about.

For many, walking through the busy city streets is no real problem because they can look and see the sign saying cross the street.

But what if you are legally blind, and the sound of the construction is too loud for you to hear anything else?

"Just imagine putting earmuffs on and being blindfolded and being asked to go around the construction area into a busy Center City street," said James Saylor, president of the regional chapter of the Pennsylvania Council of the Blind.

A lawyer who is legally blind, Saylor uses a white cane or blind stick to get around. He knows from experience how tough it is for the blind to side-step closed sidewalks.

"I had an incident where I was coming up west on Chestnut Street and didn't realize the construction fence was there and went right into the fence," Saylor said.

That was a defining moment for him, Saylor said.

"It was rather embarrassing and it hit home the fact that this sort of an obstacle is very dangerous," he said.

Away from home, in the Big Apple, is where Kenney said he discovered some solutions to Philly's sidewalk safety concerns. Instead of closing sidewalks, contractors build sheds.

"These sheds or shelters are all over the place, and it allows people to walk through Manhattan and other parts of New York with great ease," Kenney said.

In Philadelphia, the president of the General Building Contractors Association said safety is their main concern, and they're not opposed to using the same type of shed.

But the group also said not even sheds like the ones in New York can prevent an object falling 30 floors from crashing through and injuring a someone.

Critics said, however, there has got to be a better way than shutting down.

"So it is a very outrageous situation to expect people to have to deal with this on a daily basis," Saylor said.

City administrators said they are planning to charge contractors a fee for each week they keep a sidewalk closed, hoping that will get them to reopen sidewalks quicker.

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