All about stupid, and the great sidewalk restoration quake of ‘08

Posted on Thursday 30 October 2008

By Bullfeathers (Greg Taylor)

Stupid is just a fact of life. Probably always has been. I looked up “stupid” in the dictionary. It’s in there, and everything it says about the word easily applies to people, which makes me think stupid has been affecting people for quite a while.
My inspiration to write about stupid came directly from one of my favorite hobbies, which is name-calling. It’s a pasttime I find to be extremely satisfying and just a hoot in general.
Stupid, by the way, is defined by the dictionary as “1: slow of mind, 2: lacking intelligence, 3: dulled in feeling, 4: a stupid person.”
Those definitions, however, kind of let the air out of my balloon. There have been times in my life, and continue to be, when one or more of the definitions fit me or something I’ve done. In fact, I figure it applies to all of us at one time or another, which, I guess, makes stupid universal. Sort of takes some of the fun out of name-calling. But not enough to make me give up a good hobby.
The saga of the restoration of the downtown sidewalks in Spur has been a case study in stupid. In case you’ve been out of the country lately, the city of Spur got a grant this year to tear out their downtown sidewalks and pour new ones. Sounds great, on the surface, but what the city ran into are laws that apply to new construction regarding wheelchair-accessibile ramps, slope restrictions, and miminum widths between obstructions, such as support posts and rails. And that doesn’t even take into account the contracted engineer’s plan for the new sidewalks that was, well, stupid.
Now, after weeks of looking like we’ve suffered an earthquake, we have sidewalks with ramps where there’s no need for ramps, steps that are too narrow, and even steps in the middle of the sidewalk where no one would expect steps. Consequently people who have walked these sidewalks for years are now tripping and injuring themselves on new steps that fall in the “Who in Hades would put a step there?” category, and our new ramps meant by law to help handicapped people are instead creating handicapped people.
At last count a half-dozen people have fallen in front of the pharmacy, where a step was put in the middle of the sidewalk. (Yes, the step really is in the engineer’s plans.)
And just this week the work crews discovered, in tearing out the sidewalk in front of Gloria’s cafe, that the basement under the cafe extends out past the building under the sidewalk, which, before it was torn out, served as the basement’s roof and ceiling. Now the basement is an 8-foot deep pit where a sidewalk was, and what began as a simple concrete job has become really complex.
It’s not hard to react to the sidewalk project as if it and the folks involved were stupid. Had the project gone as most of us might have imagined, with new concrete replacing old and the addition of a couple of wheelchair accessible ramps where needed, the new sidewalks would probably have been accepted as “nice”, and the inconveniece of the construction tolerated as a necessary evil. But, with the complication of meeting government laws on accessibility in new construction, which, apparently the engineer compensated for by adding the surprise steps and excessive ramps, plus the spending of a lot of state tax money to fix something that really wasn’t broken, the project now easily qualifies as stupid.
Unfortunately for the city council members, who originally approved the project, responsibility for the project falls on them and the city, and the associated stupid stain, fair or not, inevitably works its way toward all involved.
Fortunately, however, for those same city council members, stupid applies universally in that we’ve all done something more-or-less as stupid as their trying to get us new sidewalks. Theirs was just done in a more spectator-filled setting.
Will knowing all this make it less painful to trip and fall on our new stupid sidewalks, or make injuries suffered to this point or in the future less serious, or protect us from liability when someone does get hurt? Afraid not.
But it should remind us of these basic principles of stupid:
1. Stupid does not have to be in the idea or the action, but can just show up in the complications and make even the best project stupid.
2. Stupid increases proportionally to the the level of government involved in a project.
3. You only think you’ve seen stupid until you deal with government funds, such as grant projects that require a minimum bid process.
4. Our city council really wasn’t stupid in the sidewalk project. It was the engineering firm, and they should have to correct what their stupid design messed up.
5. Stupid is universal. From time to time we all have it, kind of like gas. And nobody around us ever appreciates it when we have it, but they will always act like they never have it as bad as we do.

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