Overgrown Sidewalks and Urban Bushwhacking

Spring came and went like a bat out of hell, leaving us Georgians with 80+ degree days in February, followed by a summer that started in March.  While the rest of the U.S. went from shorts to snowsuits and back again almost overnight, new plant growth down south greedily attacked the open spaces around it without mercy, leaving hazards and obstructions in its wake.

Personally, I’m a sidewalk runner.  We are pedestrians and not vehicles after all.  Some runners say you should only run on the road and they have their reasons for it, but I like to keep myself separated from bicycles, cars, and motorcycles as much as possible.  However, like the picture above illustrates, that can be hard to do when the sidewalk is blocked by obnoxious plant life.  What’s a runner to do?

There are several options:

1)  Talk to the property owner

In the example above, the bush is growing from someone’s yard out into the sidewalk, so it’s the homeowner’s responsibility to take care of that mess.  If you don’t want to confront them face-to-face, leave a note on the mailbox or door.  If you have no luck, you might have to give Code Enforcement a call. 

2)  Report the issue to the city

If the overgrowth is coming from city property, a park, or a vacant home, then you can contact the appropriate city department and they should take care of it.   Some cities have online, fillable forms or other easy ways to submit your issue.  In Atlanta, we have an excellent pedestrian hazard tool created by PEDS, where you can even upload a photo of the problem along with your description.  Here are some more examples of reporting systems from cities around the US:

Seattle, WA:  Overgrown Vegetation Online Reporting Tool

New York City:  NYC 311 – Overgrown Grass or Weeds Complaint Reporting Tool

Madison, WI:  Sidewalk Concerns Reporting Form

And there is always SeeClickFix; a handy interactive reporting tool, that even has a downloadable app.

3)  Do It Yourself

Sometimes, you might not feel like waiting for a property owner or a city employee to come out and trim up that bush or tree.

From afar


Out of control

This overgrown sidewalk is just outside of a large, empty lot along one of my regular routes to work.  I could have spent some time researching and looking for the owner and their contact info, but I didn’t really feel like hunting them down and waiting for them to do something.  So, I decided to trim the trees myself.  I brought a pair of these with me for the job:

After about 15 minutes of pruning, there was enough clearance for even tall walkers and runners to get through.  All branches were piled up near the street afterwards.

Apparently, guerrilla pruning scares some people. A 2007 article from The Stranger talks about the panic that set in when a wild pruner practically held a neighborhood hostage with his or her hijinks.

It’s just sort of a creepy thing to do.” – Seattle PD Officer

Based on the comments, it sounds like most people support guerrilla pruning.  However, you should probably exhaust all other options before resorting to the DIY technique, as you never know how some people (or police/municipalities) might react to your renegade neighborhood beautification project…

By |2016-10-22T20:26:48+00:00June 6th, 2012|Categories: General|Tags: , , , , , , |9 Comments

About the Author:

Editor-in-Chief of The Run Commuter by night, paralegal by day. Father of three boys. Husband to the world's greatest bicycle advocate. Avid runner. Lover of beer and urban gardening. Can be found running with a backpack around the streets of Atlanta, Georgia. Contact Josh at info@theruncommuter.com


  1. Christina Nowacki June 6, 2012 at 11:08 am - Reply

    I feel your pain! There are two spots along one of my regular loops out my front door when I have to run into the street to avoid the face laps from some overgrown trees. Love that you took matters into your own hands!!

  2. maptester June 6, 2012 at 11:17 am - Reply

    I also engage in guerrilla pruning, esp. along the Path along Freedom Pkwy. I got caught the other day by none other than George Dusenbury, Commission of Parks! Nice exchange, gave me his card and asked me to call if an area needed pruning. Haven’t called yet…

    • Josh
      Josh June 6, 2012 at 11:45 am - Reply

      Funny! The Path does get pretty bushy in a few places for sure. If you do talk to George, ask him about planting fruit trees along it near Highland Bakery. There are mulberry bushes down there and nothing is better than stopping during my run to pick and eat some berries. It would be AMAZING if there were peaches, apples or asian pears there, too.

  3. Kyle
    Kyle June 6, 2012 at 11:25 am - Reply

    I’ve done the same, Josh. If it is one or two branches, hanging low in the sidewalk or bike lane, sure: do it. But if you intend to significantly whittle a hedge, probably best to seek input from the neighborhood or the city.

    Too, if it is on a regular route, it might be on a feral property, or one that has an absentee owner. No one will care if you hack that down. Anything short of homesteading usually is OK.

  4. […] Overgrown sidewalks and Urban Bushwhacking […]

  5. John Rose July 18, 2012 at 12:30 pm - Reply

    Cashelle showed me your blog here and if this is where I think it is (Jackson between Auburn and Irwin), I JUST majorly pruned back this whole sidewalk like 2 weeks ago. There was a big “Love your Block” cleanup and we really went to town.

    • Josh
      Josh July 18, 2012 at 1:16 pm - Reply

      Awesome. That’s exactly where it was, John. Thanks for trimming it up! I’ve changed up my route a bit since I posted this and now end up coming in along Dekalb Ave. or straight up Edgewood from L5P, so I miss that dogleg up Jackson from the Path. I’ll swing by tomorrow and check out the results from the cleanup. Thanks again!

  6. Bon Crowder January 17, 2018 at 3:56 pm - Reply

    I’m going to guerrilla prune because the city is still busy cleaning after a hurricane. I feel bad calling when I can just do it myself. (But I’m going to do it a bit at a time – one snip every foot as I walk past.)

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