February 6, 2005

The Outrage Of Unplowed Sidewalks

Here's an idea that will save your town money: Instead of having the DPW plow the streets, require each property owner to dig out the section of road that they front.

What's that you say? That's a ridiculous plan? What about people who were away or sick during a storm? We'd never ensure roads are clear that way?

Of course. Yet that's the "plan" most communities follow for making sidewalks safe after a snowstorm.

That's the start of my column in today's MetroWest Daily News, which argues that plowing sidewalks is an important safety issue.

We don't let snow mounds block the middle of a street and expect cars to veer off the roads around them. Why is it acceptable for pedestrians, who are most at risk when roads are slippery and narrower than usual, to be forced off a public way?

We might as well write it into our community charters: "Residents may only expect public safety services when traveling by motorized vehicle."


  1. Hi Sharon. Before I gripe, I would just like to say I really enjoy reading your blog, and I appreciate the clear and sane voice you add to the framcom/frambors listserver.

    Ok, so I have been wondering: how much clearing are we supposed to do? Wide enough for a foot path, or a stroller (single or double), or the whole sidewalk? Where are we supposed to put all that snow? Right now I live on a corner lot on a side street, which means I have about twice as much sidewalk as most of my neighbors (the ones on the other side of the street have no sidewalk at all). I'm an okay neighbor - I shovel out the fire hydrant (on my lot), I shovel out the sewer (sigh, also on my lot). I try to avoid shoveling extra snow where the sidewalk will be if this stuff ever melts. If the town had a sidewalk clearing law, I would do it, but the main corner of my lot is currently under a pile of plowed snow that is at least four feet high. I don't think I could physically get through that even with a snowblower.

  2. Thanks for the comment! My point is that if clearing roads is a government responsibility for public safety reasons, then clearing sidewalks should be a government responsibility for public safety reasons as well. I simply don't see why clearing sidewalks should be left up to individuals -- by doing that, you pretty much guarantee that many sidewalks will not be usable. Sorry if it's expensive, but so is public safety in general. If it's a public way, it's a public responsibility.

  3. Of course the flaw in all of this is that we can't even get people to clean the snow off the top of their SUVs... "It's too high up" they will say. Then I say, there must be a height requirement for owning an SUV.... you must be 8' tall to own a Denali.

    As to the sidewalks, it appears that Wenham has a little snow blowing machine and they do clean all the town walks. I am very impressed.

  4. Yes, well you do have a point about people not even clearing off their SUVs! Heh.