December 13, 2005

True Test: How Important Are Pedestrians in Your Community?

There's nothing like a snowstorm to highlight whether walking holds as important a place in your community as cars. Unfortunately, in most suburbs the results are painfully disappointing.

I'm pretty confident that sidewalks in Manhattan are clear enough to be passable a day or two after a snowfall. In a city where more than half of workers take public transportation to the office, it would be unthinkable to clear the roadways but leave walkways unusable. Likewise, I'd bet that sidewalks in front of Newbury Street stores in Boston are reasonably walkable.

Here in Framingham, though, it's pretty random. Some sidewalks are cleared off, but many others aren't. The ones assumed to be used by kids walking to school are often eventually cleared off after a storm. Around the Speen Street office buildings, you can usually get from your building parking lot to your office. But if you want to take a lunchtime walk, be prepared to walk in the snow-narrowed streets and risk being sideswiped.

As I ranted in a MetroWest Daily News op-ed piece last year, this is completely unacceptable. Nobody relies on property owners to clear the roads in front of their buildings in order to allow cars to pass. It's not right to do so for walkways. Taxpaying pedestrians should not be treated as so unimportant. Walking around in winter is NOT an optional activity. Local government should be providing the same snow-clearing services for pedestrians on public sidewalks as they do for drivers on roads.


  1. Actually down here in Maryland the law puts the burden of clearing sidewalks on the owner of the property. What I see in my neighborhood is that businesses and home owners are good about clearing the sidewalks. Renters on the other hand are random. This means that any given block might have icey spots and be dangerous to walk even if the majority of iit is cleared.

    Of course having a city/town clearing sidewalks would mean that it would take a LONG time to get all of them cleared. I think relying on owners is a faster way to accomplish the task.

  2. Actually, the sidewalks in front of Newbury St weren't cleared at ALL as of Sunday. Boston really screwed it up this time.

  3. I totally agree with you. I live in West Newton, and when we go to dinner, the movies, etc we always walk to West Newton Square. Last night when we went out to dinner, a large stretch of sidewalk was not shoveled. It was obvious that a lot of people had been walking over the snow, so I tried stepping in existing footprints, but there's no reason for the sidewalks to be this snowy. It's even worse when it's 12 degrees out like last night, because it was hard icy snow too.

  4. Actually, having just been on Newbury Street on Saturday - they really weren't all that walkable. The city does require property owners to clear their sidewalks, but I don't think there's any particular standard for how clear is clear. Berklee College dowses the sidewalk in calcium chloride, and within hours after a snow, you'd think you were on freshly paved runway. The liquor store three doors down makes a token effort to shovel, but the slush piles freeze overnight and form a sort of frozen meringue that makes for a great calf-and-core workout, but a decidedly unpleasant stroll.

    The town of Wellesley owns this cool sidewalk-mobile that's part Bobcat, part snowblower, and they get all of their sidewalks completely clear within a few hours after a storm. Of course, you have to replace the edge of your lawn every spring from the tread ruts, but walking's pretty pleasaant.

  5. Highly disappointing to hear that they can't even clear off the sidewalks on Newbury Street!

  6. Natick put in a new sidewalk on Boden Lane a few months ago, which
    was nice for the many people who walk to the West Natick station.
    But it makes the narrow one-way street even narrower, and they
    forgot to add it to the list of sidewalks to be sanded, until I
    phoned it in the last minor storm. This past week's major storm,
    they did a token job of plowing it, but still haven't sanded it,
    thus a potential for falls, as well as an accident, since everyone
    is walking in the street because the quality of plowing was so
    poor. It's a different story in Wellesley, where the Wellesley Farms
    and Wellesley Square, in addition to the Wellesley Hills stations
    immediate vicinity,
    are well kept, clean as a whistle.