Since a foot of snow fell Thursday, municipalities have had two days to force residents and businesses to shovel their sidewalks.
So far, most have not.
And don’t expect bulldog enforcement anytime soon. Many major communities, like Amherst and Cheektowaga, don’t send out code enforcement officers to check for sidewalk clearing compliance unless someone calls with a complaint.
As of Friday afternoon, how many uncleared sidewalk complaints had each of these towns received?
“The only thing we can do is respond to complaints,” said Thomas Adamczak, supervising code enforcement officer for the Town of Cheektowaga. “We’ve lost a position this year; the Town Board has not filled them. So we’re between a rock and a hard place. It’s been that way for a number of years. We’re reactive, not proactive.”
In Amherst, where Building Commissioner Thomas Ketchum estimated that roughly 25,000 properties have public sidewalks, the response was similar.
“I don’t have enough staff to even come close to enforcing this 100 percent through the Town of Amherst, so we largely react to problems we’re aware of, and problems that come into our office.”
From town to town, public officials said they have generally fielded only a handful of complaints about uncleared sidewalks. When complaints do come in, though, inspectors will often canvass the block.
Buffalo Public Works Commissioner Steven Stepniak said the city’s 311 complaint system had received 56 calls regarding snow-covered sidewalks since the storm, which is actually below average for a storm of such magnitude.
He and others, however, said they expect the number of complaints to grow after the holiday week passes and school resumes.
However, municipalities are dealing with a more frequent complaint – snowplow operators digging out one property only to dump the snow on an adjacent property, or one across the street.
In both the City of Niagara Falls and the City of Buffalo, officials said, inspectors check out main commercial strips for sidewalk and snowplow violations.
“That’s the first thing we tackle,” said John Caso, deputy director of Public Works for the City of Niagara Falls.
That’s not the case everywhere.
Along stretches of Transit Road and Niagara Falls Boulevard on Friday, some businesses had cleared their sidewalks, but others hadn’t, leaving few long stretches for any pedestrian to easily travel without using the street.
At the spot where three teenagers were killed in February 2001 after being struck while walking in the street, the sidewalk was still buried as of late Friday afternoon. A collision shop at 2753 Niagara Falls Blvd. had sidewalk snow depths of 1 to 2 feet in places.
Ketchum said he assigned a code enforcement officer to check into that spot Friday after The Buffalo News mentioned it to him Thursday.
Bus stop areas near sidewalks are another issue.
Rich McCarthy of North Buffalo said he was outraged when he opened Friday’s paper and saw a photo of a woman standing in busy traffic because of an uncleared sidewalk.
Then he went to his bank in Kenmore and saw nearly the exact same thing: A woman getting off a Metro bus who had no clear path to get to the sidewalk.
“How many people have to be killed?” McCarthy asked. “Every year, this just seems to go away until someone is killed and then it goes to the forefront.”
He complained to Village of Kenmore officials, who said they would look into it.
“You’ve got the ball being tossed in every court instead of someone going out and taking a shovel and being proactive,” McCarthy fumed. “Send someone out to look at it? Why don’t you send someone over with a shovel and a camera? You’re going to send a letter that gets there two weeks from now, and the snow’s going to be melted and it won’t mean anything.”
Lancaster has far fewer properties with sidewalks than cities or first-ring suburbs, but it is also far more proactive in policing its residential subdivisions, said Supervising Code Enforcement Officer Jeffrey Simme.
Though his Building Department has only received a handful of complaints, like other towns, he said, his inspectors have already issued 50 to 60 warnings to residents regarding their sidewalks since the storm passed.
“We don’t wait,” he said.
All communities have the ability to issue appearance tickets in serious cases, but the willingness to do so varies.
In the overwhelming number of cases, violators receive a warning, especially if they are first-time offenders. That’s typically enough to ensure compliance, officials said.
“If people would just work with us,” Caso said, “it would be so much easier.”
News Staff Reporter Charlie Specht and chief photographer Derek Gee contributed to this report. email: firstname.lastname@example.org