Last week, after a foot of snow fell in the area, the response by some municipalities to those businesses and homeowners who failed to shovel their sidewalks was fairly mute. This is unacceptable.
Failure of businesses and residents to clear their sidewalks is not only against the law, it ignores the lessons from recent history.
Back in 2001, three teenagers were killed and another was injured after being struck by a car on Niagara Falls Boulevard in Amherst. They were walking on the right edge of the busy thoroughfare because snow and ice blocked the sidewalk.
Amherst officials eventually declared that they would begin ticketing property owners who failed to clear their sidewalks of snow and ice. Money collected from tickets was supposed to help pay for the program.
Now, more than a decade after that tragedy, News staff reporter Sandra Tan writes that many major communities, including Amherst and Cheektowaga, do not send out code enforcement officers to check for compliance on sidewalk clearing unless someone calls with a complaint.
Each of those towns had received all of three complaints after the area got socked with a foot of snow the other day. In Buffalo and Niagara Falls, inspectors examine main commercial strips for sidewalk and snowplow violations and residents can also call in complaints. But is that really enough? Communities should be proactive and look for violations rather than wait for complaints that never come.
Economic conditions have worsened over the past decade, therefore we believe it when the Amherst building commissioner says he has no staff to send out to enforce sidewalk clearing all over town.
Having said that, it behooves all town, village and city officials to consider the alternative: Forcing those who have to walk into busy streets because the sidewalks are impassable. Not properly addressing the problem continues to risk public safety. The sidewalks must be made safe for pedestrians.
Lancaster, which, to be fair, does not have the population of cities or first-ring suburbs, has at least adopted a proactive approach, resulting in 50 to 60 warnings to residents following this recent storm.
And ordinary citizens have gotten into the act. Seamus Gallivan, who does community promotion through his organization, “The Good Neighborhood,” decided to use the power of social networking through a Facebook invitation to host a shoveling flash mob on Buffalo’s West Side.
While only 10 people showed up with shovels and strong backs to dig out sidewalks, they made a difference in the neighborhood. Folks who have to travel on foot to bus stops, stores and wherever else they needed to reach were grateful. It’s the type of ingenuity and creativity that helps make this the City of Good Neighbors.
Towns, cities and villages do a good job of clearing the streets following a snowstorm. Similar attention should be paid to clearing sidewalks and ensuring a safe passage for pedestrians.