If current weather trends continue, our communal conversation about how to handle snow-clogged and ice-covered sidewalks might take care of itself.
But until the expressions “65 degrees and sunny” and “January in Buffalo” seem part of a normal sentence, we still need to figure this one out.
My suggestion in this space last week that local governments start to vigorously enforce existing laws that obligate property owners to make their sidewalks passable generated a healthy response from readers – from the gentleman who suggested I was “an idiot” to the people who were pleased to see a light shined on this issue.
But several readers made points about the law that I did not address in the column. I wanted to air those opposing viewpoints … and say why they still don’t change the fact that uncleared sidewalks are a danger that needs to be addressed.
Argument: People who complain that they can’t jog outside because sidewalks are unshoveled should keep quiet and join a gym or find some other exercise to do until spring gets here.
Response: Despite the opinions of the occasional driver yelling, “Get out of the road!” runners have just as much right to be in the street as motorists do, and – unless it’s a road where running or walking is specifically banned – drivers have to make room for them. But, believe me, the runners would prefer to be on the sidewalks of busy streets as opposed to on shoulders or in the road.
Argument: We live in a motorized society. The roads were designed for cars and trucks, not pedestrians. If you don’t want to get hit by a car while walking, get in a car or on a bus.
Response: See above. Plus, not all people walking in the road are out for a stroll. Some people do it because they can’t afford to own a vehicle and have to walk to get where they want to go. We owe it to them to provide a safe way to get from point A to point B.
Argument: We can’t enforce this law because it would force the elderly to shovel and put them in danger.
Response: True. Some people should not be shoveling because it is physically taxing and can be a hazard for a person who has any kind of heart issue. But if those people own a home, chances are that a good number of them have a driveway that needs to be cleared to pull their vehicle out. Those who pay people to do that job can also pay someone to clear their sidewalks. (Those who own their own homes and don’t own a car should be on my side because they have to walk places.)
Argument: People who live on busy streets are punished because when the plow clears the street, it shoots so much snow onto the sidewalk that it becomes impossible to shovel.
Response: Also true. Sometimes it no longer becomes possible to clear all that snow and ice. (I agree with the reader who hopes a plow is invented that prevents this from happening.) Until then, we should embrace special sidewalk plowing districts like the ones Amherst put in place and take the responsibility off the property owner’s shoulders. If our taxes pay to keep the roads plowed to make it safer for drivers, our taxes also should pay to keep the sidewalks clear to make it safer for pedestrians.
The mostly thoughtful responses to this column validated my opinion that this is a problem that needs to be discussed and addressed before more people are injured or killed.
For the record, I plan to be the idiot who keeps doing that.