A woman trying to catch a bus waited out in busy Niagara Falls Boulevard traffic Thursday, as horns blared and cars passed within a few feet of her.
The bus stop was buried under a pile of snow.
A few miles south, snow was piled over the memorial where a car struck and killed three teens in 2001, also because the sidewalk was impassable.
Another shopper took her chances walking against speeding cars on Transit Road in West Seneca, in the same stretch where a father died in 2010 because of snow piled high on the sidewalk.
More than 12 hours after the flakes stopped falling Thursday, tall snowdrifts forced many area residents into the same roads where pedestrians were killed in previous winters.
The tragedies are in a perfect position to repeat themselves, many say, especially after the first large snowfall in two winters.
Just ask Christen Buchholtz. A sport utility vehicle struck and killed her husband, Justin, while he walked along Transit two years ago. She had a sonogram planned for that December week, but instead, she found herself planning for a funeral.
“I’m raising two children by myself, one who will never know her father,” Buchholtz told The Buffalo News. “She’s never going to know him except in pictures. What kind of life is that for a child?”
The whole tragedy, she said, could have been averted if property owners along the busy commercial strip had cleared the paths in front of their businesses.
“If you’re a business, you’re in charge of every part of your property,” she said. “In the summer, you’re not going to let the grass grow 50 feet. So why do the rules change during the winter?”
Many of the businesses along Transit had their parking lots plowed early Thursday, but the long sidewalks went unattended.
“In two years, nothing has changed,” she said. “Driving down Transit Road, it’s the same. That’s the first thing I thought about [Wednesday], when it started to snow.”
The tragedy also was a fresh in the mind of Misty Dieter, who trudged Thursday through the same snow-covered route used by Buchholtz on her way to the grocery store.
At one point, Dieter was terrified as she walked against oncoming traffic, she said, hoping that no cars slid her way.
“It’s scary,” Dieter said. “You’ve got to look out for other cars, and people are speeding. If the roads are slippery, they’re not even looking.”
Buchholtz warns people against walking in the street, saying their children could end up like her daughters, Amelia, 6, and Alaina, 18 months.
Residents and businesses throughout the region are generally responsible for clearing their own sidewalks, and the City of Buffalo mandates that all sidewalks be clear by 8 a.m.
Kenmore property owners have 12 hours from the time snow falls to remove snow, officials said, though they are not allowed to shovel between 9 p.m. and 7 a.m.
In the neighborhoods surrounding downtown Buffalo on Thursday, residents along busy side streets were banding together to clear the driveways and sidewalks for their elderly neighbors.
John Gilley clears nearly an entire city block off South Park Avenue with a snowblower he borrows from a neighbor. He does his neighbors’ driveways first, he said, and then circles back to clear his own.
“It’s my little way of giving back,” said Gilley, who was covered head to toe in Army fatigues. “You try and do what’s right. We’re the town of good neighbors.”
But right around the corner from Gilley, Eric Haynes peered nervously around a parked car, keeping watch for speeding vehicles as he made his way to the corner store. Neighbors had shoveled paths to their cars but left the sidewalk clogged with snow.
“If you need help, ask a neighbor,” Haynes said. “We’ve got all these kids out here. Put them to work.”
In the most treacherous winter traffic areas, some towns and villages are taking matters into their own hands.
Amherst, Williamsville and the Village of Orchard Park, for example, send government highway crews to plow the sidewalks, and residents are taxed for the service.
The 2001 tragedy forced the Town of Amherst to re-examine its failure to actively enforce its own laws on property owners’ sidewalk snow-clearing responsibilities.
Following the deaths of the three teens and the ensuing negative publicity regarding the town’s inaction, Amherst officials tightened up their enforcement of sidewalk snow clearing laws.
Last year, Amherst created its first “sidewalk snow relief district,” in which the town provides emergency sidewalk snowplowing for property owners along parts of Maple Road and Niagara Falls Boulevard, where sidewalks are notoriously impassable.
The town spent about $46,000 last year on sidewalk snow-clearing equipment, Highway Superintendent Robert Anderson said.
But the new districts do not cover the area where three teens were killed north of the Youngmann Highway, Anderson said.
That area, like other commercial stretches, rely on property-owner compliance with town law.
Town officials give people 24 hours to clear their walks after a snowfall, Building Commissioner Thomas Ketchum said, and that grace period wasn’t up as of Thursday afternoon.
“Now that the snow is flying out there, we’ll have to chase it down,” Ketchum said.
Though Amherst code enforcement officers do respond to complaints about uncleared walkways, Ketchum said, they aren’t as proactive as many people would like.
“I have the same problem we always have,” he said. “We don’t have enough people to police this thing.”
Gilley said too many Buffalo residents blame the city for slow plowing response times but don’t do enough to clear their own lots.
The uncleared sidewalks mean some pedestrians walking in the street – like Buffalo’s Marion Mann – can’t count on safety. Instead, they’re wishing for luck.
“I’m hoping somebody’s going to beep behind me,” Mann said.