I was running laps in the street around my lightly traveled block last week, grumbling about the uncleared sidewalks on busier streets where danger is ever-present for pedestrians.
As I finished lap 1, I noticed that a parking ticket was sticking out of the driver’s-side door of our car, which was in front of our house. My son had parked in the street the night before, unaware that Amherst had an overnight parking ban from Nov. 1 to April 1.
I wanted to scream. Not at my son, who is $25 poorer for making the same mistake I’ve made before, and not because I object to the law. What infuriates me is that my town is enforcing one seasonal law – with no regard for whether it has an impact on the snowplowing it is trying to facilitate – while all but ignoring another law with no regard for the fact that doing so puts the lives of pedestrians in danger.
This is not unique to Amherst. According to a Buffalo News article following the first significant snowfall of the season last month, several area communities are not enforcing the sidewalk law. When they are doing anything about it at all, they are responding to complaints from people who report that their neighbor has not cleared the sidewalk. What do the towns do then? Generally, they tell people to take care of the problem or issue a written warning.
Oooooo, not a written warning. Then what? A stern lecture?
The results of this practice are predictable and visible to anyone who has the misfortune of trying to get anywhere on foot. If you have a law that people know is not enforced, a segment of the population will ignore it.
Meanwhile, the towns vigorously enforce the overnight parking ban, whether there’s snow on the ground or not. During the ban from Nov. 1, 2011, to April 1, 2012, Amherst gave out nearly 2,900 tickets. In the Town of Tonawanda, police tagged nearly 4,200 parking violators.
Keep in mind that it barely snowed last winter, but that didn’t stop the towns from enforcing a law meant to make it easier for plows to clear snow from the streets. Not coincidentally, it’s a low-impact revenue stream.
Our elected leaders keep making excuses about not enforcing the sidewalk law, which is in place to provide a safe place for people to walk and which, if it had been enforced, might have saved the lives of four people in two separate incidents in Erie County in 2001 and 2010.
Town officials contend that the problem is lack of staff. Fair enough. And maybe they don’t want to hire someone to do a job that is completely tied to snowfall. One obvious answer is to put more money in the budget for overtime and have existing employees do the job as the need arises, just as they do with snowplowing. Then hand out tickets for every incident, not warnings, and make it $50 per violation. The employees won’t even have to get out of their cars; just witness the lawbreaking, note the address and mail the ticket.
Do the job right, and it will pay for itself. Unlike the parking ban, which is in place for a few hours a day, sidewalk violations can be spotted 24 hours a day.
If elected officials don’t like this idea, they need to come up with a better one. But for the sake of everyone who needs or wants to walk outside in the winter, they need to do something.
Doing next to nothing isn’t working.