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Dashing through the snow

Posted by Rona Fischman  January 2, 2009 03:12 PM

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By law, everyone is supposed to clear their walks after a snowfall. This winter, that has been already created a lot of labor. Since we are in New England, you would think that we’d be prepared for some snow. But, every time we hit a snowy patch, I hear grumbling about those who don’t do their part, or those that do it poorly. Bad-will runs especially deep for businesses that don’t do their part.

In many towns, the fine for not clearing your walk is $25. Is that enough? Some people think it should be more, especially for businesses. One client of mine suggested that businesses that don’t clear their sidewalk should be closed until they clear, because they pose a hazard to public safety.

How clear is clear enough? Today, I drove from Cambridge to Acton, through West Concord. Some places I saw concrete, some I saw a thin layer of snow. People were walking along fine on either surface.
The roads themselves were also inconsistent. Route 2 was clear to the tarmac, but Route 62 still had some snow cover. Residential roads were snowy everywhere. Some were solid ice.

What is snow removal like in your town? Are you satisfied if you can get to where you are going? Should there be a standard?

Are you mad that more tickets aren’t given out? Are you mad because you got a ticket?

Happy New Year. May you be safe while you dash through the snow.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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19 comments so far...
  1. Well, it would have created a lot of labor if people actually shoveled their walks. Most don't. The last snowfall was easy on pedestrians, lots of dry, light powder without much ice. But a lot of the time, a winter walk in Cambridge or Somerville is an exercise in toe-cramping terror.

    Coming from a much snowier place with much cleaner winter sidewalks, I've observed a few peculiar ideas native to New England:

    1. "Nobody could have predicted snow in winter!" Each year, in good times and in bad, towns are shocked, shocked that they don't have enough budgeted for snow removal. Homeowners run out to buy new shovels and bags of salt, since who could have known they'd need them? These are the same people who are equally stunned to discover that they need A/C each summer.

    2. "Most" or "a lot of people shovel, so it's OK." Yes, because a stretch of clean sidewalk in front of your neighbor's house magically enables pedestrians to levitate over the ice slick in front of yours. New Englanders seem honestly perplexed by the idea that traveling from point A to point B requires traveling over all the points in between.

    3. "Corners don't count." This explains the Great Pyramids of slush and snow that block each and every street corner, requiring you to spend twenty minutes crossing the street with a quart of ice water in each boot.

    4. "Hey, I plowed/shoveled once, so I'm OK!" A side street or sidewalk gets exactly one pass, and is never touched again, no matter how lame the first attempt was, or how much more snow or freezing rain has fallen since. A sort of weird, zenlike outlook that suggests it's the thought that counts. How about, instead of asking yourself, "Did I plow?" you ask instead, "Is the sidewalk clear?"

    As you can tell, snowy and icy walkways really set me off. Yes, fines should be higher. More importantly, though, people should actually have to pay them, which they don't, not very often anyways.

    Posted by Marcus January 2, 09 05:08 PM
  1. Sidewalks are city property, right? So why is it clearing the sidewalk the homeowner's job? Are homeowners also required to plow the street?

    My family stopped shoveling the sidewalk in front of our house because we got tired of cleaning up after other people's dogs, and the neighbors constantly blocked the path to our door with their car. If cities can fine people for not clearing the sidewalk, they should also fine people for parking on the sidewalk ,and failure to clean up after their dog.

    Posted by Liz January 2, 09 06:05 PM
  1. I'm sure glad I don't live near Liz! What a lazy and selfish attitude - punish all the pedestrians, including yourself, by creating an unsafe situation (especially for elderly and disabled people) to get back at your neighbors. Grow up!

    BTW, I am not sure that you are correct that sidewalks are public property. In some areas they are considered private property to which property owners grant "public right of way" for public uses.

    Snow is a fact of life in New England, and I don't get why some people refuse to accept it. We all know how much easier and safer it is to get around when the sidewalks are cleared. And we also know how painful a slip and fall can be. Get your shovels and salt out or pay someone to do it. Clearing the walks is one of the responsibilities of home/business ownership. Just do it. And if they don't, a ticket for $75 should be the minimum, with repeat offenders getting higher and higher fines.

    Posted by Nancy G January 2, 09 07:40 PM
  1. My family stopped shoveling the sidewalk in front of our house because we got tired of cleaning up after other people's dog

    You imagine this will be accepted as a rational excuse by people over the age of six?


    Posted by Marcus January 3, 09 12:03 AM
  1. Great concept, but what about when your city does nothing to clear the sidewalks themselves??? There is a vast expanse of sidewalk, right near a city parking lot, that will go unshoveled/plowed after every storm. I have to clean off my sidewalk or risk a fine, yet the city can ignore their own laws?

    Posted by Annoyedbythehypocrisy January 3, 09 08:55 AM
  1. Wow, I think I live down the street from Liz! The sidewalks and streets are public property and clearing the sidewalks is the responsibility of home owners. Deal with it or move to a state where it doesn't snow. How are your neighbors blocking the path to your door? I doubt you have a deeded parking space from your town hall.

    Posted by plowedin January 3, 09 09:55 AM
  1. A number of cities and towns have passed laws regarding clearing of sidewalks.It is my understanding that the local ordinances were not legal . The cities and towns cannot mandate that citizens cannot be forced to work on public property without compensation.

    Posted by RE maven January 3, 09 11:12 AM
  1. I am going to by Liz's house and fall on the snow/ice. I hope you have good homeowner's insurance Liz, you're gonna need it!

    Posted by wtf021 January 3, 09 12:12 PM
  1. What a lazy and selfish attitude - punish all the pedestrians, including yourself, by creating an unsafe situation (especially for elderly and disabled people) to get back at your neighbors.

    If you own a dog, do you pick up after it when you go for walkies? If so, you're not part of the problem. Unfortunately, the few ruined it for the many. Would you rather walk in the street, or on a sidewalk covered with dog poop?

    How are your neighbors blocking the path to your door?

    We dug a path from the front door to the street, including a swath of sidewalk. The neighbors would park their car in the sidewalk space. We could walk out the door, but the path to the street was blocked by the neighbor's car, which was parked on the sidewalk. The city did nothing about it, despite numerous phone calls.

    Posted by Liz January 3, 09 04:29 PM
  1. worst winter road tratment in western Mass: Northampton ...simply the worst

    Posted by Renee Walger January 3, 09 10:41 PM
  1. In Dorchester you can park on the sidewalk. Sidewalks aren't walking they are for parking. How can you clean the sidewalk with cars park almost in the your front yard. Forget about calling City Hall they all work for the city. Once had to call the Police to get out of the house, still waiting for them to show up, it's been two years now.

    Posted by Dotland January 3, 09 11:22 PM
  1. Hi liz,

    Okay, so by your logic, I should no longer pick up after my dog because not everybody else does it. And, why would you expect the city to respond to calls from someone complaining about a car being parked legally on the street?

    Posted by buyerandseller January 4, 09 11:15 AM
  1. Unfortunately, the few ruined it for the many.

    This language suggests that a clean sidewalk is some sort of privilege you grant to your neighbors if they are good, as if they were children and you were the schoolmarm. You can come up with silly rationalizations from now to June, but it doesn't change your responsibilities.

    Perhaps we can run an experiment. Let's have Liz's neighbors report her sidewalk each and every day it remains unshoveled, and see whether city hall is more responsive than it was about the neighbor's car.

    By the way, many town halls have a dedicated phone number that makes reporting irresponsible homeowners easy.

    Posted by Marcus January 4, 09 11:25 AM
  1. Liz--you go girl!
    I have a dog, always pick up after her and am embarrassed by dog owners who don't. My "neighbor" and her tenant think they own my property, are entitled to scream at me when I ask them to stop dumping snow from their cars in my yard and on the sidewalk I just cleared. Many an argument later, I bought a snowblower and wear my headphones while cleaning up after snow. Bottom line-everyone has a responsibility so lets all use common sense, repect your neighbors and enjoy the snow!

    Posted by Emily January 4, 09 12:00 PM
  1. Some of you are pretty quick to wag your finger at someone, and publicly call them out with personal insults, just because you don't live in, or know much about, their situation, and can't imagine what it's like, either.

    Anyway, you don't know that there are pedestrians (especially disabled and elderly people) that try to walk through Liz's neighborhood, especially since neighbors there actually park on the sidewalk you're so concerned about-- never mind the dog-doody land mines you'll slip on if you actually manage to plant your feet on the concrete in that stretch. The snow might be an improvement! Besides, Liz's family isn't obligated to clean up a hazardous "spill."

    I'd be afraid of getting sued if I didn't clear the snow from my area and someone claimed they got hurt, but I can understand Liz's protest which seems to have been born out of helpless frustration, double enforcement standards, and a degree of misery. I have lived in an area where there was behavior somewhat similar to what Liz describes. Luckily, my house was not really affected, but for certain other neighbors, their chronically blocked driveways and gates, penned-in cars, trashed landscaping, and tipped garbage cans drove them mad. Despite appeals and complaints, this stuff went on for so long that finally there were screaming rages, fist fights, police calls, vandalism and retaliatory behavior, and attempts to make the front area of properties unappealing (motion detector sprinklers and alarms, etc), or unavailable (with parked trailers, etc), for other folks' cars and pets. It was really ugly.

    However, I do agree that snow should be thoroughly cleared away in areas with sidewalks and pedestrians. I wouldn't want someone to get hurt. All I'm saying is that I think that I understand Liz's angry sense of helplessness and expression of protest. It's not fair that all obstacles, dangers, and health hazards are not addressed equally. Yeah, yeah, I know that's life; but I wouldn't be so quick to condemn and bash someone in such a personal manner based solely on a few weakly delineated remarks. You're not going to get Liz and her family to end their protest, and do what you think is right, by being personally abusive.

    Posted by Chilly January 4, 09 12:41 PM
  1. Just a narrow swath .... just a few minutes of work.... is all that is needed. Not a big deal. It is not uncommon for one of our neighbors to clear a quick path on our front sidewalk, when they are out with their snowblower doing their own walk. We have been shoveling the neighbor's walkway this winter (a house empty and for sale, in which they no longer live as they try to sell in these difficult times) because it just seems like the right thing to do. Another neighbor's wife has cancer and he has been spending his time at the hospital; we are glad to help when we can. You can never know for sure why the walkway has not been shoveled. We often reciprocate with our neighbors (or bring over a plate of cookies). Much more pleasant than "screaming rages, fist fights, police calls, vandalism and retaliatory behavior". What happened to all that holiday "goodwill"? I am in my 50's and just glad to be healthy enough to get out to shovel (and burn off a few holiday extra accumulated calories ie fat)!

    Posted by bostonrunner January 4, 09 05:56 PM
  1. There are a lot of funny rules/laws regarding snow removal...everyone should do their best effort to remove snow from the sidewalks within a reasonable time after storm...we shouldn't need laws for this stuff...beyond common sense, it is common courtesy...postal workers, delivery persons, utility worker etc...all need a safe area to delivery their services to you...not to mention the folks that would like to avoid getting run over by cars by walking in the street...I don't think laws can be enforceable however, you can't make someone do manual labor that is not able i.e. elderly, handicap, impaired etc.

    Posted by bill January 5, 09 09:05 PM
  1. Chilly and Liz,

    I think you're wrong here. It is appropriate to call Liz out for her bad behavior, especially as if affects others. Like Nancy said, I think we're glad we don't live near here because her "protest" damages her neighbors. I think we all appreciate the frustration of having careless neighbors, but I think we also realize that it is a mistake to descend to their level. Liz, we all know what you're going through. We've all been through it in some way or another. Life can be horribly unfair, but your passing that unfairness on to the next person, is not going to make things better.

    Posted by ritan1 January 6, 09 04:13 PM
  1. Well said, ritan 1.

    Karma!

    Posted by Sally January 6, 09 07:50 PM
 
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Scott Van Voorhis is a freelance writer who specializes in real estate and business issues.

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