Today’s snowstorm-that-wasn’t may not have exacerbated the issue, but it’s still something on the mind of anyone who’s weathered a Boston winter: The state of the sidewalks every time snow and ice make an unwelcome appearance.
City officials, led by City Councilor Kenzie Bok, are currently considering what it would take for Boston to plow out sidewalks, crosswalks, and other pedestrian right-of-ways the same way it does for its streets following a snow storm. And judging from what Boston.com readers have to say, many of them think that’s a swell idea.
“Clearing the sidewalks is the ONE thing government SHOULD do,” one adamant reader said in response to our survey about the issue. “There is not much point to government if you can’t do that.”
Of the close to 300 who responded, 58% think the city should dive into the sidewalk plowing business, rather than leave it up to the property owners abutting those sidewalks, which is the current system. “There would be a lot less heart attacks,” noted Steven of Hyde Park.
Of course, the 34% of people who don’t think the city should shoulder that burden had their own convincing arguments as to why — such as the effects on city employees who would be tasked with that job, over and above plowing the streets.
“Requiring those employees to work beyond the 12-, 16-, 24-hour shifts to clear snow on sidewalks is not only dangerous and bad for their health, but is another example of overburdening low-income and people of color to pay for a service that isn’t something city governments are required to provide,” one reader said.
And another asked, “What’s next, having the city mow my lawn for me, or clean the interior of my house?”
Meanwhile, 8% responded “Other,” offering such suggestions as:
“Maybe [only] in business districts, and after all of the broken sidewalks all over the city are fixed.”
“Give a tax break to people that own snowblowers — if they snow blow their side of the block they get a tax relief.”
And this observation:
“The city doesn’t really remove snow. They push it to the side of the street, blocking the intersections pedestrians want to cross. It’s essentially the equivalent of a 5-year-old moving lima beans around on their plate and hoping it appears they’ve been eaten. Do better, Boston.”
Here’s a sampling of what readers had to say on both sides of the issue.
Responses have been edited for length and clarity.
In favor of Boston plowing the sidewalks:
“We pay enough in taxes, and along with all the safety concerns, sidewalks should be plowed without question.”
“In residential neighborhoods especially they should. Owners of large rental properties being required to shovel the sidewalk is one thing, but to expect individual homeowners, who may be essential employees and have to work despite snow, to have the sidewalks shoveled within three hours of the end of a storm is unreasonable.”
“Clearing the sidewalks is the ONE thing government SHOULD do. There is not much point to government if you can’t do that. Montreal has been clearing the sidewalks with the streets in one fell sweep for decades! Shame on us.”
“My tax dollars pay to plow the roads, which I don’t use. Why shouldn’t drivers’ tax dollars pay to clear the sidewalks, which I do use? Fair is fair. At least prioritize clearing the sidewalks and ramps on the main streets (e.g. in the south end: Tremont, Columbus, Washington, Harrison, Berkeley, Dartmouth and Mass Ave.).”
“It is always ironic to see tickets on doors of residential buildings, but then sidewalks not cleared in front of city property and parks in the South End! The sidewalks in front of Peters and Ringgold Park are consistently icy and dangerous, and would be treacherous for anyone with any mobility issues or assistive devices.” — Sullivan, South End, Boston
“The sidewalks are not the private property of the owner. Three hours is not enough time to clear sidewalks. Even if you hire someone to do the job because you are working, elderly or disabled, they can’t get to everyone’s house in three hours.” — Kaysi, Hyde Park
“I relate it to street cleaning. We have street cleaning every week April- November and in reality don’t need it every week for most side streets. It doesn’t make sense to me and most citizens. Let’s do something that makes sense and plow the sidewalks.” — Matt, Charlestown
“Start by plowing sidewalks that are high-traffic sidewalks — i.e. on main roads that contain T stops/bus stops, streets that contain grocery stores, or the Main Street equivalent of any neighborhood. Essential workers need to come and go from work safely. The city/state is collecting tax revenue from businesses that are open in spite of a storm. They shouldn’t make it an unsafe obstacle course for people working at those businesses to come and go from their workplace.”
“Only a third of Boston households own cars — basically Boston tax dollars are going to clear the streets for non-residents, while residents are dependent on out-of-town property owners who are free to ignore sidewalk shoveling ordinances. Frankly, it would be a lot more fair if the city were to spend Boston money to clear the sidewalks, and rely on property owners (perhaps the big commercial office buildings who rely on incoming commuters?) to clear the streets.” — Peter, Cambridge
“Sidewalks are part of the public thoroughfare. We need to stop thinking in terms of ‘car culture.’”
In favor of keeping it in the hands of property owners:
“We just need better enforcement of the rules/laws currently in place. If fines are not enough incentive (and at the amounts listed, they really aren’t), you could also shovel it for them and then charge them for the labor if they continue to be noncompliant.” — Mike, Southie
“The city already does not shovel its own properties, mainly vacant city-owned lots, in neighborhoods like Dorchester. These are heavily trafficked as well and are a constant hazard. Icy sidewalks all winter. No doubt this would be a great thing for wealthy neighborhoods like Fenway and Beacon Hill, but why would I think this would happen in the places most Bostonians actually live when the city doesn’t shovel their own property already?” — George, Somerville
“Employees of the city already have a hard enough time clearing streets with various obstacles during long snow storms. Requiring those employees to work beyond the 12-, 16-, 24-hour shifts to clear snow on sidewalks is not only dangerous and bad for their health, but is another example of overburdening low-income and people of color to pay for a service that isn’t something city governments are required to provide (i.e. schooling, road maintenance, waste and emergency services). If a taxpayer doesn’t want to shovel their part of the sidewalk, they have the freedom to hire a private service to do that. But don’t burden all taxpayers to pay for a service that not everyone wants nor can afford.”
“This isn’t a taxpayer problem, it’s a property owner problem. The laws are on the books for a reason and officials need to hold the property owner(s) accountable. If someone falls and gets injured they aren’t suing the city/state, they are suing the property owner. Why should the city/state be responsible for maintaining the property of private citizens?”
“This is absurd. We have real problems in this country; climate change, economic inequality and political unrest. Locally we have MBTA budget cuts, skyrocketing housing costs, and issues stemming from a pandemic. Funding snow shoveling is absurdly unimportant comparably. If we all took 10 minutes away from our smartphones, the sidewalks would be shoveled in no time and we’d all have a happier community knowing our neighbors care about each other. It’s time to stop pointing fingers; pick up a shovel and clear your sidewalk and that of your elderly or disabled neighbor. We’re Boston Strong after all, aren’t we?” — Richard, Dorchester
“I can’t believe this is even being discussed — 2021 in a nutshell. How about this instead, actually fine people for not shoveling their walks! Since no city enforces this, then of course you are going to have lazy people not shovel out. Stop relying on someone else to do your work. What’s next, having the city mow my lawn for me, or clean the interior of my house?”
“Increase the fines for non-compliance, and improve enforcement of it. That way the sidewalks end up cleared, and the city could potentially MAKE money off of this instead of costing the taxpayers more.”
“God forbid the lazy &%$#! get off the couch and shovel.”
Boston.com occasionally interacts with readers by conducting informal polls and surveys. These results should be read as an unscientific gauge of readers’ opinion.
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