As much as I might wish otherwise, snow will happen in northeast Ohio. As a matter of fact, if I look out my window right now I see a mix of rain and sleet which suggests snow is lurking just around the corner. With snow comes the need to shovel and while I appreciate the cardio-vascular benefits of a good shoveling effort I’m not sure everyone shares my enthusiasm and that’s when the issue of sidewalk clearing rears it’s ugly head. The City Council spent roughly 9 months trying to come up with ways to inspire greater civic participation in sidewalk shovel duty in 2009 and here’s a run down of the plans for the 2009-10 winter season.
Kent, like most communities, provides the public service of snow removal from the streets in the City but we do not provide snow removal from the sidewalks. Good or bad, right or wrong, the responsibility of cleaning snow from the sidewalks, just like cutting the grass in the tree lawn, rests with the property owner.
Given some of the frustrations resulting from last winter’s snowfall, City Council wanted to try something different for sidewalk snow removal in 2010. The question was what would work best and what could we afford. To help answer those questions City Council invited citizens to participate in a sidewalk committee that spent the spring studying how other cities manage sidewalk shoveling. The citizens group ended up preferring the Bowling Green model which said residents have 24 hours to shovel the sidewalks in front of their property — if they fail to do so the City will hire a contractor to do it and bill the expense (plus a penalty) back to the property owner.
There was no question that the Bowling Green model worked in Bowling Green and although we share a lot of similarities with Bowling Green we’re still uniquely Kent and the Council just wasn’t comfortable with the predicted contractor expense or the citizen reaction to getting billed for sidewalk clearing. With that in mind the City Council asked staff for a modified approach.
To make sure Kent was walkable 365 days a year the City Council adopted a number of compromise solutions that included making some changes to the City Ordinance, initiating information programs to increase public awareness of the issue, promoting the idea of shoveling as being a good neighbor, and providing guidelines for persons and contractors who provide snow removal services to make sure they aren’t plowing driveways and parking lots at the expense of keeping sidewalks passable. These efforts are summarized below:
1. Improper Snow Removal – Civil Infraction – While the new law does not mandate that sidewalks be cleaned, it does address contractors and property owners who plow or remove snow improperly by plowing it into the street, onto sidewalks or in ways where it becomes a problem or nuisance. As with the City’s current law, contractors and property owners can be cited for improper snow removal, but under the new law, those citations will become Civil Infractions and can result in fines. Previously, improper snow removal was handled more as a criminal violation.
2. Compilation of Contract List – In November, the City will advertise and invite contractors, both large and small, to provide us with their contact information so that the City can compile a list of individuals and companies who are willing to provide snow removal services to clean sidewalks and driveways. The City will neither negotiate or be involved in pricing these services, such negotiations will continue to be between the contractor and the person seeking the service, but a list will be made handy for those folks that would prefer to pay someone else to do their part in civic duty.
The City will publish the list of the contractors who have contacted us so that residents can easily identify service providers and contact them as needed. The City will also provide those contractors and service providers with information about proper snow removal practices and the City’s laws governing snow removal. Participation in the listing service is not mandatory but does provide the contractor / service provider with some free advertising.
3. City Street Plowing – Unfortunately, the need to plow our City streets in a time efficient, safe and effective manner will never permit the City to avoid plowing snow into the tree lawn and sidewalks completely. However, the City certainly wants to do all it can to keep cars and pedestrians safe so plow operators have been on instructed on ways to change plow tacticsin order to minimize the snow that ends up piled in crosswalks and street corners where pedestrians need to cross.
4. Be a Good Neighbor – In the course of the citizen discussions it became obvious that the most effective way to keep sidewalks clear was to promote the value of being a good neighbor — doing your part by shoveling so that people less fortunate (elderly, handicapped, children) who have to walk can stay safe. Regretably, it was not uncommon last year to come across a driveway that had been cleaned of snow but not the sidewalk in front of the same property.
The message was if you know an elderly person or someone nearby that cannot do their own shoveling, try to help them out if you can. A snow blower is a wonderful invention and if you’re lucky enough to have one remember your neighbors. The citizens committee suggested developing shoveling information pieces that they could distribute in their neighborhood and here’s an example of a friendly doorhanger reminder.
5. Large Snow Pile Removal – For the City’s part, City Council will likely authorize the allocation of some additional funding (up to $50,000 for this coming winter) to contract with a private company to remove some of the larger piles of snow that may accumulate at intersections. While most of the focus of this program will be along main thoroughfares and higher pedestrian and vehicular use areas, this program should help both motorists and pedestrians be safer in their movements. Typically, City crews cannot even begin to address these larger piles until the snowfall is well over and all of the streets have been addressed. Often by that point, the pile is frozen and very difficult to move.
Keeping our sidewalks clean and maintaining a walkable community is an effort that we all need to work at. Hopefully we will not get a lot of snow this winter, but if we do, our goal is to be ready to deal with it.