Snow on the Sidewalks

I had a short exchange with @CityofSgf on Twitter yesterday regarding the condition of sidewalks in Springfield — something I’ve covered in two recent posts (here and here). The city has been working hard to clear he roads. I think they’ve done an excellent job given the magnitude of he storm.

@CityofSgf acknowledged that the sidewalk situation is a problem. Property owners are supposed to clear them. And you see how well that works. So I was asked: What would you suggest?

Let’s start with culture: The vehicles have been taken care of. Now what about people?

Is that an unfair question? People drive vehicles. Isn’t ensuring the smooth and safe operation of vehicles on streets the same as taking care of people?

No, but we act as if it is because of our car-centric culture. In other words, it is common sense that streets should get highest priority because most people drive cars. Vehicles are not just the backbone of our transportation system in Springfield, they are in fact the entire system given the numbers of drivers versus transit riders, bicyclists, and pedestrians.

Those clear streets, however, didn’t help the old woman I saw yesterday waiting for the 12 S. National bus on Elm. She was perched precariously on a mound of snow between a cleared street and an icy sidewalk. Doesn’t she count?

While the majority was able to negotiate the streets fairly quickly by car — even during the storm — a minority is still having a difficult time traveling in Springfield because the sidewalks are mostly blocked. These are, for the most part, our most vulnerable citizens.

Is it not partly the measure of the moral fiber of a society in how it takes care of its most vulnerable citizens?

Let’s acknowledge  reality: The city doesn’t have the money or the manpower to clear more than 570 miles of sidewalks within the city limits. This is why Springfield has an ordinace urging property owners to keep sidewalks clear. The city also doesn’t have the money or the manpower to enforce this ordinance.

As I see it there are two situations here — one of which can be corrected now and the other will require a change of culture (actually both require a change of culture). Let’s take the “easy” one first. Take another look at these photographs I published recently:

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The first two are most important. Notice that in order to create those snow piles at the sidewalk intersections the plow had to specifically face the sidewalk and push the snow into that position. The impressions of the plows are easy to see/read.


In both cases shown, and given the position of the plow, the snow could have been pushed a bit farther down the side of the street to leave the sidewalk intersection open. Yes, it is possible that doing so might have blocked a parked car or a parking space. But it seems to me a far more moral choice to allow a chance at using the sidewalk. Further, these piles might kill any personal incentive a property owner might have in clearing the walk. What’s the point of shoveling 40 feet of sidewalk that’s blocked at both ends?

Now let’s examine the more difficult problem: changing the culture, i.e. encouraging all of us to think about people first.

There was a scene in the television show Mad Men in which the Draper family is on a picnic in a park. As they leave they throw their trash on the ground — a shocking display of littering. Only it wasn’t shocking — back in the early 60s. Littering was just what people did.

And, yes, some people still litter today — but nothing like 50 years ago. What changed? The culture. How did it change? A few people cared enough to try to change it.

Who with power and prestige in the City of Springfield will step forward and try to change the culture? Specifically: Who will begin the hard work of making failure to shovel a sidewalk the moral equivalent of littering?

(Note: Some people will not be able to shovel. So I assume a change in culture would also bring with it resources to help our friends and neighbors.)

Changing the culture is the only way I can see that the sidewalks will ever be cleared. And no one is going to care until someone powerful cares first. I’d use the anti-littering campaign as a model. There are college students in this town awaiting the opportunity to make PSAs, write press releases, make photographs, and do as a public service all the things necessary to begin changing the culture.

So, @CityofSgf, that’s what I want. An effort by someone that says that all of Springfield’s citizens deserve the chance to move around this city even when the weather is bad.

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Comments 9

  1. Steve A wrote:

    The city may not have the manpower to clear all the sidewalks, but clearing the bus stop waiting areas would require much less manpower and I doubt that the “clearing” law requires property owners to clear bus stops in addition to the sidewalks anyway.

    Doing at least THAT would have helped “the old woman I saw yesterday waiting for the 12 S. National bus on Elm. She was perched precariously on a mound of snow between a cleared street and an icy sidewalk. Doesn’t she count?”

    Posted 06 Feb 2011 at 10:13 am
  2. stevek wrote:

    I wrote a similar piece Friday. Panera’s on National and Brown Derby (both multi-million-dollar corporations can’t afford $50 to have their sidewalks cleared? They are just lazy and don’t care about their customers.

    Posted 06 Feb 2011 at 10:30 am
  3. Andy Cline wrote:

    Steve… Good point re: bus stops. I wish it had occurred to me when I wrote that. But it’s on the record now. The bus system is run by City Utilities — a public accommodation owned by the city. So the city could decide to clean them.

    Posted 06 Feb 2011 at 12:02 pm
  4. John Brooking wrote:

    We had a mix of wet snow, sleet, and rain last night, and this morning the sidewalks were terrible. Nevertheless, my family walked the mile to our church. I walked in the road most of the time, which was mostly wet but clear, and didn’t have a problem. I know not everyone feels safe doing that, and I’m not saying we should expect everyone to do that, but if we are talking culture change, how about that the roads are for people to travel, not just for cars to travel on, and motorists have a duty of care to be careful of other people using the roads by whatever mode.

    Posted 06 Feb 2011 at 4:07 pm
  5. Michael wrote:

    Don’t forget one reason the streets get a higher priority is because emergency vehicles use them. People can stay home for a bit, but the cops and firemen need to get though.

    Not disagreeing at all with you Andy, just saying to keep that in mind.

    Posted 07 Feb 2011 at 12:44 am
  6. Robert wrote:


    I disagree that as a society we do not have the money to clear sidewalks.

    Take a look at Springfield. The 60/65 interchange has a price tag of $57,000,000. That’s right, 57 million dollars. How many years of sidewalk shoveling is that?

    Motorists can already access every part of our City, State and nation, but that is not good enough. It’s never good enough. As a society we are willing to spend ANY amount of money to continue to make things easier, faster and more convienent for drivers.

    Meanwhile, as a society we say to bicyclists, pedestrians and wheelchair users……………

    F#### off and stay at home, there are far more important things to spend our money on, like making things just a bit faster for motorists.

    Posted 07 Feb 2011 at 8:49 am
  7. Andy Cline wrote:

    Michael… I’m not suggesting the streets not be cleared first. I’m suggesting the job is only half finished once the streets have been cleared.

    Robert… It’s clear there is plenty of money to keep the car system running. It’s also clear what a howl would be raised if the city decided to deploy the resources to clear the sidewalks. I have to keep that howl in mind (don’t like, but there it is).

    John… Pedestrians will always find a way. Gonna write about that today 😉

    Posted 07 Feb 2011 at 9:24 am
  8. Kevin Love wrote:

    Here in Toronto, the municipal government clears all sidewalks, pedestrian intersections and bicycle paths that are deemed for “transportation” rather than “recreation.” In many cases, the sidewalks get cleared before the roads.

    Some of the smaller cities are still on the “old-fashioned” system whereby property owners are responsible to clear the sidewalks next to their property. Where this is the case, they have 12 hours to do so. At the end of the 12-hour period, contractors working for the city will clear the sidewalk and add the cost to the property tax bill for the property.

    Springfield may wish to consider such a method of enforcing its existing ordinance. The cost to the city is zero, so that objection does not apply.

    Posted 07 Feb 2011 at 10:43 am
  9. BusyMom wrote:

    You didn’t even mention the kiddos that have to walk to school every day. When my son attended Weaver Elementary, we had to walk down Division St., in the street, in morning rush hour traffic to get to school because the sidewalks were piled so high with snow that we couldn’t use them.

    While I was out running errands today, I saw several people having to walk along the edge of the street because the sidewalks were impassable. That is dangerous, not only for the folks walking but also for the drivers as well.

    Posted 07 Feb 2011 at 9:51 pm

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