It takes a village to keep sidewalks clear
This has been an unusually cold winter. We have learned what a polar vortex is, and had more school snow days than my 30-something memory can recall. The winters of recent past had cold and snowy days, but there was always a break when temperatures would rise and the snow would melt. These thaws helped make the winter months feel shorter and cleared much of the snow from our sidewalks. This winter’s constant cold has highlighted an ongoing challenge: to keep our city walkable, even in the winter months.
When the sidewalks are covered with six inches or more of snow, pedestrians tend to walk in the street. Among them are elementary school children walking to and from their schools and bus stops; disabled or senior individuals who have challenges walking under the best of weather conditions; and those who use public transportation. Walking in the streets is dangerous and a public safety issue.
Recently, I posted a question on my Facebook page: Should Cleveland Heights enforce the sidewalk snow removal ordinance by issuing a warning for the first offense and a ticket for subsequent offences (and why)? In 2011, at a city council meeting, I requested ideas from the public to encourage residents and businesses to make their sidewalks passable by shoveling them after a snowfall. At that time, I received no more than a handful of responses. To my surprise, my Facebook question quickly had 240 comments!
Most who responded indicated that they felt this issue needed the attention of city council, and needed a resolution. There was no clear consensus on how the city should approach the issue.
City council and staff discussed the issue at our Feb. 9 city council meeting. In a lengthy discussion, we dissected numerous options, including the three most popular from respondents to my Facebook post:
- The city should clear the sidewalks, like University Heights and Shaker Heights: This would solve the problem. However, the cost would exceed $500,000 a year. Cleveland Heights’s income tax rate is 2 percent, Shaker Heights’s is 2.25 percent and University Heights’s is 2.5 percent. The city would need additional tax revenue to add this service.
- Fine residents and businesses that do not clear their sidewalks: This option would increase compliance and lead to the majority of sidewalks being shoveled after a snowfall. Exceptions would be made, however, for the disabled, seniors and others who are unable to clear their sidewalks. The city could collaborate with schools and nonprofits to assist those who cannot clear their own sidewalks, but this would not be a perfect system and would leave a percentage of sidewalks filled with snow. Of course, there would likely be complaints from residents who receive warnings and/or fines, as the city already experiences with tall grass citations in the summer.
- Private snow-removal businesses should offer sidewalk snow removal with their driveway service: The city can encourage licensed snow-removal businesses to offer sidewalk snow removal. Certainly, paying for snow removal for the season would be less expensive than receiving a few tickets. Many residents, however, including myself, do not have any intention of paying for snow removal (I clear my own driveway and sidewalk).
In the end, it was decided that:
- The city’s public works department will map out the city’s main roads and design a plan to plow those sidewalks.
- The city will encourage private snow-plow businesses to offer sidewalk snow removal.
- The city will look for best practices from other municipalities that have programs to assist the elderly and disabled in clearing their sidewalks.
- When the city receives a complaint of unpassable sidewalks at a residence or business, the city will send out an inspector and issue a warning.
- When the city receives a complaint that a private snow-plow service has covered a sidewalk with snow, the city will issue a citation, when warranted, to the service provider.
- The city will create and distribute a guide to educate and assist residents with tips for keeping sidewalks and driveway aprons clear during the winter months.
- Council and city staff will continue to discuss this issue through the summer in preparation for walkable sidewalks during the 2014–15 winter season.
It does take a village, and Cleveland Heights has great neighbors throughout our "village." I have heard stories of residents who go above and beyond, plowing neighbors’ sidewalks, cutting grass for a neighbor, helping a neighbor put trash out on the tree lawn, starting a street club and contributing in other ways.
I want to recognize those Cleveland Heights heroes who make our city so special, and encourage others to be more neighborly. With this in mind, I am establishing “Councilman Stein’s Outstanding Neighbor of the Month” award, to be awarded to CH residents who go above and beyond to help their neighbors and improve their neighborhood. To nominate a neighbor for this recognition, fill out the online form at councilmanstein.blogspot.com/ or contact me at email@example.com or 440-253-9613 for a nomination form.
Editor's note: What steps do you think cities should take to ensure sidewalks are passable during winter weather? What responsibilities do residents have? Tell us what you think.
Jason Stein is a member of Cleveland Heights City Council, a Heights High graduate and a lifelong Cleveland Heights resident. He can be reached at 440-253-9613 or firstname.lastname@example.org.