Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Clearing sidewalks is snow joke

We get more snow in the Hudson Valley than I experienced growing up to the south of here, and far less than the many feet I saw when I was a college student to the north. Snow removal, particularly from sidewalks, was a topic of concern at this week's Town Planning Board meeting, held jointly with the Town Council. It's also the topic of a letter that Bill Weinstein wrote to the New Paltz Times. The picture at left, taken this morning, is of my own buried sidewalk, and reminds me that some shoveling is definitely in order out there.

Paul Brown, chair of the Planning Board, seems to feel that we're better off minimizing how many sidewalks we require be built because those sidewalks need to be maintained and cleared. Better to make people walk in the streets, which are plowed, than force homeowners to shovel would could amount to hundreds of feet of sidewalk in some areas of the Town.

Bill Weinstein recently took over the chair of the Bicycle-Pedestrian Committee, and he's not impressed by how poorly the sidewalks in the Village proper are cleared. This is what he has to say:

To the Editor:

The heavily used crosswalk across Main Street from the Chase Bank to Elting Library was blocked by snow on the bank side for at least six days from Thursday, January 15th. The shoulder of snow that straddled the street and sidewalk by the bank was thrown up by a snowplow doing its job clearing the street. Nevertheless, no one took the time to cut through this snow and make it possible for pedestrians, particularly people in wheelchairs or children in strollers, to use this wheelchair-accessible curbcut.

Pedestrians eventually made their own passageway through the snow, a mini-Khyber Pass of about a footprint's width. (Please see the attached photo.) This was what I had to help my three-year-old navigate twoThursdays ago, with only one eye out for the traffic – a dangerous situation with a high risk of slipping or tripping into the traffic lane.

By Friday, the passage was no clearer, and colder weather and more snow was setting in. By the end of the Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend, the now greater accumulation of snow and ice still had not been cleared, as was the case on Monday and Tuesday.

On Wednesday afternoon volunteers from the New Paltz Bicycle-Pedestrian Committee cut a clean, wide path through the snow and ice. Pedestrians could now cross Main Street from the bank to the library without fear of slipping.

But whose responsibility is it to make sure that New Paltz crosswalks are kept clear for walking? Village Code §175-11.E requires that the owner of property at an intersection must clear a path 30" wide to enable pedestrian access from the sidewalk to the street. Safe pedestrian access to our crosswalks and sidewalks is an important part of making New Paltz the vibrant, liveable community we love. Let's make sure we all hold up our end of the shovel when the snowflakes fly.

Yours sincerely,

William Weinstein
For the New Paltz Bicycle-Pedestrian Committee

I find that New Paltz is really the worst of all worlds when it comes to removing snow. As a homeowner, I do not have the village clearing the sidewalks as happened in Potsdam, where I went to college. I also do not have a parkway strip, as my parents did on Long Island. That two feet of grass between road and sidewalk is very useful right now, because with my sidewalk adjacent to the street, it becomes the depository of the plowed snow.

I like to think of myself as a young man, and I have no problem either shoveling a couple feet of fluffy snow from my walk, or hiring some local kids to do it. But moving the plow's share is a lot tougher. Last time we had snow, we got it shoveled only to have it buried again, and then it froze solid. I've been trying to get rid of it ever since. It can take more than good intentions to shovel even a short walk, and I can't imagine how people older than I do it.

In the village, at least, I am thinking it may be time to consider having the DPW clear the sidewalks, like the college does. Either I'm paying someone to do it or I'm losing money (and possibly my health) by doing it myself, so I don't think it would actually cost more. It would also ensure that pedestrians get safe passage, whether or not Chase Bank gets the walk shoveled or my snow freezes under the plow's blade. Some people can't be bothered to clear the snow, and others try and fail. If the goal is snow removal, we should seriously consider why we don't consider sidewalks to be as important as roads.

Comments and contradictions welcome. Libertarian comments about the dangers of expanding government are particularly invited, but I invite one and all to poke holes in this idea.

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