At the end of last winter, the Town Council took up the question of whether the town should issue tickets to persons who fail to clear their sidewalks of snow and ice. There were passionate arguments on both sides of the issue, but in the end Councilor Susan Falkoff withdrew the proposed ordinance, deciding instead to explore some of the alternatives that came up during the discussions.
Since that time, Police Chief Edward Deveau met with the Bicycle and Pedestrian Committee to talk about how to best deal with the public safety issues presented by snowy sidewalks. What came out of that meeting was a three-point plan to address the problem.
- The DPW would review their plowing practices so as to reduce the amount of snow piled on sidewalks
- The Police Department would be more proactive in enforcing existing snow removal ordinances, especially in business districts
- The Bicycle and Pedestrian Committee would help to raise public awareness about the civic responsibility of citizens to clear their sidewalks. The goal was to improve the sidewalk situation as much as possible without a controversial new ordinance.
By choosing not to introduce a new residential snow removal ordinance, Watertown is depending on its citizens’ sense of civic duty to get the job done. Most of our residents already recognize that shoveling the sidewalk is the right thing to do. They take the time to clear a reasonable path, enough so that people can pass without being forced into the street. They don’t throw snow from their driveways on the sidewalk in big piles that won’t melt away until April. They recognize that an unshoveled sidewalk is for a pedestrian what an unplowed road is for automobile -- not just inconvenient but quite possibly dangerous.
Unfortunately, there remains a small but significant minority who neglect their sidewalks, or worse, heap snow from their driveways onto the sidewalk in large impassable piles. Besides being in violation of an ordinance that has existed since 2003, this practice creates obstacles for all users of the sidewalks, ranging from kids going to school to seniors carrying their groceries. If the people who don’t shovel took the time to think about the consequences of their actions, they might change their behavior.
The Bicycle and Pedestrian Committee encourages all residents to pitch in and do their part to keep the sidewalks clear of snow and ice this winter. If you can’t shovel yourself, get somebody to do it. The Watertown Senior Center maintains a list of students and adults who will do these tasks for seniors. The key is to make an honest effort to consider the needs of all residents, including pedestrians. Although you won’t get a ticket for not clearing your sidewalk, you may well be endangering your neighbors and their kids if you don’t.