I was hoping that winter would just skip Kent this year — or in the vernacular of a university city, take a sabbatical — but in case the weather doesn’t cooperate I thought it was worth providing an update on what changes the City has in store for encouraging a higher rate of compliance for shoveling sidewalks.
The quick recap for the last 10 months would start with the late February/March snowfall that we experienced last winter. Late season snow is rough because many folks are mentally, if not physically, all shoveled-out for the season and the last thing they want to do is shovel their sidewalk for the 318th time only to wake up in the morning and see the wind blew it all back again over night. That’s when frustrations run high and compliance starts to run low.
Shoveling tends to benefit from the guilt of peer pressure which means as more and more shovelers wave the white flag and give up, the less others are inclined to keep fighting the good fight, and before you know it, sidewalks all over town are blocked. It doesn’t help that as the snow season wages-on the plow truck operators start to fall behind and they have fewer and fewer places to push the piles of the snow from the street — so they too contribute to the sidewalk problem by creating mountainous ravines at intersections — which in turn causes even more folks to throw up their hands and say why bother shoveling their sidewalk frontage if walkers can’t get through the intersection. It’s a vicious cycle.
It’s about that time that the call goes out for the City to enforce the laws on our books to inspire folks to comply with the existing City Ordinances that require people to shovel their walk 24 to 48 hours after the snowfall. The trouble is that Ordinance uses the court system to try to compel compliance but the reality of the court docket means that by the time the court assesses any fines or admonishes deadbeat shovelers the snow has melted and we’re busy cleaning-up after Heritage Fest.
Recognizing this short coming in the existing Ordinance the City Council worked with a citizens committee for the past 9 months to devise a better method for keeping sidewalks clear of snow and ice. This issue proved to be a real test of political philosophy as one camp argued for using the City enforcement powers to push people into compliance while the other camp said that approach over-stepped the bounds of good government. It didn’t help that nearly every good idea cost money which is in short supply these days so finding a solution was tough going.
In the end the compromise was to keep the existing Ordinance on the books, add a few more violations for people who purposely pile snow from their parking lots in the middle of the sidewalk, change City plow practices that piled snow at intersections, set aside some cash to have a private contractor on-call to help clear problem spots and educate, educate, educate.
This was one of those let’s try these things to see if they make a difference before we jump too far headlong into the deep waters of writing tickets or using city crews (at great expense) to clear sidewalks. It may be imperfect but it’s a genuine effort to be more responsive to the perceived need.
So far the City has signed a contractor to perform the intersection clearing duties that Council authorized for this winter. The Public Service Director said that there were a number of local bidders and he felt that competition helped us get good prices for the contract. That contract has been awarded and the contractor is ready on an as-needed basis.
In addition, the City ran three ads in the Record Courier newspaper in late October – November seeking names and numbers for shoveling/plow contractors who would be interested in being listed on a snow removal list for the City. The idea behind the list was to create a reference document for residents and property owners to use to secure snow clearing services on their own. It took a while but the company names are trickling in and I think we’re up to about 20 companies at this point so the list should be compiled for distribution soon.
Lastly, we have been working with Kent State University’s volunteer coordinator to match up residents who might need assistance with shoveling duties with student volunteers with strong arms and young backs. We’ve been asking for names of residents that may have physical limitations that could benefit from some volunteer shoveling services. We’re limited by the number of volunteers we can assemble so we’re trying to ease our way into this new program area but it shows great promise and is a great town/gown connection.
And that sums up sidewalk snow shoveling heading into the 2009-10 winter season. Oh, and not having a shovel is no longer a good excuse to not shovel because the City has added snow shovels to our tool loan program that is managed by Troy Loomis, City Code Officer (330.678.8107). Just give Troy a call, sign a shovel out and return it at no charge.