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Friday, 14 December 2007
Let it snow; let it be shoveled
Topic: urban issues

Here’s a challenge for all bicyclists.

Too often we’re figuratively tangled in our own spokes. We forget about the transportation matrix we depend on: the policies that determine motor traffic conditions, for example; or the state of mass transit. And we’ve got a special responsibility to grapple with issues that affect our transport cousins: pedestrians, in-line skaters, bus riders and rail passengers, wheelchair users, et al. So let me throw this at you:

With substantial snowfalls coming our way, many people will effectively be immobilized. We all know the reason. The sidewalks will not be shoveled, so pedestrians and people in wheelchairs (or those with other mobility challenges) will be forced to stay indoors or take their chances on the street.

As non-motorized folks we can appreciate the situation. We know everything is not okay just because the salt trucks and plows do the minimum so cars and trucks and Hummers can get where they’re going. We understand that basic rights – of free association and public participation – are at stake here. And that many people, sometimes including ourselves, are being denied these rights.

I was thinking about this as I waited for the bus this morning at the corner of Monroe and Meigs, ready to put my bike on the rack and take a leisurely, affordable ride out to Pittsford and the Nazareth campus. Well, the Monroe-Meigs eastbound stop is right in front of a Rent-A-Center, as good an example of predatory, parasitic capitalism as anything. And the RAC guys are living up to their seasonal tradition: they seem to have a hands-off policy regarding snow removal, and so their stretch of public sidewalk is often impassable – even though their customer base must be long on pedestrians.

But RAC is not alone. Up and down Monroe Avenue, and in most other commercial and residential areas, non-shoveling is the great leveler. Businesses large and small, prosperous and struggling, worthy and wretched, all – or many, at least – leave the sidewalk heaped with snow, which then turns to ice, which then turns to slop.

I’ve seen people go head over heels as they tried to negotiate these sidewalks. Now, I’m not one to pump the personal injury lawyers, but you’d think some enterprising client would at least try to take a shovelphobic merchant to the cleaners.

A myth has been circulating that the city sidewalk plows do the job, and no further attention is required. No way. The municipal code makes it clear that owners or first-floor tenants are responsible for removing ice and snow so sidewalks are not hazardous. But there’s no enforcement – not even an educational campaign, nor so much as a fleeting public service announcement. What gives?

This issue is a big one to disability-rights activists. Not long ago (last winter?) some activists took City Hall folks on a little reality tour of snowbound walks and bus stops. Nice photo-ops for the officials. But where’s the progress?

I’ve got this dream that bikers will become the vanguard on this issue. Groups like Critical Mass could swoop down on lazy merchants and institutions (including not-for-profits that should know better) and read them the mobility riot act. We could press for better bike-locking/storage facilities while we’re at it. Maybe we could bring our own shovels to clean the walks, and throw the stuff up on the offenders’ porches or whatever. A simple transfer of wealth. Surely no businessperson could object to that.

Another concern: I often see plowing contractors illegally pushing snow out from driveways and parking lots onto the public street. Any winter biker knows this can create a real hazard – dense snow and ice packed against the curb, to the point that the bicyclist’s travel lane is blocked. We should be addressing this problem, too.

I love snow, actually. I’m looking forward to a great x-c- skiing season. Might even get the snowshoes out soon. But I really hate it when human carelessness allows the snowfall to hurt the vulnerable.


Posted by jackbradiganspula at 21:34 EST
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