Snow is a pain in the behind. Many Lawrence residents surely are being reminded of that this winter.
It creates all the typical annoyances: treacherous roads, slips and falls, and the pigpen like environment it leaves behind once it melts.
But here in Lawrence, sometimes the pain comes in the form of a ticket in the mail. A city ordinance requires property owners to remove snow and ice from public sidewalks that traverse their properties within 48 hours following the end of the snow or ice storm.
For some in Lawrence, this ordinance has created a significant opportunity to complain. Some complain about the lack of fairness in property owners being required to maintain a public sidewalk. Others complain that the city is not issuing enough tickets. Still others complain that the city issued a ticket here but not there.
It appears to us that residents have been giving a bit more attention to their sidewalks since the city began enforcing the ordinance last winter. The ordinance appears to have some value.
But it certainly could benefit from some perspective too. Here are some points we think should be kept in mind:
l The system is imperfect. The system creates no exceptions from the 48-hour rule. That can create difficulties. To cite just one, there are about 4,000 people in Lawrence over the age of 75. There are about 55 people who have volunteered for a city program to shovel sidewalks for the elderly and disabled.
l Sidewalks and streets aren’t equal. There is a reason that the city doesn’t require property owners to be responsible for clearing the streets that are in front of their homes and businesses. Streets would be cleared in such a haphazard manner to drive even the most patient of motorists crazy. But for financial reasons, that is the system we use for sidewalks. That’s not to say that sidewalks are unimportant. But they aren’t as heavily used as streets, and they aren’t ever going to be cleaned as consistently as streets.
l Some property owners get a raw deal. Some properties have public sidewalks on them; others don’t. Some have sidewalks so close to the street that snow plows constantly cover them. The city won’t ticket you for that, but it is maddening. However, we also get that the city is plowing the snow — not vacuuming it — so the snow has to go somewhere.
l Priorities are fluid. We don’t believe the city would contend that it has shoveled every sidewalk it is responsible for during the 48-hour period each and every time. That’s understandable. City crews are very busy during snow storms, and sometimes they’re doing work more important than shoveling a sidewalk. Sometimes, property owners are too. Certainly both groups could try to hire someone to do the job. But let’s face it, neither group is flush with money. Yes, government does have the advantage here. It won’t ticket itself, but then again, you don’t have to run for re-election.
l We’re not doing bad. There are about 40,000 housing units in Lawrence and several thousand more business addresses. Many of them have sidewalks. Last winter the city received about 800 sidewalk complaints and issued about 200 tickets. That’s quite a few, and probably could have been even higher. But in the grand scheme of things, our sidewalk shoveling woes are nowhere near an epidemic.
This is a situation where a good idea is much more helpful than a simple complaint. If you have an idea for making this imperfect system better, let the city know.
But if you must, get hot under the collar. Steam about the unfairness of it all over your morning coffee. But remember this: No matter how hot you get, it won’t melt the snow.