Snow perspective

The city’s sidewalk-shoveling ordinance sets a good goal, but it’s far from perfect.

January 30, 2011


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.


David Albertson 7 years, 2 months ago

Sure glad I don't live in Lawrence any more.

ashmole 7 years, 2 months ago

I have long suggested a simple change that would improve the situation. Landowners with public sidewalks should have the appraisals of their properties adjusted downwards to reflect the financial burden that sidewalk maintenance places upon them. The cost of sidewalk maintenance and replacement is substantial, and the cost of snow removal can be as well, especially with winters like we have seen the past couple years. If the appraisals were adjusted downwards by linear foot of sidewalk on the property, then the savings over time in city, county, and school taxes would offset the upkeep costs. This would also make things more fair as those without sidewalks on their properties would get no tax relief. The fact of the matter is that maintaining public rights of way is an imposition (albeit a necessary one) on private landowners so some accomodation should be made in the tax burden to reflect this obligation.

Scott Morgan 7 years, 2 months ago

By law sound a loud city wide repeating alarm gong after the last flake drops. This would be the warning all citizens have 5 minutes to be on the streets, shovel in hand. Then each citizen can do what they can to remove snow. When all snow is removed sound the gong again. Job done.

Worked in the Soviet, well sort of.

John Hamm 7 years, 2 months ago

What a bunch of whiners! Geez people it's (or used to be) a common courtesy to keep your property in good, safe condition.

George_Braziller 7 years, 2 months ago

Like it or not, the sidewalk shoveling and maintenance is the responsibility of the abutting property owner even though the land under it is part of the city easement.

If the homeowner is negligent with either of those and someone falls it is the homeowner who is liable, not the city. That alone should be motivation for someone to shovel their walk.

mr_right_wing 7 years, 2 months ago

Winter Storm Warning...

Gentlemen, warm up those snow-blowers and shovels!

homechanger 7 years, 2 months ago

Since the city owns the sidewalk why don't they have jiminez jump out of his car and shovel the walks he is driving by to inspect. He is paid with tax dollars. Make him work.

mr_right_wing 7 years, 2 months ago

On the serious side...why not use the workforce in the Douglas County jail? Especially for the older and disabled? I volunteer over at the jail, and you wouldn't be able to convince me that a number of inmates (from medium or minimum) wouldn't jump at the chance go get outside, even for some physical labor.

Well guarded of course...

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