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Our Pedestrian Imperative

Do you love your neighbor? Then shovel your sidewalk!

I have to admit, I was naïve. 

When I saw the work crews building a nice wide sidewalk on the north side of S.R. 59 on the eastern city limits of Kent I thought that finally, 35 years after a two-lane road was turned into a four-lane speedway, the pedestrians of our community might have a fighting chance of travelling in safety. 

Imagine my disappointment upon returning to Kent from Ravenna at noon today (Jan. 3, 2012), after the first storm of the winter, to see a pedestrian walking in the highway. The question that I must ask, as I have in each of the last 20 years or more, is what will it take for our community to take seriously our responsibility to our neighbors? The follow up question is: do we need better laws or enforcement of them because we have failed to love our neighbors so grossly?

This issue has been discussed ad naseam by Kent City Council over the years, with the conclusion being as recently as 2009 that the sidewalks belong to the property owners and that unless someone recklessly impedes the sidewalk, our current ordinances will not be enforced. While a case can be made that the city should be responsible for maintaining pedestrian thoroughfares — especially since we plow so much snow on them while clearing the streets — each of us as property owners, residents and tenants can very easily take the time to make sure that our walks are free of snow and ice, overhanging branches and other impediments. If we cannot, we need to find someone who can do it for us.

I have had some interesting encounters over the years with people that are mad because of my “pet peeve” about this; some that hold advanced degrees who tell me that their health will not allow them to shovel. To these folks I suggest you look at the bulletin board at the post office to find someone who will do it for less than the price of a dinner on the town.    

The city has used some soft public relations tactics to encourage public responsibility, and those are to be commended. The challenge is of course that we do not make suggestions to our citizens and property owners on other matters of public safety. We either provide it as a service or we enforce our laws.

What is perhaps most interesting is the number of businesses, who rely on pedestrians for sales, who cannot get their act together to call someone to plow their sidewalks. On countless occasions many of us pedestrians have informed business managers of this basic civic responsibility only to be told, “It is not my job.”  Our large number of irresponsible absentee landlords who do not make sure their tenants shovel, even though they manage to get out of their driveways, also contributes to the morass. Comparing the condition of sidewalks on rental property with owner occupied tells anyone who thinks about it that someone needs to light a fire under someone.    

Ironically, at the same time that we were widening S.R. 59 to improve traffic flow, the city adopted a set of ordinances that reflect basic thinking throughout our nation regarding the basic responsibility of property owners to assure that sidewalks are kept safe and clear 24/7, 365 days a year. Simply enforcing these ordinances in one neighborhood per storm would send the message that we really believe that every person in our community should be treated fairly and given safe passage.

This post would not be fair or complete if I didnt take the time to thank those who year after year, storm after storm, have done the right thing and cleared your walks. You do not know how grateful those of us who walk are for this simple act of kindness.

I also understand that most of the people that need to hear this message do not read the paper or the Patch, so if I sound peeved, it isn't at those of you who understand the need to do the right thing. To anyone who can do something about this I ask, must we wait for someone to die before we learn to love our neighbors?

Editor's note: below is the text of Kent's city ordinance regarding snow and ice removal.

521.15   SNOW AND ICE REMOVAL.

(a) The owner, occupant or other person having the care of any building, premises or

unimproved lot of land abutting any street where there is a graded sidewalk or a sidewalk graded

and paved shall, within the first twenty-four hours after daylight after any snow ceases to fall, cause

the same to be removed from the paved or traveled part of such sidewalk. The provisions of this

section shall also apply to the falling of snow or ice from any building or from any other source onto

a sidewalk.

(b) Snow or ice shall not be moved into the gutter when the gutter has been previously

cleaned, and in no event shall snow or ice from any area other than the pedestrian walk be moved

in the gutter.

(c) Whenever a sidewalk or any part thereof along any building, premises or unimproved

lot of land is encumbered with ice, the owner, occupant or other person having the care of such

premises or lot, shall cause such sidewalk to be made safe and convenient by removing the ice

therefrom, or by covering the same with sand or other suitable substance.

(d) In the event the owner, occupant or person having the care of any building, premises

or unimproved lot within the City, fails to comply with the provisions of subsection (a) hereof the

Director of Service is authorized to cause such sidewalk to be made safe by removal of snow or ice

therefrom, or by covering the same with sand or other suitable substance as the Director may

determine at his/her discretion.

(e) After completion of the work, as authorized in subsection (d) hereof, the Director of

Service shall give five days notice by certified mail to the owner of such land, at his/her last known

address, to pay the cost of the removal of such snow or ice, or of the covering of the same with sand

or other suitable substance. This notice shall be accompanied by a statement of the amount of cost

incurred, and that in the event the cost of this work is not paid within five days after the mailing of

such notice, then this amount shall be certified to the County Auditor for collection the same as other

taxes and assessments are collected.     (Ord. 1976-20. Passed 2-18-76.)

 

521.16   SNOW AND ICE REMOVAL AFFECTING PUBLIC RIGHT OF WAYS.

(a) No owner or occupant or other person having the responsibility of removal, or the

person who actually removes the snow from any building, premises or improved or unimproved lot

abutting any street, shall remove snow and ice from the premises of said property so as to cause an

obstruction in the travel or parking lane of any abutting street, or to cause a view obstruction on the

abutting roadway, or at ingress or egress points to the roadway, or to cause obstruction to pedestrian

travel on the sidewalks.  Said actions are hereby declared to be a public nuisance and civil offense.

(Ord. 2009-115. Passed 10-21-09).

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Chris (Kit) Myers January 06, 2013 at 02:33 PM
Rick and Teresa. My comment from last year about those who shovel paying the city was a spoof regarding something, I don't remember what, that was going on at that time. Anyway, the logic about which I was being cynical, was that taking money from some people will somehow inspire others to become better citizens. Maybe it had to do with the free salt fiasco.
The Omnipotent Sponge - Soak it up! January 06, 2013 at 07:47 PM
"Pedestrians in a crosswalk have the right of way." This should be on every billboard, heck, even on drivers licenses, since no one seems to know it!!
The Omnipotent Sponge - Soak it up! January 06, 2013 at 08:00 PM
Kent is, in general, very unfriendly toward pedestrians, especially for being a college town. Everything being within walking distance is one of the perks of a city. It's a shame when even walking is darn near impossible The snow just makes it that much worse. Fresh, deep, unshoveled snow on the sidewalk is a pain to traverse, but nothing is quite as fun as attempting to survive the craggy wasteland of old frozen, icy footsteps. Might as well get my crampons out just to walk to the store. If you need or desire to walk to Acme/Drug Mart/etc down Rt 59 and there is snow, GOOD LUCK. No one shovels except the university, but even if they did, the snow plows come through and throw inches and sometimes feet of wet, dirty snow right onto the sidewalk. What should be a brisk 20 minute walk turns into a nightmare that clocks in around 40 minutes. Niether of the churches along the way shovel their walks yet always manage to get their lots plowed. I might also add these same churches manage to hire lawn care throughout the summer. So why not hire someone in the winter to do the sidewalks? Especially since they are on both sides of the street. Both sidewalks are always a mess. I shovel my walk, my neighbors, and the elderly lady across the street (and no, she doesn't and never has asked me to do it, it's just the right thing to do, so I do it).
The Omnipotent Sponge - Soak it up! January 06, 2013 at 08:02 PM
Also, I wonder why businesses such as Jack Crow Auto Body on Lake St. don't get fined multiple times a winter. Every year they plow all the snow into giant piles on the sidewalks. It's especially awesome since this is a school bus stop and many children are dropped off and unable to walk safely on the sidewalks...
The Omnipotent Sponge - Soak it up! January 06, 2013 at 08:13 PM
"If you can't afford to do this, I am sorry but maybe you shouldn't have a home." Maybe you're going a little bit far. Some people are very elderly and frail (my neighbor is in her 90's, can barely get about and ain't getting any younger). Or perhaps you're down and out with the flu. Or you broke your arm. Or you're in the hospital and not even home. Or you're a new and overly exhausted single mother. And the list of possibilities goes on and on. Sometimes neighbors have to be good neighbors and help each other out. At least, that's what should happen. We have a few ugly vacant rentals on our street and you know what, rather than point fingers at who is to blame, we (other neighbors on the street) take turns shoveling the rentals sidewalks. It seems to be an unspoken rule on our street. Maybe I just live in a fantastic little part of Kent. We're not perfect, but we're all good neighbors who seem to know when it's time to step up and help out. And everyone should have a place to call home.

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