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
(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).