Trying to take a walk around Watertown these day can be a frustrating and even hazardous because many sidewalks remain un-shoveled and those that are cleared often have piles of snow blocking the end.
Many residents have had it with the lack of shoveling and plowing of sidewalks in their neighborhood and around town. They point to the lack of a requirement for residents to clear their sidewalks, as approved in surrounding communities.
When the snow-covered walkways are near schools, it is particularly upsetting for parents.
“Many routes have huge snow banks, and unplowed sidewalks, leaving kids to have to walk in the streets, which are very narrow and congested during drop-off and pick-up time,” said parent Naomi Ridge. “My kids go to the Cunniff School, and the sidewalks on Warren Street adjacent to the Ridgelawn Cemetery have not been plowed at at all, and the path that runs between the school and the cemetery is also covered in snow and ice.”
A call for examples on the Watertown News Facebook page got plenty of responses.
A woman dropping her neice off at Hosmer School said sidewalks along Mt. Auburn Street were not cleared, forcing her into a dangerous situation.
“I had to take my 4 year old niece out on the drivers side of the car with cars flying by because the snow banks are blocking access to the sidewalk. Not safe at all!!” she wrote.
Others report students having to climb over snow banks to get to crosswalks near Watertown Middle School, and sidewalks along Spring Street near Watertown High School being cleared, but the end of the path blocked by piles of snow – forcing people into the street to get around.
Watertown Middle School parent and Westside resident Ilana Mainelli said she thinks it is time for the town to pass an ordinance requiring residential properties to have sidewalks cleared of snow, just like is required for businesses in town.
“I am totally fed up with this, as are many others in town,” Mainelli said. “We are trying to get momentum to get something going.”
Its not just school children who are impacted, Mainelli said, but also the elderly, disabled, people trying to catch the bus or just get around town.
Boston has a requirement and gives out fines. Belmont and Newton also have requirements. Watertown considered making an ordinance for residences in 2005, 2009, and 2011, but each time it failed to gain approval from the Town Council.
In 2011, the Council voted 7-2 against a proposal that would require residents to clear their sidewalks of snow. Ken Woodland and Steve Corbett voted to support the ordinance.
Opponents said they worried about the elderly being able to shovel their sidewalks, and noted that street plows often push snow back on the sidewalk. Enforcing such an ordinance, some argued, would be difficult for the Police Department to do.
Watertown has a solution of sorts for those physically unable to clear their sidewalks. Councilor Woodland helped start a program called Watertown Prosperity, which sends Watertown Middle School students to homes of the elderly or disabled to shovel their snow. The students receive community service hours.
The program had been undersubscribed until the recent series of snowstorms, Woodland said.
“Right now we really don’t have any more volunteers left,” Woodland said. “We are pretty much at our limit.”
Woodland said he wants to expand the program next winter.
The existing snow ordinances include requirements for owners of commercial properties to shovel sidewalks in front of their businesses, said Town Councilor Vincent Piccirilli.
Also, owners of all properties are not allowed to pile snow at the end of their driveway if it blocks a sidewalk. A 3-foot-wide path must be cleared through the pile, Piccirilli said.
The town also has a fine of $500 for operators of plows and other motor vehicles that pushes or piles snow onto a public road.
Mainelli said she is considering asking the Council to pass a residential snow shoveling ordinance at the Council meeting on Tuesday night (meeting begins at 7:15 p.m.)