Shovel public sidewalks for all the right reasons | BrainerdDispatch.com | Brainerd, Minnesota

Shovel public sidewalks for all the right reasons

Posted: February 7, 2013 - 6:40pm

We don't do it because we hope to win some silly certificate from the city or because there's a grass-roots effort reminding us to or even because if we don't we might get shamed by the newspaper.

We shovel the public sidewalks that are in front of and alongside our homes and businesses because kids are walking to school, because older folks need to get to the bus stop and because others are hurrying to work, to the store and to other destinations, no matter what the weather is like. And they need — nay, they deserve — a safe place to hoof it.

A snow- and ice-covered sidewalk isn't that safe place. Slips and falls can lead to pain and emergency room visits and pricey doctor bills. And forcing pedestrians out into the plowed street is even less safe. There, the unscraped windshields of passing cars, snowbank-narrowed driving lanes, inattentive motorists and more pose their own dangers.

So we shovel. For our neighbors who walk, whether because they have no other choice or because they want to. And for our community, because that's the kind of place where we want to live.

Most of us shovel, anyway.

The problem of neglected walkways roars into Duluth like a Nor'easter every winter. Granted, some folks are physically unable to shovel and deserve a helping hand. But most who don't shovel simply are being lazy. And rude.

Nine years ago, the News Tribune shined a spotlight on non-shovelers with a weekly photo feature called The Unshoveled Truth. It wasn't the best-received, and maybe wasn't the best idea given the way it encouraged Duluthians to turn in their shoveling-delinquent neighbors who then were publicly shamed in print until they cleaned up their acts — and their walks. Nevertheless, the feature was well-intentioned.

The city took a positive approach to the problem a year or so later, handing out certificates of appreciation to "snow angels," people who shoveled faithfully and then also helped out others in their neighborhood. The recognition lasted only a season or two, however.

More recently, a grass-roots group called Duluth Digs: Winter Mobility for All reminded Duluthians to shovel and raised awareness of the challenges of getting around. It awarded Golden Shovel Awards. But that lasted only a couple of winters, too. As the Duluth Budgeteer News reported this weekend, the group has disbanded and is inactive.

Removing snow from public sidewalks isn't only neighborly and a matter of safety — in Duluth, it's the law. An ordinance requiring sidewalk snow removal within 24 hours of a snowfall has been on the books since 1935. That's 78 years, or nearly eight decades. The ordinance has never had sharp teeth — and shouldn't need them. Rather than threatening fines and penalties, the city always has preferred to work cooperatively with residents.

The issue can be put to rest once and for all with a bit more common courtesy. City residents and business owners doing the responsible thing by shoveling can be thanked. But people who are still being lazy can be chastised. And reminded: shoveling driveways and paths to garages isn't enough; the public sidewalks that run parallel to streets also must be cleared — and adjacent property owners are the ones responsible for doing it.

Don't make us come out there with our cameras again.