“We need a snow shoveling ordinance in Goshen!” A number of residents have said this to me in the past few weeks or posted on Facebook. While I’m reluctant to push for such an ordinance, if a groundswell of support convinces Goshen City Council members to sponsor and pass an ordinance, I’m likely to approve it.
I’ll admit, the several inches of snow that fell a couple weeks before Christmas pointed out that many able-bodied Goshen residents do a lousy job of shoveling sidewalks. Kids walking to school or bus stops, mail carriers, newspaper delivery people, commuters to and from work and people walking for pleasure or exercise had to negotiate knee deep snow in some places or walk in the streets.
This issue surfaces every few years after particularly heavy snowfalls. I’ve surveyed cities across the state, asking how many had shoveling ordinances. A number of cities do, but about half of them said they don’t enforce the ordinance because it is so complicated. It’s worth noting that most such ordinances give 24 hours after snow stops falling for sidewalks to be shoveled. So even with the best ordinance enforcement, there will be times sidewalks are covered when kids are walking to school or bus stops. There will always be some people who are physically unable to shovel and either don’t have a friend or relative to do it, and can’t find or afford to pay someone to do it. And there will be vacant properties and “no man’s lands” that require City employees’ time when they have streets and alleys to clear at the same time.
Many landlord-owned properties are particularly notorious for having snow-covered sidewalks. These same landlords seem not to get yards raked before snow falls). If landlords don’t include in their leases that tenants are responsible to shovel sidewalks as part of the consideration of rent amount, they need to do it themselves or pay someone to do it.
Some people feel that just because the City cooperated with Goshen Community Schools to build sidewalks in expanded walk zones to schools that we should also shovel them. But why should those areas get this extra service when most other sidewalks aren’t cleared by the City? Some have even suggested the City should clear all sidewalks, since they are considered public rights-of-way. Imagine how many employees that would require. Where would the money come from to hire them? And how could we ever clear all sidewalks in time for kids to walk to school?
Here are some suggestions:
• Peer pressure works. If there is a rental property near you where snow isn’t shoveled, call the landlord and complain. If you don’t know who owns the property, you can get contact information from the Goshen Building Department at 534-1811.
• The Window has some volunteers (free lunch patrons or others) who will shovel walks for those who can’t do it themselves. As property owners can afford, donations may be given to The Window to help fund their programs: 533-9680.
• Neighborhood associations can get volunteers to help others in the neighborhood who need it.
• Goshen Community Schools can mount a marketing effort, sending notes home with students and distributing flyers door-to-door in neighborhoods where students walk, stressing the importance of clearing sidewalks.
• Make sure your kids have snow boots. There will always be times and places where they are walking in snow or slush. Flip flops and tennis shoes are not adequate. They didn’t keep feet dry and warm when I was a kid walking to school in snow, and they still don’t.
Goshen is known for having many people working together for common good. It seems to me that the problem of snow-covered sidewalks is one that could be overcome with community-wide cooperation. An ordinance shouldn’t be necessary.
Allan Kauffman has been mayor of Goshen since 1997.