Snow, ice and sidewalks: We can do better

January 4, 2019

Santa Fe needs sidewalk therapy.

Many property owners, whether individual, business or government, do not seem to understand that it is their responsibility to keep sidewalks clear.

In the city of Santa Fe’s “Get Ready For Winter Snow and Ice” release, there is this reminder: “Keep Your Sidewalks Shoveled. Property owners are responsible for shoveling their sidewalks after each snowstorm to ensure safe pedestrian access.”

This is widely ignored.

With several snowstorms occurring over the holidays, it is likely that some property owners were away. Government offices were closed and schools were shut down for Christmas and New Year’s. Businesses were not open during at least part of the two weeks of snow and ice.

Those are excuses.

Driving down Cerrillos Road, more than a week after snow began falling (and then falling some more), stretches of sidewalk in front of shopping centers and state government offices remained snow and ice packed. Interestingly, at several covered bus stops, the area has been cleared. Only to reach the stop, a pedestrian would have to navigate dangerous snow and ice.

State government is not the only culprit. We saw snow on the walks around public schools. They may be shut down, but pedestrians need to be able to walk safely; surely the school leaders can come up with a plan to hire — or send out their own — workers to clear sidewalks even if children are not in class.

City workers, busy clearing snow and ice on streets, did remove snow on sidewalks downtown, but the walks around Franklin Miles Park, for example, remained icy and snow-covered on Thursday. There also does not seem to be a plan to clear snow from sidewalks across arroyos, those public areas between private properties.

We need a public awareness campaign to remind property owners of their responsibilities. Clear the walks. It’s not the job of government (unless the government owns the property). It’s the business of citizens, or at least it has been. Other parts of the country have experimented with collectively taking care of sidewalks, with neighborhoods forming cooperatives to get the job done — that way, if someone is out of town, the walk is clear.

Removing snow and ice in winter is just one responsibility, too. Property owners also are responsible for repairing their walks and for keeping brush from blocking pedestrians. Should the city want to make money — which could go into a fund to pay for snow removal — it could begin fining people who allow ice and snow to linger.

Start with warnings, and then hand out tickets (forgivable, perhaps, if the walks are cleared promptly). Build in a system that would help elderly or disabled property owners get the work done, too. Not everyone is able to clear snow. Someday, perhaps, individual responsibility can give way to neighbors helping neighbors. For now, though, the system we have requires individuals to act.

Several storms in the course of a few weeks are not commonplace in Santa Fe. Snowfall can seem somewhat shocking, especially after the 2017-18 winter, with its lack of moisture. However, snow is not such a rare occurrence that we shouldn’t be able to handle it better, even during a holiday.

But to take care of snow and ice — just as with clearing weeds in other seasons — the city and its residents need a more aggressive plan. Snow eventually melts, but before that happens, people are going to fall and hurt themselves. That shouldn’t happen. Clear the sidewalks.

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