Thursday, February 15, 2007

Dangerous Sidewalk Letter to Mayor Cohen

Here's what I just sent to the mayor:

Walking my son from our home on Daniel Street to Bowen School this morning was difficult and dangerous. Treacherous would not be an exaggeration. Because of the good work by the DPW overnight, the same trip by car would have been easy. That's good service delivery to motorists, but lousy public policy.

On the walk to school, my son fell. Hard. On the way back, a woman fell, cut her head, and needed my help getting up. (My son will be fine. The woman was bleeding a fair bit, but appeared fine, too.) I would be very surprised if there were not other minor accidents that I did not witness. Certainly there was a high risk of a serious incident.

Mine is a widely used route to Bowen. On a good day scores of parents and school children walk the sidewalk on the North sides of Daniel and Jackson to Cypress. I cannot conceive of a reason why this pedestrian corridor doesn't get the same level of snow removal attention as major, much less minor streets.

The attached photo paints a damning picture. I took it standing on White Avenue where it intersects with Jackson Street. Jackson is the street running roughly vertical on the right side of the photo.

There are thirteen homes on White Avenue. While it is not completely cleared, it has clearly been plowed more than once. The sidewalk along Jackson, which is used by a large part of the Bowen community, is untouched by the city or city contractors. Some portions of the sidewalk have been shoveled by residents, but no parts are clear. Indeed, the shoveled sections are the most ice-bound and slippery.

Please note that the snow removed for the White Avenue residences is blocking the way for elementary school children and their parents.

At a time when we should be doing everything reasonably possible to reverse the disturbing increase in car traffic to our schools, the city's policies and practices not only encourage driving over walking, those practices and policies actually make it more dangerous to walk than to drive.

It is not an answer to say that this was an exceptional storm. It was an exceptional storm, no question. But, the unique qualities of the storm (lots of ice accumulation, for one) just highlight the policy discrimination in favor of motorists over pedestrians. Most storms don't result in such diametrically opposed conditions on the roads and sidewalks. But, sidewalks always fare far worse than streets.

This storm also highlights the inadequacy of resident response. Many of my neighbors and I did our best efforts to keep our sidewalks clear. But, we have jobs so could not keep at the task during the day. And, we don't have ready stores of sand and salt to deal with the ice accumulation.

To be clear, my concern is not with the quality of the work that DPW does, nor with the amount of money dedicated to snow removal. My concern is with the snow removal priorities.

I would be happy to work with you on the problem of snow removal on school routes and the two related larger problems: snow removal on pedestrian routes and encouraging children to work to school all the time. Already, at Commissioner Rooney's suggestion, I have joined the Bicycle/Pedestrian Task Force. And, inspired by David Koses' work on school-related traffic issues, I will be working with Dr. Kelly and others on a Safe Routes to School application for Bowen.

I'm sure there are lots of creative, cost-effective ways to make our sidewalks more hospitable in the winter ... and throughout the year.

But, this is one issue that clearly requires -- and deserves -- leadership from the top. Please make it a priority to provide clear sidewalks for school children.

Our kids should have it at least as good as our drivers.

Thank you.

Sean Roche

42 Daniel Street
Newton Centre, MA
617 792-8998

Dr. Jeffrey Young, Superintendent of Schools
Dr. Patricia Kelly, Principal, Bowen Elementary School
Alderman Vicki Danberg, Ward 6
Alderman George Mansfield, Ward 6
Alderman Ken Parker, Ward 6
Alderman Christine Samuelson, Chairman of Public Safety & Transportation
Public Works Commissioner Robert Rooney
David Koses, Traffic Planner
Jeremy Solomon, Director of Policy and Communication
Greg Reibman, TAB and TAB Blog
Chuck Tanowitz, The Garden City

I cc'd John Bliss, Bike/Pedestrian Task Force, when I sent my letter to the mayor, but neglected him on the list of cc: recipients.


jwardell said...

After hours of work clearing my sidewalks, plows came by and filled them with ice chunks which quickly froze and cannot be removed despite repeated efforts.

However I am even more disappointed with the plowing as they never plowed to the surface, and my street remains a thick pack of tire-rutted solid ice. As I was leaving for work this morning an orange city plow sat in the street for 5 minutes, then continued off, never actually dropping their plow. I've already helped several cars that became stuck on my street.

I wish I had that city census survey back so I could give them a bad rating for snow removal.

John S said...

Thank you Sean for raising this issue and taking up this cause! You are absolutely right on!

I have noticed that there is some kind of little sidewalk-snow-removing vehicle but it does not come around nearly as much as the street plows and does not even cover many sidewalks. Can't we get some more of those vehicles?

Sometimes the awareness of liability exposure serves as a motivator. If the city lost a single lawsuit due to an injury caused by insufficient snow/ice removal, would that not cost more than actually clearing the sidewalks?