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City right to address sidewalk-clearance concerns


“There are three things that no one can do to the entire satisfaction of anyone else: make love, poke the fire and run a newspaper.’"

– William Allen White

Were he alive today, beloved Kansas editor White could add a fourth item to the list: Remove the snow from a Midwestern city.

Nonetheless, Russ Jehl, R-2nd, and four other City Council members who joined him on a Snow Removal Task Force, are to be commended for confronting a hydra-headed problem. What, Jehl wanted the group to ask, could have been done better?

Begin with something we all fervently hope to be true. This winter is a once-in-a-generation event, a grotesque meteorological aberration that planning can only marginally mitigate. Much of what we have had to endure since December can only be … endured.

But it is useful to assess what worked well and what might be improved upon, even if many of us (mercifully) may have lived out our lives before a winter like this occurs again.

Overall, the city did a commendable job of clearing major thoroughfares after the myriad snowfalls. But for one day when the city purposely and wisely shut itself down, the vital routes were passable through the very worst of it. There will always be grumbling undertones from neighborhoods that stayed under too long, but the street department’s trucks have their priorities right.

A tougher problem that became a focus of discussion at the task force’s first meeting was sidewalks. There is an ordinance that requires everyone to have his or her sidewalk clear by 9 a.m., but it’s never been enforced and, as the task force noted, never should be.

At a certain point, though, accumulated snow and ice make the sidewalks impassable. We all have seen the result: Pedestrians forced to walk in the middle of the street, early in the morning or after dark, and drivers forced to slow or stop to avoid endangering them.

The city can’t shovel every sidewalk. But might a priority grid be workable? Model it on the plow-key-streets-first plan.

Identify sidewalks along major arteries that people depend on to get to bus stops, schools or work. Use full-time supervisors and have a list of temps – college students, perhaps, and people between jobs – who might actually enjoy the work.

Okay, “enjoy” might be too strong. But, hey! It’s better than going around arresting elderly people with bad backs. Or making kids dodge SUVs on their way to class.