This is an op-ed about snow removal written by Rashke Bradley of the Finger Lakes Independence Center. It was not written by The Ithaca Voice. To submit op-eds, please send them to Matt Butler at email@example.com.
Winter is coming. The air is getting colder and it’s a reminder of the mess of snow and ice that the city becomes—and often remains for weeks—after a storm. But, as I’ve learned, it doesn’t have to be as bad as it has been.
At the beginning of the summer, I joined the Coalition for Snow Free Crosswalks and Sidewalks, affectionately called the SnowCo. The group supported Council Member Rob Cantelmo’s proposed amendment to the Ithaca city budget for 2023: a $75,000 pilot project for city contractors to clear snow from crosswalks and sidewalks. This amendment would have meant that more people could safely walk, bike and roll in the city during the winter. Unfortunately, the amendment failed in a 4 to 6 vote on
Reviewing the Council’s conversation, it was clear to us, the members of the SnowCo, that there were several misunderstandings about the proposal and the issue itself.
First, sidewalks are not just extensions of private property. They are necessary transportation routes. I have lived here for almost six years now, first as a college student and then as a working community member. I have never had a car. For me and others like me, clear sidewalks mean that I can safely get to work and get my groceries. For older adults and others with mobility challenges, blocked sidewalks
become an increased fall hazard and can keep people homebound. This is clearly an issue of equity.
Additionally, for a city that says it is trying to be environmentally friendly, this discourages people from biking, walking and using public transit. And there are challenges for drivers as well, as the snow prevents people from reaching the sidewalks and parking meters.
Second, the conversation mostly ignored the issue of crosswalks. Think about it—clearing sidewalks doesn’t make much sense if you can’t cross the street! Crosswalks are routinely some of the worst locations for snow clearance. They are part of the street, and that makes them the city’s responsibility. When someone slips on a snow-covered crosswalk, the city is liable for that. Additionally, city snow plows often push snow back onto the ends of the crosswalks, blocking and re-covering the curb ramps. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) says that it is the local government’s job to maintain access to accessibility features like curb ramps. With their continued actions, the city is clearly not fulfilling the rights to which residents with disabilities are entitled.
Finally, there was a lot of conversation about volunteers as a potential solution to this problem. This conversation severely underestimates the scope of the need. For example, there are around 2000 crosswalks in the City. How many volunteers would it take to clear all of them? In the past, there was an app called Snow Angels that tried to organize volunteers to clear walkways. Unfortunately, as far as we know, 0 volunteers were found and 0 walkways were cleared. Volunteering is a good thing for community building. In the winter, neighbors can help clear driveways or front steps. However, helpful neighbors with shovels cannot ensure that the entire block is clear, nor that crosswalks are crossable. That’s a job for city workers with power tools.
Despite our disappointment of the proposal failing to pass, this year has seen important movement on this issue. As far as we are aware, this is the first time a proposal like this has been brought before the Council. We have opened up a conversation that will continue.
The SnowCo thanks Rob Cantelmo for championing this issue, for proposing the budget amendment and for bringing it up for a vote. We also want to thank Phoebe Brown, Ducson Nguyen and Jorge DeFendini for their votes in favor of the proposal. Finally, we want to thank everyone who wrote letters, shared their personal experiences and voiced their support for this issue to the Council. You are the ones who generated so much momentum on this issue. To all of you, we promise we will keep pushing this issue forward. This winter, the SnowCo will create opportunities for people to report falls and share pictures of the snow conditions in their neighborhood. We also hope to provide some material support with snow clearing, though we know this will in no way address the full scope of the problem. We will keep working until we pass a proposal that fulfills our right to safety and mobility during the winter!
Rashke Bradley is an advocacy specialist at the Finger Lakes Independence Center and lives in the West End of Ithaca. The SnowCo includes the Finger Lakes Independence Center, Tompkins County Office for the Aging, Bike Walk Tompkins and the Ithaca Pedestrian Snow Project. For more background about this issue, go to http://www342.pair.com/elerner/snow/. To connect with the SnowCo, email firstname.lastname@example.org.