GRANOLAPARK • BY GILBERT
You better get outta bed and shovel your walk or the Takoma Park City Council is gonna WHUP YOUR BUTT!
If it snows overnight, says the proposed new city code, clear your sidewalk by 8:00 a.m.
If it snows during the day, clear it by 9:00 p.m.
If you fail to do this, you could be fined. If you do it again, the fine goes up. You might even get publicly shamed on social media.
For some reason, snow shoveling gets the city council and staff all zero-toleranced-up. Their lower lips protrude and they start spewing threats like an industrial-strength snow-blower spitting corn-snow. They get like that every time the subject of revising snow-removal city code comes up, which it has a half-dozen times this year. The last time was at the Oct. 5 city council meeting.
Dear Reader, not only do you need to get that walk cleared by 8:00 a.m., it better be a regulation 3 feet wide, too.
The good (?) news is that they would reduce the fine from $200 to $25. But, a lot of the council thinks $25 is too little. They want you to feel pain. Most of them think fines should increase for repeat offenses. And repeat offenders should be publicly shamed on social media. We were not sure if that was a serious proposal but it shows you how vindictive the staff and council is about this.
“Snowmagedon,” Feb. 6, 2010. Photo by Bill Brown.
No excuses for being out of town, either. Councilmember Fred Schultz suggested it might be unfair to fine someone not at home and unable to shovel. If there were a number of storms during a resident’s absence, “you’d end up in debtors prison just because you went away.” he said. He was shouted down by the rest of the council and staff. It was a “let them eat cake” moment. Let them hire a shoveling service, they said. No excuses!
We don’t know what city the council has been living in, but in OUR Takoma Park, a third to a half of all snowfalls melt by the end of the day. In which case shoveling is a waste of effort.
The schools are going to be closed, anyway. They always shut down if Rockville spots a snowflake. If they spot two snowflakes the federal government closes, and the entire region takes a snow day or five. The only people using the sidewalks are kids with sleds looking for snowy slopes, and kids with shovels looking for customers. The city clears its streets better and faster than surrounding jurisdictions – which in comparison look like a Three Stooges movie. So roads and walkways to the border may be clear, but beyond may be impassible. What’s the use of getting up before 8:00 a.m. to shovel the sidewalk if there’s nowhere to go?
This is not snow country – as anyone FROM snow country knows. It’s funny to see the city, which doesn’t even own a real snow plow, tell citizens they have to conform to standards it and other jurisdictions can’t meet themselves.
This is a standard more suited for someplace like Augusta, Maine where snow is taken in stride and life goes on. In Augusta, by the way, the CITY clears 34 miles of sidewalks. Only a few blocks of sidewalk are the residents’ responsibility. And Augusta’s city code does not bother to give those few residents a time limit, or fines.
City snow plow broken down on Walnut Avenue during Snowmagedon, Feb. 2010. Photo by Bill Brown.
Augusta may have harder winters, but at least they know what to expect. Takoma Park winters are of two minds – north and south. The ground doesn’t freeze, so snow usually melts from the bottom up even in sub-freezing weather. That’s one reason we don’t get much lasting accumulation. Frigid temperatures are often followed by balmy ones. Big snowstorms either dump a northern-style pile of white stuff or a southern-style rain deluge. Or they take a middle course and come down as ice.
We’ve seen many snowfalls followed by a day of melting, followed by a night of freezing. Shoveled sidewalks end up coated by sheets of invisible ice. In those conditions, it is better NOT to shovel because the snow, even when covered by ice, offers a foothold.
No complaints about unshoveled sidewalks here. March, 2015. Photo by Mary Ellsworth.
But, unless people speak up, the city is not going to allow for such nuances, judgement calls, nature’s variable conditions or life’s complications. The council will pass their zero-tolerance code.
Fortunately for us, city manager Suzanne Ludlow admitted that as out-for-blood as staff and council are, the reality is that the city won’t have the staff to enforce the code for about 2 days following a snow storm.
Which begs the question – why bother with this?
WE suggest the city code allow for nature’s vagaries and life’s realities. Tie the sidewalk shoveling deadline to the time the city finishes it’s own snow removal. Write the code to say sidewalks should be cleared within a certain number of hours (four, six, eight?) after the last city snowplow is parked.
PS: Relive last winter’s shoveling joys: EXTREME TAKOMA • Snowshovelcam
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