I’ve been having a conversation the past several weeks with the president of our local neighborhood association. My issue? Many homeowners along the main arterial through our neighborhood are neglecting to clear their sidewalks of snow, not just following a storm, but ever. Being that we live in MAINE, where we tend to get a lot of snow, this is a serious safety concern.
For roughly half the year (Nov-March) much of the sidewalk along Westbrook Street, over 1/2 mile in length, is an impenetrable frosty mass. And those with dogs, a desire to get out of the house, or a need to walk must hoof it in the street mere feet from passing vehicles. Many motorists are courteous and law-abiding. They slow down for walkers. Occasionally they stare quizzically. The rest?? Although the speed limit on our street is 30-35 miles per hour, most motorists do 40-50. They drive whilst simultaneously texting, applying makeup, eating, drinking, smoking, taking medication, jiggling radio dials, working the heater, dealing with dogs, yelling at passengers, taking a piss, tossing lottery tickets out the window, you name it. I say this with certainty because I LIVE ON THIS STREET. I spend most mornings, Monday-Friday, in front of our house with my daughter, waiting for the bus. I have seen all of the above occur in passing cars. I have found physical evidence of all of the above littering the street. I have witnessed traffic accidents beyond count. I say these things not to be a whiny b*tch, but because I FEAR FOR MY FREAKING LIFE.
When I say half the year I am forced to walk mere feet from passing vehicles, I mean it.
This is one of the “slimmer” sections of street. You can clearly see the impassable snowbank to the side. The solid white line indicating where the car should be. And the wafer-thin sliver of no-man’s-land where pedestrians are forced to reside. Not only is this a potentially life-threatening situation with the hazards posed by vehicles, but the street, as you can clearly see, is also icy. So if you’re not watching meticulously, being careful, and/or wearing crampons – WHOOPS! One false step and you may wind up roadkill.
The interesting thing is that Portland paints itself as a ‘walkable’ city. One of the reasons we chose to buy our home was precisely because of this; we have a walkable sidewalk out front for errands and recreation. We may live well off the Portland peninsula, but we still live in the city, and the sidewalk allows me to safely navigate the streets all the way to the Old Port and back whenever I desire. If you are someone who walks solely from your house to your car, and back again, you might never think about the value of a sidewalk. You may, in fact, view sidewalks solely as impediments. Something you are forced to maintain for others. But many people rely on sidewalks for daily commuting, trips to the market, school, etc. And to me, they are wonderful.
Whether neighbors are actively choosing to ignore the sidewalk or are simply oblivious, I don’t know. Some are older and incapable of shoveling. Some are snowbirds, living here only half the year (guess which half?) Some pay a plow service strictly for snow removal in their driveways. Others attempt in earnest to shovel, at least initially, but after their efforts are repeatedly plowed over by the city, they simply give up. I can’t fault my neighbors who have tried. I can’t blame the city for doing its best to keep the roads clear and safe for vehicles. I can appreciate what a pain in the ass it is to maintain the sidewalk. WHY? BECAUSE WE DO IT. It’s hard not to get resentful when I see neighbors who carefully clear a path from the street to their front door, but pay ZERO attention to the pedestrian lane crossing that same path. Sometimes winter weather brings out the best in people, but it can also bring out the worst. It’s like the deep abiding cold seeps into bones and folks adopt a “dog eat dog” mentality. Sidewalks be damned! It’s the roads that are important. Anyone using the sidewalk – anyone walking in this cold – must have problems! Why don’t they just DRIVE?!
But driving isn’t always an option for people, even in our fairly affluent neighborhood. And some people simply prefer to walk. Yet another reason why my family chose our home was because of its proximity to two Portland Trails. One in particular, the Fore River Trail, runs almost directly behind our property, and can be accessed from a trail head located right along Westbrook Street. I don’t take this for granted. I walk this loop, from Westbrook Street, through the woods, back to Congress Street, home, almost daily. Roughly 3 miles. And I don’t have to cross a single road! There’s no reason why I – or anyone else – should have to get into a car and DRIVE somewhere to walk safely. That’s just plain ridiculous.
Portland city ordinances mandate that property owners have 24 hours following each significant snowfall to remove snow from sidewalks and public pathways. Anyone failing to comply can be reported to the operations hot line. I am well within my right to make that phone call and list the addresses of my 21 neighbors (yes, I have counted) who haven’t done their duty. Because if anyone falls in front of one of these houses, who ultimately is to blame? The pedestrian trying to make his or her way safely? Or the homeowner who hasn’t done a thing to prevent injury? Yet, I just can’t bring myself to do it. Even if my neighbors are showing complete disregard for me and others by not clearing their sidewalks, I refuse to rat them out. I love my neighborhood and I care about the people who live here.
I started the conversation with the president of the neighborhood association in order to get the ball rolling, and hopefully get the city involved. The city undertakes sidewalk snow removal along arterial routes using a super awesome plow like this:
Who’s to say they wouldn’t undertake the same along our very heavily trafficked street? The neighborhood association president intends to push the issue in hopes of resolution. Everyone should be entitled to a safe sidewalk regardless of income or housing situation. And that’s really why I’m writing this blog post; not simply to vent, but to raise awareness. If people understand and consider the impact that clear sidewalks have on others, perhaps more people will start doing the right thing. I’m not expecting miracles, but I don’t think it’s beyond the realm of possibility to have clear sidewalks year-round. At least I hope not.