Keep school kids safe by shoveling sidewalks

TRAFFIC TALK

December 16, 2003|By Jody K. Vilschick | Jody K. Vilschick,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

I WAS planning to write my annual snow column about winter driving tips and how to prepare your vehicles for winter weather. But after the recent snow, some folks neglected to shovel their sidewalks. It made sense to write about that instead.

Isn't anyone else out there bothered that our children risk their lives just to walk to their bus stops? Glenn Johnson is, but it is his job to be. He is director of transportation for Howard County public schools. "I'd like to think that most understand their responsibility [for clearing snow from their sidewalks], but there is a minority who don't," he said. "It only takes one or two on a walking route to pose a danger to the children." He said that this has been an issue every year he has worked for Howard County schools, since 1982.

According to JoAnn Maxfield of the Howard County Department of Public Works, removing snow is the responsibility of homeowners. "Howard County is not responsible for maintaining any sidewalks, including snow removal," she said, except for sidewalks on county property.

Johnson acknowledged that even the county is not diligent about removing snow from sidewalks children must use to get to school. "I know of several places where either the state or the county isn't taking responsibility for clearing the sidewalks. One is on the St. Johns Lane bridge over I-70, near Mount Hebron High School. Another is on Great Star Drive, on the bridge over Route 32," he said.

That means the county is not following its own law. Howard County Sec. 18.402. states: "It shall be the duty and obligation of the owner of property abutting a sidewalk in a public right-of-way to remove snow from the sidewalk within 48 hours after the snow has fallen."

If you flout this law, you could be fined $25. Pinch me hard: Is this really a deterrent? While no one seems willing to enforce this law, the county will try to encourage reluctant shovelers.

"If you have the names and addresses of the abutting property owners, I will be happy to send them a letter from this office reminding them of the county code," Maxfield said. She can be contacted by e-mail at jmaxfield@co.ho.md.us or by phone at 410-313-3440; those who contact her will remain anonymous. "To file a complaint, contact the Howard County Police Department," she said.

"I have had several e-mails and calls from parents about property owners not shoveling snow near school bus stops," Maxfield said. "I think it's shameful."

So do I, especially when removing snow from sidewalks is a problem so easily solved.

Calling neighbors and asking nicely is better than complaining about them behind their backs. So go ahead and politely request that they clear their sidewalks. I did this in my neighborhood, and it yielded good results.

But what if you are unable to shovel the snow on your sidewalk? If you suffer from a disability other than sheer laziness, there are solutions.

You could buy a snowblower if traditional shoveling creates too much strain. Or ask a neighbor to help - most are glad to. Sweeten the deal by chipping in to buy a snowblower. Or if the neighbor has one, offer to offset the cost of gasoline for the season.

Pay a teen-ager to clear your walks and driveway. Many landscaping services also offer snow removal.

Regina Jenkins, volunteer coordinator for the Howard County Office on Aging, offered another option. "Seniors and individuals with physical disabilities can contact me to be put on a `snow-removal list.' " she said. "I will try to match them up with a volunteer willing to shovel snow for them." But she needs more snow-removal volunteers to join her snow brigade. To volunteer or to be added to the snow-removal list, call Jenkins at 410-313-1417.

In a letter to sundry county officials, J.T. Merryman confronted the county about its unwillingness to enforce the snow-removal law and asked, "Will everyone just continue to shrug their collective shoulders, or are we ready to address this problem once and for all with the three Es [education, enforcement and engineering]? Hmm, I just thought of a fourth E that might make a difference - Election Day!"

If you don't like how the county is handling or enforcing snow removal from sidewalks, contact your elected county officials. Start at the top: County Executive James N. Robey's e-mail address is jnrobey@ co. ho.md.us.

There is no reason young children should have to walk in busy streets to reach bus stops. For their sakes, let's do something about it ... unless, of course, you're waiting for the unspeakable to happen.

What's your traffic trauma? Contact Jody K. Vilschick at elison@us.net, send faxes to 410-715-2816 or mail letters to Traffic Talk, The Sun in Howard County, 30 Corporate Center, 10440 Little Patuxent Parkway, Suite 820, Columbia, 21044. Please include your full name and contact information or your comments will not be published or receive a response.

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