From the Daily: A slippery situation

BY THE MICHIGAN DAILY

Published February 12, 2014

In the midst of one of the heaviest winters in the past decade, Ann Arbor community standards officers have issued 44 tickets and more than 400 warnings to property owners who didn’t shovel and clean the sidewalks in front of their houses within the proper time after a snowfall. The ticketing has become controversial, as the strict guidelines seem impractical for property owners to follow. While the snow and ice accumulation is dangerous to pedestrians if left unattended, it’s unfair to put the burden of clearing the sidewalks solely on property owners. Furthermore, the punishments for not doing so, or being unable to, do not fit the crime. Ann Arbor and its residents must come to a reasonable agreement on the caretaking of the sidewalks in order to ensure the safety of all citizens.

For snow and ice that has accumulated prior to 6 a.m., property owners are responsible for clearing it by noon that day. They’re also required to treat the sidewalks with salt or some other substance to make sure the ice is not slippery. Within 24 hours after the end of an accumulation of snow of 1 inch or more, the snow and ice must be removed. Failure to comply with the laws in a timely manner may result in a civil infraction with fines ranging from $100 to $1000.

While it’s understandable that the snow must be cleared within a decent time frame as to avoid hazardous or dangerous conditions, it’s especially unfair to give such a short timeline to clear the snow for people who are working or out of town during this time. Furthermore, Ann Arbor’s removal regulations and fines are unreasonable for property owners who may have more important obligations, including their employment, children or are traveling. Other issues such as age or health problems may also affect property owners’ ability to clear their sidewalks. There are no special provisions for senior citizens in the Ann Arbor Snow and Ice Removal Laws. Senior citizens should be given more time or accommodation for their snow to be shoveled.

Unshoveled snow is a safety hazard and can result in serious injuries if not taken care of. Though able-bodied people can try to get around the snow without falling or being injured, it’s much more difficult for those who are disabled. Carolyn Grawi, board member of the Washtenaw Biking and Walking Coalition, noted that unshoveled walkways are “a constant concern for people using wheelchairs.” Grawi, who is legally blind, says she can’t distinguish the edges of the sidewalks when they are covered with snow. If snow is not cleared away from sidewalks and in front of properties, those who are disabled can very easily get stuck. Similarly, many automatic doors cannot open because the snow has piled up in front of them and business owners argue the lack of snow removal will potentially hurt profits.

To encourage snow removal by property owners, Ann Arbor should better advertise that they provide residents with a 5-gallon bucket’s worth of sand and salt mixture per visit to the maintenance yard to help clear their snow. They should also increase awareness of the community standards helpline phone number that residents can call after receiving a sidewalk snow removal notice, or even before if necessary. Furthermore, Ann Arbor needs to be more transparent with these solutions, making sure property owners are aware of the help that the city provides.