Many icy sidewalks remain

Businesses are supposed to clear their own walks.
Thursday, February 5, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 12:45 p.m. CDT, Saturday, July 19, 2008

For exercise, Ed McDaniels walks twice a day in his south-side neighborhood off of Katy Lane. Lately, though, his routine has called for more than simply trotting along with Sammie, his Doberman pinscher. With winter weather hitting Columbia, every journey outside presents a challenge.

“Look at that,” McDaniels said, pointing to an ice-covered sidewalk on Misty Glen where Sammie was losing her footing. “If you are walking at night and don’t see that, you’re gone,” he said.

On his rounds, which cover up to 2.5 miles per walk, McDaniels said there are only a few places where homeowners clear the sidewalks. “Some people are real good about cleaning their driveways and sidewalks. But most people don’t go beyond their driveways.”

McDaniels, 68, uses a snow blower to clear sidewalks and driveways around his cul-de-sac even though he believes that responsibility falls on individual homeowners — and he’s right.

A city ordinance clearly states that clearing sidewalks is the responsibility of all property owners — even though sidewalks are public property.

“Everyone has the right to expect passage in front of your home along the street,” said Rich Sternadori, chief inspector for the city Public Works Department.

While businesses and homeowners who do not clear their sidewalks can be cited for violating the ordinance, Sternadori said his office has received only a couple of complaints this winter.

Snow-covered sidewalks are handled on a complaint-driven basis. The city sends out two letters before taking offenders to court, a process that can take up to a month. In most cases, Sternadori said, the letters are enough to resolve the problem.

“We rely on the goodwill of the community to remove violations regarding snow and ice,” he said. “Most people are very responsive.”

The city can charge those who still fail to clear their sidewalks with a misdemeanor, but Sternadori said he’s never seen this issue taken to court in his four years with Public Works.

John Buhr, assistant general manager for Panera Bread Co. on Ninth Street, said he personally shovels snow from the sidewalk and puts down salt every time it snows — even though he wasn’t aware of the ordinance.

“We do it for customer safety,” he said.

Ruth LaHue, owner of the flower shop My Secret Garden, said she puts salt down every time there is ice and loans her set of snow shovels to other merchants on her street.

“We not only do ours, but also the street into the alley because it is kind of an incline,” LaHue said.

She buys the salt herself, and said she has not seen anyone take a spill after salting.

LaHue said that in addition to customer safety, keeping the sidewalks clear is part of her lease.

For other businesses, the sidewalk is not a top priority.

“Sometimes I salt, but I am also under the assumption that when it snows and there is no traction that people will walk slow,” said Carter Blumeyer, owner of Arch Wireless on Walnut St. “It’s just common sense,” he said.

Blumeyer also said he was unaware of the ordinance, but said that when it is pure ice he gets nervous when people walk by his window.

Sternadori said there are some conditions when clearing sidewalks extends beyond practical application of the ordinance. “Ice is ice,” he said. “There are times when it is going to be there until the weather removes it. You have to wait for a certain stage to apply the saline.”

There are instances, Sternadori said, where clearing the sidewalks is damaging to sidewalks and dangerous for people. “When people go at the sidewalk vertically, or start hammering, the sidewalk ends up damaged or cracked, and then somebody trips on that crack,” he said.

For those conditions, he recommends salt and sand, which can provide traction.

Snow, on the other hand, needs to be cleared, he said. “The key is to get the snow off immediately before it thaws and refreezes, or gets packed.”

Following that simple advice would make exercising a bit easier — and safer — for people such as McDaniels.

“At night I have to walk in the street,” he said. “But at least I can pick the spots to walk.”

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