Right now I am in the completely snow-covered Midwest. In just about every community I have passed through on this trip I see a common pet-peeve of mine repeated over and over again – sidewalks covered with snow. In Northern Illinois where I have been traveling (visiting my hometown of Sterling, Illinois), it has not snowed for at least several days. The streets are perfectly clear. So why not the sidewalks? I understand there are budget issues and every other excuse under the book for not shoveling. But, if you want to be the walkable community that every community seemingly wants to be these days, then you have to do the little things first. Shovel the sidewalks! What do you think if New York City stopped shoveling the sidewalks, you think anyone would be upset? People still enjoy walking when the weather is cold or when there is snow on the ground. And when they do walk, the snow gets compacted and often turns very icy. How many people do you know in cold weather places has broken a bone falling on the ice? Probably several.
Today, I saw an even worse situation while visiting a family friend in a nursing home. A person was walking down the street heading home from the grocery store with a case of beer. There were no sidewalks, and the street shoulders were buried under snow, so he was walking in the middle of the road. Plus, this was in front of the nursing home on a fairly busy street. So senior citizens and persons with disabilities in this center are basically on an island: many are able to walk or roll but it is too unsafe—despite the fact that the building is located just a few feet from a grocery store, a drug store, a recreation center, and a video store. Sidewalks are essential pieces to the health and vitality of a community. They allow all citizens to actively participate in life functions without having access, or necessarily wanting access, to a car.
UPDATE: Nearly a year after I wrote this, the Chicago Tribune wrote an article about this same issue. Another point I should make is that in many jurisdictions, no entity seems to want to take responsibility for clearing sidewalks. Many communities require the property owners to clear their own sidewalks, but as we all know, most do not. I used to hop over huge snowbanks onto solid ice during my daily walk to work in Dayton, Ohio. Meanwhile, the National Guard was brought in to clear the streets of snow. I saw pedestrians in wheelchairs riding in the middle of streets with over a foot of snow. If only pedestrians had clout… (Cartoon by Dan Wasserman of the Boston Globe)