Author: Lauren Wesp
Our snow is one of the main things for which Buffalo is known, and we certainly do get a lot if it! While plenty of Buffalonians gripe about hating snow, I see it as one of the few positives of winter. Within this frigid season lacking in foliage and sunshine, at least there’s beauty in the fluffy white flakes falling from the sky and coating our city.
As a pedestrian, however, snowy sidewalks constitute a real hazard. From my own personal experience, often walking multiple miles per day, I can attest firsthand that our sidewalks are not being sufficiently cleared for safe travel. Even for people in good physical shape, there’s a risk of slipping on the icy ground or tripping over the uneven snowy terrain. Additionally, snow covered sidewalks necessitate a slower walking speed, which increases the risk of frostbite when wind chills dip down low. For those in wheel chairs, pushing strollers, or people with physical constraints to their mobility, navigating sidewalks becomes an even more difficult journey. And sometimes pedestrians are left with no option but to walk in the street, which increases safety risks for the pedestrian as well as bicyclists and motorists.
For those in wheel chairs, pushing strollers, or people with physical constraints to their mobility, navigating sidewalks becomes an even more difficult journey.
It might be easy to place all of the blame for uncleared sidewalks with negligent homeowners, but perhaps they are not the right target for our frustrations. Although clearing the pathways in front of their homes might be a simple enough task many people, it’s not always feasible. For those without the financial resources to hire a snow removal service, one needs to be physically capable of shoveling and able to devote time and energy. This just might not be possible for an elderly grandfather living on his own or a mother exhausted from working multiple jobs to support her kids. Further, many residents are at work between 9-5, leaving sidewalks untended and uncleared during heavy accumulation within those hours.
So since we can’t really expect our sidewalks to be sufficiently cleared by homeowners, what is the alternative? Municipal sidewalk snow removal would provide a system whereby the city would be responsible for plowing public sidewalks. In Buffalo, we already have a partial system of municipal snow removal with the city providing plowing of the roads; so this would just be an extension to include sidewalks. Our neighbors in Rochester have already implemented this system for snow totals over 4 inches, with the cost to property owners averaging $35 per year –less than a third of the cost that Rochester property owners pay to keep the streets clear of snow. And our Canadian neighbors in Toronto provide sidewalk snow clearing at an even lower threshold of 1 inch of snowfall for high traffic areas. In this snowy region, municipal sidewalk snow removal just makes sense, and if our neighboring cities can do it, so can we.
Why should we have a public system for clearing snow from the streets and not sidewalks when both are valid and necessary routes of transportation? There would be uproar if the public plow service was suspended and suddenly motorists were at the mercy of individual homeowners for clearing the street outside of their homes, so why should pedestrians have to put up with this type of system? As a consequence of privatizing the responsibility of clearing public sidewalks while having a public plow system for the roads, we are left with a two tier system of transportation which unfairly favors those traveling via roads over sidewalks.
Navigable public sidewalks should be a right, not a privilege, and Buffalo is clearly failing to provide walkable sidewalks during the winter season. Our current system of snow removal is ableist, disproportionately harm those who are not able bodied, as well as classist, largely impacting those who are lacking in financial resources to afford a car. Further, inadequate sidewalk snow removal discourages walking, an activity that’s good for our own personal health as well as keeping our planet healthy by reducing CO2 emissions. While snow might always constitute some level of hindrance to transportation, we can clearly do better for those out walking in the cold in Buffalo by having our sidewalks publicly plowed.