Reluctant police: City won't enforce its sidewalk law

news-ridgewestmainTry navigating this sidewalk in a wheelchair January 7 at the busy intersection of Ridge and Water streets.

More than three weeks after the snow of the new century, Charlottesville continues to let enforcement of its sidewalk snow-removal ordinance slide–- although unshoveled walkways remain.

City Code calls for clearance 12 hours after a snowfall stops. Property owners who haven't cleared sidewalks are given a warning and another 12 hours to make the snow disappear, or they face a Class 1 misdemeanor, which carries up to 12 months in jail and/or a $2,500 fine. That's unlikely to happen for this snow, as no one's been cited.

"I see this as a pattern of the city failing to meet the [American with Disabilities Act] requirements," says Woolen Mills neighborhood resident Sarah Pool. "For blind people like me, snow-covered sidewalks, ramps, and crosswalks prevent me from finding landmarks, such as the edge of a street."

Without the usual clues, Pool's been unable to venture out alone for three weeks.

"Getting to a bus stop would be very, very difficult for me," she says. "The bus stop across the street from me is blocked by snow."

After the record-breaking, nearly two-foot snowfall stopped December 19, the city issued a press release that gave citizens until December 23 to clear their sidewalks. But the get-tough talk stopped there. In a report to City Council January 4, more than two weeks after snow stopped falling, public works director Judy Mueller revealed the city issued mere warnings, but no citations.

"The huge volume of snow is being used to justify things that never should have happened," says pedestrian activist Kevin Cox, who is married to Pool.

An Emergency Communications Center dispatch revealed that a pedestrian was hit by a vehicle on Michie Drive and propelled into a snowbank on December 20. And both Pool and Cox mention a friend who uses a wheelchair trying to navigate a bus stop in front of Kmart, where the sidewalk was blocked. "He had to get in the street," says Pool. "I'm afraid he's going to get hit."

So why has the city chosen to not enforce its own ordinance?

City spokesman Ric Barrick says that decision is up to Charlottesville Police Chief Tim Longo, and he forwards a January 5 email from Longo to City Manager Gary O'Connell in which Longo asserts that police have been patient because of the large amount of snow and requests that sidewalk scofflaws "make a sincere effort" to get walkways cleared.

"However, sufficient time has passed for property owners to make arrangements to get the walkways cleared," the chief writes. "If conditions do not improve, we may be left with no alternative than to initiate enforcement action."

Longo tells the Hook in a January 11 email, "The reality is this: I can direct the issuance of a ticket, but it I can’t move the snow. Whether or not a ticket (or threat of receiving one) is compelling may depend on the recipient’s will or means in which to pay it."

All this leaves Cox and Pool still wondering why the city won't enforce the ordinance.

Pool, a member of the city's Pedestrian Safety Committee, which meets January 26 to address snow removal, emailed city manager O'Connell January 7 with a list of sidewalks that hadn't been cleared, as well as curb ramps, which are essential for wheelchairs. For instance, the sidewalks around City Hall were clear, but the curb ramp on Market Street was not.

"There's a lack of sensitivity about these ramps," says Cox, mentioning blocked ramps on Ridge Street in front of Midway Manor. "A lot of disabled people are there," he notes.

Over on Chesapeake Street, it's all clear except for the sidewalk in front of one residence. "All that clear stretch is useless," says Cox, "for someone in a wheelchair."

By January 11, many of the specific snow barriers about which Cox and Pool complained had been cleared, but they don't consider that a sufficient solution.

"It frustrates me," says Cox, "because they go after my examples rather than going wholesale after violators."

City spokesman Barrick says the city's Pedestrian Safety Committee–- on which Pool sits and which she had already prodded on the issue of snow removal–- will be reconvened, but her husband thinks the city has already sent a powerful message to those who would defy the law.

"I worry about the next storm," says Cox. "With the lack of enforcement and the poor job the city did in clearing, the next big storm, people will say, 'Why bother? They didn't enforce it last time.'"


NO need to shovel at my place , driveway is heated as are the sidewalk's, It's my part to help stop the predicted global cooling over the next 30 years .

My Mother retired to Key West in the mid 90's, headed for warmer weather . Ironically we also had a huge snow storm the year she left for FL ,At her request I video taped the snow because she was homesick and missed the snow. I mailed her the video in a cooler with 2 snowballs packed on dry ice .

But back to the whining , I don't want these people struggling , but when I see so many able bodied people complaining rather than acting , it's really not a problem or they would spend more time shoveling and less time whining .

We really don't have a problem . The problem will melt away .


All I have to say regarding the comments of ââ?¬Å?NO SYMPATHY FOR THE DEVIL” and ââ?¬Å?Dakota” are . . . wow . . . your comments are truly on another planet. Perhaps with the technological advancements the future may bring, NASA may someday be able to journey to your world. :-)

Regarding the issue at hand: It really comes down to an overall topic of priorities for the City. Unfortunately pedestrian rights (which literally fit hand into glove with ADA rights) are not particularly a priority for the City overall. The issue with effective snow removal is just the latest chapter in a very long story when it comes to the City’s viewpoint on this issue. Other than in the Downtown or Corner areas, the City has no problem overlooking their responsibilities when it comes to pedestrian and ADA rights. It’s truly a question of the ââ?¬Å?have” and ââ?¬Å?have-nots” of the City. Unfortunately, if you don’t happen to live in the Downtown or Corner areas of the City, then you are a ââ?¬Å?have-not”.

Mom on Wheels confirms something that has occurred to me. I was thinking that after the 1996 snow there was not this problem of sidewalks and intersections blocked by piles of snow. But I thought that was a long time ago and maybe it had slipped my mind. But it looks like I might be correct.
I do remember the snow being hauled to Washington Park after that snow, which was considerably worse than this one. Of course we had had heavy snow and ice in a couple previous winters so people were more accustomed to it.
Disagree that the City cares more about Downtown. I live in a Downtown neighborhood and there are plenty of snow-blocked walks from the city's plowing. Not to mention all the snow piled on the walk by Maplewood Cemetery, which will likely be there until spring.

The lack of enforcement, by those in authority, reminds me of a certain clueless school teacher I once had. She allowed the kids to break classromm rules, as she also ignored reasonable expectations. Finally, the students lost all respect, and the atmosphere was complete chaos for all. It is horrific, the police chief went along with this craziness. Makes me wonder what else he lets slip through the cracks.

Mom on Wheels, are you for real?

"MUST we jackhammer the sidewalks for ramps to accomodate the occasional whiner in a wheelchair? Must we pay for talking walk signs to tell a blind guy Now You Can Cross the Street, when they could as easily listen to the traffic?"

Seriously, are you for real? A "whiner" in a wheelchair....trying to go up and down and up and down stairs and curbs? Have you ever been in a wheelchair? I haven't, but unlike you it doesn't take having a "mom with a broken ankle" to finally understand something. Because unlike you I have the ability to put myself in somebody else's shoes and imagine what that would be like trying to navigate around in a wheelchair in a world with no ramps or accomodations.

And about blind people who apparently should just listen to traffic to figure out when to go - Let's see you try that for a day. Put on a blindfold and do everybody a favor and go play in traffic, navigating by sound alone. Should be a fun experiment!

what about the cars parking on the sidewalk on McIntire Road?

Thanks Lisa. This article, and giving voice to the problem, will make a difference. I agree, this is unacceptable behavior on the City's part and does send a message-- no need to clear your walk.

if you all spent more time taking care of the problem than complaining about it, there wouldn't be a problem. if you can't shovel your walk yourself as required by law, then hire someone to do it and get over it. out in the country we have to shovel our own sidewalks or hire someone to do it for us - there are no city workers to do it. this is a petty squabble and a total waste of time by people who have nothing better to do than flap their lips. for the lady with the baby in the stroller, carry the kid and leave the stroller at home for now. you don't ride a bike on ice, do you? for the rest of you, snow and ice melts - this is not a long term problem. if you don't like the sidewalks, stay inside.

Thanks to The Hook for making the city jump. They now know "looking the other way", has not worked. According to 29 website, the city made a recent turn in stategy.
Problem though,is it fair to fine some and not all?
Longo,others dug themselves into a hole, and now they are trying to save face.

This country has a car culture. People drive everywhere and many people don't walk. If more people walked then it would be enforced more strictly. Priority is made to clear the roads but not the sidewalks so clearly making way for cars is considered a higher priority - why? Because more people drive than walk. I think it really is that simple. I can say that any time I am walking on a sidewalk, there are many more cars than pedestrians. Probably people who are in a position to do something about this - the property owners, the police, the council drive and don't walk and therefore don't see the importance of it.

As Longo and city hall have ignored their own rules, they have left the door wide open for future entanglement. The city should have had the guts to consistently enforce the code, and even in this snow event. I'm not opposed to giving elderly, disabled residents a break in shoveling. The city could organize church groups, such as boy scouts in order to help elderly residents in an emergency. Are there taxpayer funded homes for delinquents in Charlottesville? If so, allow the residents to take some responsibility to help earn their keep, by shoveling. Cox and others have a perfect right to complain. It was a huge mistake for the city to turn away and excuse able bodied homeowners from taking responsibility. The results are dangerous. Now, too many lazies have the idea they will not be fined for letting the snow remain in walkways near their properties.

For the first week it might have been understandable but now it's just lazy. Perhaps they are hoping it all goes away on Thursday when it's suppose to be 50 degrees.

SO why would snow be any different than navigating any other obstacle that life puts in front of a blind person ?

If Kevin Cox spent as much time shoveling as he does moaning and complaining we wouldn't need city works .

A little advice Mr. COX , take your wife with you when you run around noting all the areas that haven't been cleared so she is not stuck inside .

Move to FL and give it a break . This is exactly why people quit listening , constant complaining .


I saw some unshovelled sidewalks yesterday on High St, down the hill below the intersection with E. Jefferson. And every one was either a business of some sort, or a vacant building handled by a realtor. These people really have no excuse, unlike some senior citizen unable to shovel, and not having anyone who can.
And the major problem is still the banks of snow piled by snowplows that block walkways in many places.
No wonder the city doesnt enforce the ordinance against homeowners- it violates it itself! Would be hypocritical of them to do so.
At least the snow on unshovelled walks is melting rapidly- but it will take weeks before those icebergs at walks'ends do!

It is ridiculous how blocked most of the sidewalks in the city still are. I am able to walk, but the sidewalks on the Fontaine/JPA area are still covered with icy snow in many places. I can't imagine how hard it would be to navigate if I were disabled. The city really fell down on the job on this one - it's embarrassing!

The reason the city does nothing to enforce the ordinance is because the city is in violation of the ordinance. There are a lot of city sidewalks in front of city owned property that is not cleared. The snowplows merely moved the snow to the sidewalks and now it is frozen so hard it would be moving icebergs. Its not just the sidewalks either, the snow accumulated in the intersections are still there as well making drivers swing way out into oncoming traffic just to get around the turn. Better planning and accountability is needed all around.

I used to scoff at Americans With Disabilities Act excess: MUST we jackhammer the sidewalks for ramps to accomodate the occasional whiner in a wheelchair? Must we pay for talking walk signs to tell a blind guy Now You Can Cross the Street, when they could as easily listen to the traffic? I used to consider all that politically correct over-sensitivity benefitting a tiny minority--but then my Mom broke her ankle. And I had to push her in a wheelchair. Now I know what it is like. I encourage "move to Florida" Dakota to try wheeling somebody he cares about on this city's streets. Go ahead, Dakota, tell your wheelchair-bound Mom she has to move to Florida, because you are too lazy to shovel your sidewalk.

The problem is that the city thinks it can substitute snow plowing for snow removal. Plowing the snow aside so it banks up at intersections and on the sidewalks is disastrous for pedestrians. Front-end loaders need to scoop it up and take it away, like they did in 1996 and failed to do until much too late this time.

We have spent BILLIONS of dollars nstionwide putting in accomodations for people with disabilities. They should shut up and be happy with how far they have come. The costitution did not require these changes a law that can be revoked did.

People with bad backs cannot shovel the snow.. Should the taxpayers buy them a snowblower? (if you can get workers comp for it, is it not a "disability"?)

I am sorry people are blind. Should we provide limos for people born too stupid to pass a driving test?

What the city should do is ask the judges to assign them a pool of people who need to perform community service and send them out with shovels to clear all city owned property and to help elderly and infirmed clean their sidewalks.

If we get another storm the problem won't be the residual snow on the sidewalks it will be the residual snow piled up on street corners. Of course the city will blame it on anything but their management skills.

Class 1 misdemeanor, which carries up to 12 months in jail and/or a $2,500 fine!!!???
Finally, some humane and reasonable police behavior. Refusing to enforce a law that is overbearing and draconian.
Let's face it, Virginia is a place that melts out, not digs out. Clear the snow and charge people a few dollars, or let the public workers clear it.

If I were disabled, I would sue the city and make some money.

Come on. There is personal responsibility. Does the city need to come wipe you #$#. Its been three weeks. Why spend the white space in the paper and the misguided energy of a few blogging anti establishments to create a story. Shovel your damn walks and for the reporters, there are far more interesting and compelling stories out there. Get creative and start by raising your bar on stories.

Sorry, but I think this is a bunch of crap. I know there are a lot of sidewalks in Charlottesville, but why should property owners be forced to shovel something that doesn't belong to them? When a sidewalk needs repairing, who fixes it? THE COUNTY. It is the counties sidewalks. Now get the county workers to shovel the sidewalks!!! They better bring more than shovels, because the stuff is blocks of ice. Most of the snow/ice on the walks are from snow plows.
This is the dumbest thing I have ever read or heard of in my life.
Since the property owners are responsible for the sidewalks, can they get a no trespassing issued for people walking on "their" property?

try walking along 29.... even the sidewalk in front of Allen, Allen, Allen & Allen isnt cleared. Same holds true for car dealerships and many more visible businesses. Having to walk out into oncoming traffic of Rt29 is INSANE

Jesus, boo!, is your disability that you can't read? she said she USED TO feel that way, but now she understands why we need to accommodate the disabled.

mental note: don't count on people to empathize.

I suppose that is WHY we need accessibility laws for the handicapped.

So, I don't live or work in the City of Cville, however I feel like the city needs to take care of this problem. The City has maintenace or public works department that is "suppose" to take care of things like this. I say "get off your butts and clear off the sidewalks. It is NOT the homeowners nor the citizens to take care of this issue. It is the city's issue. If the city is in violation of their own ordiance, shouldn't the citizins file suit against them? I would hate to see what kind of law suit that could bring....

Lets face it. America has turned into a society that worships the automobile. No one walks anymore, so no one cares if sidewalks are cleared. The very few that do walk as well as the disabled are the ones who suffer. It is sad, really sad. Wake up America, wake up.

Not every neighbor hood has sidewalks... so those people are force to walk the streets with traffic snow and ice left over from plowing. Our Jail is full of petty criminals that could be used to help the disabled and elderly clean their sidewalks. Teaching them the responsibility of giving to their community and paying off their debts to society. Neighbors should be helping neighbors to to address what issues there may be. This town has become a collage of citizens who don't even know who lives beside them.

Charlottesville already taxes property owners to death. Sidewalks are part of city property, they should not require property owners to shovel snow off city property. In addition, the code also fails to meet needs of property owners who have disabilities, right now a wheel chair bound property owner is required to shovel his or her own sidewalk. The property owner with a pacemaker will be dead if he or she tries to obey the code. I say strike the code, Fairfax County does not even have this requirement and they have far more sidewalks than Charlottesville. The city should shovel the snow off all public property which includes sidewalks.

For several weeks I have been forced to take my baby's stroller into the street and to jaywalk because the sidewalks are not cleared, and the entryway to crosswalks (at corners of intersections) are the worst. This is very dangerous!

Police Chief Tim Longo, this is a danger to both cars and pedestrians. Please do your job.

For those who think that accessibility laws are for a small minority of handicapped people, just remember that EVERYBODY was once a baby. Perhaps you will appreciate these laws once you are pushing a stroller.

There is no law preventing anyone that uses a bus stop from shoveling around it. We all had to shovel around our cars. Your bus ride is SUBSIDIZED. Stop whining and chip in. The taxpayers are not your whipping boy.

Are people in Charlottesville really asking handicapped folks to carry shovels with them for a month, and shovel everywhere that they need to go? Or for the city to hire more city workers to shovel everybody's walks for them?

We all live in a community and need to be reasonable, especially in exceptional circumstances like this one. I think it is reasonable to take a minute and shovel your sidewalk.

As a northern native I've been amused at these southern ordinances. By their logic, why not make us all responsible for clearing snow from the streets in front of our property? They do this already for clearing weeds from alleys our property back up to..
Obliging people to be responsible for maintenance of public rights of way is imposition of involuntary servitude and if Charlottesville or any other southern town decides to really push the issue with the wrong curmudgeon, they will end up with a bloody nose in Federal Court...

Let the city "man up" , go down to That day labor place on West Main St. and hire shovel brigades to deal with this or get the same guys who cut grass all summer to clear the sidewalks with snow blowers.

Most of the time years go by without this being an issue, but big storms reveal the fault lines. The city couldn't even do some of its streets for many days, but that is a topic for a separate discussion...