Reluctant police: City won't enforce its sidewalk law
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.'"