Snow removal: A timeless quandary

After at least one big snowstorm this winter, residents have had varying attitudes towards the way that communities and the City of Boston should handle shoveling, plowing, and snow removal.

The City of Boston asks for residents to report non-emergency winter issues like unshoveled sidewalks and problems with roadway plowing and salting through 311, which is available by calling, using the app, tweeting @BOS311, or using the City’s website. Boston’s Code Enforcement Officers work solely from snow removal inquiries that have been generated by 311.

One resident wrote to the Gazette with concerns that regardless of the amount of 311 reports submitted, certain businesses don’t properly shovel the sidewalks in front of their properties year after year.

“Some repeat offenders don’t shovel the sidewalk in front of their property no matter how many complaints to 311 and no matter how many tickets from the City of Boston they receive,” wrote Nancy Lyons, resident of Washington Street.

A “repeat offender” that Lyons specifically mentioned was Bos Auto, located at 3585 Washington St. She has cited the property using Bos311 twice, and said that both times the case was closed, saying that the business had been cited by the City. She said that she knows that other people have also reported this particular business.

“Last week I saw a woman pushing a baby carriage in the middle of Washington Street around parked cars because there was no other way to pass,” Lyons said.

Paul Hu, the owner of Bos Auto, said that the business acquired the location in late 2017, so could not speak about how the sidewalk had been handled in years past. He said that for this past winter, the property received two citation for uncleared sidewalks, which were paid. For the early January storm, Hu said that his maintenance employees were sent to clear the other two Bos Auto locations in Quincy first, then arrived at the Jamaica Plain location late. He said he is aware that the property needs to be maintained in terms of snow clearing, and for upcoming snowfalls will prioritize the Jamaica Plain property first. Hu also added that he is frustrated with people not picking up after their dogs after walking them in that property.

The Jamaica Plain location of Bos Auto is not open for business yet, and is expected to open this spring or summer.

Lyons said that the failure to remove snow is a safety hazard for the people that have to walk on this stretch of Washington Street, especially kids going to school, the elderly, and people with baby carriages. Regarding the streets, Lyons said that she thinks Boston needs to remove snow, not just plow it, so that it’s not “just getting pushed around.”

“It’s maddening that we have snow emergencies and remove all of the cars off the streets yet they don’t plow to the curb or remove the snow,” Lyons said. “So we end up with six-foot snowbanks on corners and cars parked into the middle of the road because there is three feet of snow next to the curb. It’s 2018. How have we not found a better more technically advanced way to handle something like snow?”

According to the Public Works Department (PWD), in the aftermath of the snowstorm on Jan. 4 this year, Boston’s PWD removed over 6,000 truckloads of snow citywide and moved them to various snow farms across the city, including five consecutive nights of snow removal in Jamaica Plain. PWD estimates that they took approximately 400 truckloads of snow from Jamaica Plain.

Regarding businesses that don’t shovel, Lyons feels that multiple citations seem to have no effect, and thinks that there needs to be an increased penalty.

“Clear sidewalks are a fundamental right to residents and we need to start holding accountable those who jeopardize our rights, safety and access,” Lyons said.

Other residents are happy to help shovel themselves when the City maintenance teams are unable to. Husband and wife team David Tavenner and Yolanda Leiva shoveled blocked crossings near Jackson Square after the major snowstorm.

The team started the project as an attempt to clear certain street crossings of snow to allow their baby carriage to pass, but ended up clearing as many crossings as they could from Curley School to Jackson Square, aided by the help of other neighbors. They shoveled from 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. on Jan. 9.

Since they originally only planned on clearing a few crossings, the team did not call 311 to notify the city of the blocked crossings.

“We didn’t call 311 because what we planned to do initially was a small task,” Tavenner said. “Besides, I’d suspect someone would have already done so. Furthermore, I noticed Thursday on an errand downtown the crews still shoveling downtown crosswalks. Looking back, it makes sense for residents to do some work instead of waiting on over-worked city crews.”

Tavenner’s view of the sidewalk clearing is that it is good citizenship, and residents should do things such as pick up trash and clear snow from sidewalks and crossings.

“I think a lot of people will benefit by what we did and that make us happy,” said Leiva.

Tavenner added that if the city crews cleared the ramps when they clear the sidewalks, their effort wouldn’t be needed.

For future snowstorms, Tavenner said that this wasn’t the first time they cleared street crossings, and they intend on shoveling on sidewalks and crossings again, and may recruit more people next time, especially to help those with baby carriages or who use wheelchairs.

“As a mother of two I have to say I’ve passed “hard” winters in terms of walking down snow covered Centre Street sidewalks to run errands with my two little ones,” said Leiva. “Many times I had to walk in the street because the sidewalk wasn’t cleared. Sometimes I have to carry the stroller to cross the sidewalk or the street because a “mountain of snow” was blocking the crosswalk on the other side of the street. At that time I thought: “When I can, I will clean the corners to make it easier for mommies with babies, people in wheelchairs, or elderly persons.”

The City’s rules regarding snow removal are that the property owner is required to clear sidewalks and curb ramps on their property within three hours after it stopped snowing. If it snowed overnight, clear sidewalks and curb ramps are required within three hours after sunrise. Sidewalks should have at least a 42 inch wide path for people using wheelchairs and pushing strollers.

“We also appreciate the continued support from residents who have cleared out their local catch basins, handicap ramps and fire hydrants, and encourage all residents to do the same,” said Chris Coakley, spokesperson for Boston’s Public Works Department.

If a commercial property fails to remove snow and ice from a sidewalk, the fine per day is $200. For residential properties with more than 16 units the fine is $100, and for residential properties with less than 16 units the fine is $50 a day.

A timeless question that Boston residents may have is about space savers for shoveled out street parking spots. The City’s policy is that residents have 48 hours after a snow emergency to use space savers. At the end of the 48 hours, space savers are treated as trash and removed from the street.

“As of today, we do not anticipate any changes to the space savers policy,” Coakley said.

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