As Bend's City Council prepares to push for a fuel tax on the ballot to maintain the city's crumbling roads, smartly arguing that those who use the roads ought to share the burden for their upkeep, we'd like to see a similar principle applied to sidewalks.
No, we're not talking about residents and business owners repairing the damaged patches in front of their properties—though that's technically their responsibility, too—we're looking at something much simpler, and vastly less expensive: Shoveling snow.
No one really likes to do it—aside from the neighborhood kid who figures he can get some pocket money out of the deal. But aside from the elderly and infirm, just about everyone can do it. Unfortunately, few do.
For all our collective belly-aching about personal responsibility and objections to excessive government intervention, it will likely take the City's recent threat to actually—if selectively—enforce the code requiring snow removal to spur some action.
While it's embarrassing that the City should have to wag its proverbial finger in order to prompt residents and business owners to take action, it's far better than the alternative—an injury or fatality caused by an elderly person attempting to navigate unshoveled sidewalks en route to a bus stop, or a collision with a child forced to walk on the icy roads for lack of a safe sidewalk on the way to school.
A week out from the recent snowstorm, the vast majority of the city's sidewalks are still covered in snow. Everywhere from driveway-wide stretches of sidewalk in front of single-family homes to long swaths along Highway 20 in front of commercial businesses are covered with an obstacle course pushing pedestrians into the path of cars doing their best not to end up on the sidewalk.
For those who may have missed the memo, County code requires businesses to clear snow from their adjacent sidewalks within six hours of a storm, while residents get a full day. The penalty, though rarely enforced, is $100 per day. So if the City does issue citations, rather than just warnings, code violators could be looking at a $700-plus bill.
Now, we could easily complain about the conditions of the city's roads one week out, and plenty are. But that shouldn't shift focus from the simple, concrete act of common courtesy individuals can take to make everyone that much safer.
Yes, it takes some forethought and planning for a large business or sizable corner residence to clear the foot or more of snow many parts of the city saw fall just before Thanksgiving. But we ought to be used to snow by now. We should all own snow shovels, which can be affordably purchased at a number of local retailers. And if we cannot physically shovel our own snow, chances are there's a neighborhood kid, or an adult professional, who'd be willing to do the deed for a reasonable fee.
On that note, for those who have already done the right thing and shoveled their sidewalk, we'll issue this challenge. Shovel someone else's walk. Whether it's your elderly neighbor or the single mom on the block whose little ones are still shorter than the shovel, it's a small act of kindness that benefits us all. 'Tis the season, after all.