City officials have started looking at ways to provide snow-shoveling services to elderly and disabled residents who can't shovel their sidewalks and who can't find or afford somebody to do the work for them.
At a hearing this morning, though, City Council President Michelle Wu said the city should look at going even further - and investigate the costs of just clearing all 1,600 miles of the city's sidewalks.
Councilor Tito Jackson (Roxbury), who sponsored the idea of an exemption for people over 60 and the disabled, said the city of Ottawa clears all of its sidewalks after storms.
Short of that, Jackson said the city could work to extend its current summer job program for teens to winter shoveling to help the elderly and disabled.
But Councilor Tim McCarthy (Hyde Park, Roslindale, Mattapan) said that large-scale volunteer programs "basically don't work" - especially with kids these days, because many of them would rather stay in bed or down in the basement playing Xbox when the snow comes down.
But councilors agreed Jackson's proposal needs an answer to the shoveling question.
Councilor Josh Zakim (Back Bay, Beacon Hill, Fenway, Mission Hill) said finding an answer is the benefits of not forcing some residents shovel would be outweighed by the risks of other residents not having safe sidewalks. Zakim also asked whether 60 is too young a cutoff age.
The proposed ordinance as written "would, in fact, endanger more people than it would protect," Wendy Landman, executive director of WalkBoston, agreed.
Emily Shea, Boston commissioner of elderly affairs, said her office did try organizing a volunteer program a couple of years ago with AmeriCorps, but the program foundered because many of the volunteers lived outside Boston and couldn't get in when the T shut down because of the weather.
Shea said Cambridge currently has an exemption program for senior residents who can prove a financial hardship and that workers in that city's recreation department, who have lighter workloads in the winter, shovel their walks. She said 71 of Cambridge's roughly 15,000 seniors have signed up.
Shea said Boston has roughly 100,000 residents over 60, and that up to 40% are living on $25,000 or less a year.
She said that when seniors call her office now seeking shoveling help, workers first try to see if they have any relatives or friends who can help them and that if they don't, they talk about how to find a plowing contractor. She acknowledged, however, not all seniors can afford a contractor. Jackson said he is concerned some contractors charge excessive rates.
Shea added that Newton also offers an exemption, but said few apply for it because that city doesn't ticket for unshoveled sidewalks anyway.
Shea did not mention the snow-angel program in Cranston, RI.