Councilors agree they can't exempt seniors, disabled from snow shoveling without figuring out way to remove their snow

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.

Neighborhoods: 

Topics: 

Free tagging: 

Comments

Question

By on

"Shea said Boston has roughly 100,000 residents over 60, and that up to 40% are living on $25,000 or less a year."

How many of those live in single or multi-family homes where they're responsible for shoveling vs. living in elderly housing?

up
Voting is closed. 38

Boston's elders

By on

2010 census says population was 617,594 with 10.1% being over 60. The population estimate for 2014 was 655,884. The percentage of residents over 60 has likely increased (empty-nesters settling into the city from the burbs, chunks of non-migrating population aging in place) but I'd be surprised if it bumped up to 15%.

up
Voting is closed. 15

Elderly housing

By on

Do you have any idea how long the waiting lists are for elderly housing? Not to mention that no one should be forced to move from someplace they're capable of living independently solely because they aren't physically able to shovel snow.

up
Voting is closed. 15

Huh?

By on

Where exactly did I say someone should be forced to move to elderly housing? We were talking about how many people this "shoveling exemption" would affect, and I asked what the percentage of those over 60 are living in single families or own multi-families (where they'd be responsible for shoveling) vs. living in apartments/condos/elderly housing.

Try reading a little closer next time.

up
Voting is closed. 22

Cutoff age too young

By on

Zakim also asked whether 60 is too young a cutoff age.

I'm with you, Josh. I know it's hard to decide what age is too young but if you can't shovel your sidewalk at 60, you probably have another impediment that might qualify as a disability.

up
Voting is closed. 42

Now they're talking!

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.

Given the iffy job done clearing roads in many snowstorms, I'm not entirely hopeful, but this would be great - not least because it should end the problem of unshoveled sidewalks abutting public property, vacant lots, etc. Just freaking clear EVERYTHING.

up
Voting is closed. 52

Plus if the city is doing it,

By on

Plus if the city is doing it, they aren't doing it by hand like homeowners - cities that do their own sidewalks do it with bobcats and big industrial blowers. It makes it more efficient and does a better job, so in terms of man-hours and costs I don't think it'd be as much as a lot of people are calculating.

up
Voting is closed. 19

[Almost] Impossible

The sidewalk in front of my house (West Medford) has a tree, the cement is uneven, and there's a telephone pole. Elsewhere on the block the sidewalk curves around objects, people park partway onto it, there are fire hydrants, etc. etc.

A bobcat wouldn't work at all. A small snowblower might work but where are you going to blow the snow? Half the houses have large fences or walls. Plus, you'd need to lift the snowblower up and down curbs, etc. Even people with snowblowers still need a shovel for parts of their property which is still only <200' for most houses. And the people who have snowblowers take nearly as long to clean the sidewalk as I do with normal shovel.

It's easy to blow the street as it's generally level and without obstacles. The sidewalk is several orders of magnitude harder.

up
Voting is closed. 27

I'm sure there's a reason but

By on

I'm sure there's a reason but I've always wondered why no one has created something that can heat the snow, turn it to steam and let it evaporate like nature intends, just fast tracked?

up
Voting is closed. 15

Ah, but they have!

By on

Costs to install and operate snow melting systems:

As a convenience. Owners of upper-end homes install the systems in all their exterior slabs--including driveways, sidewalks, steps, and patios--to completely eliminate the need for shoveling.

To target trouble spots. Homeowners who cant afford to install the systems in all their exterior concrete slabs use them only where snow and ice accumulation poses a problem, such as in the wheel tracks of a driveway, in the front walkway and steps, or in driveways with steep inclines.

up
Voting is closed. 22

And my street in Rozzie has

By on

And my street in Rozzie has nice wide fairly even sidewalks, which even when there's trees are still wide enough to run a small piece of equipment on by.

People shouldn't be parking on the sidewalks, your neighbors are assholes.

up
Voting is closed. 22

Welcome to Boston...

side·walk
/ˈsīdˌwôk/
noun, colloquial

  1. A place to store cars.
  2. A convenient place to dump snow removed from streets or driveways.
up
Voting is closed. 18

Some side street are so

By on

Some side street are so narrow that parking partially on the sidewalk is the only way that other vehicles can get by. Perhaps those neighbors are actually trying to be considerate.

up
Voting is closed. 12

Some side street are so

By on

Some side street are so narrow that parking partially on the sidewalk is the only way that other vehicles can get by. Perhaps those neighbors are actually trying to be considerate disregarding the no parking signs.

up
Voting is closed. 19

do or do not. there is no try.

A counterpoint: every morning, bright and early (well, dark and early, since I'm up well before sunrise), I walk to and from the gym. My route takes me along sidewalks that BU's Facilities & Grounds people are responsible for clearing. This morning, when I left, they were starting (around 5:45 or so). By the time I returned home, around 8:00 or so, the sidewalks - big wide ones on Comm Ave, weird little brick paths, smaller side streets with all kinds of obstructions and cracks and you name it - were all clear.

Even though it wasn't a massive amount of snow to clear from the overnight, it was still an impressive effort - and it's one that they do every time, for every snowstorm. Such things are possible. They may turn out to be prohibitively expensive for an entire city - but they are possible.

up
Voting is closed. 24

Yeah a large crew

Look at what you just wrote: A large crew of professionals at a wealthy university are needed to keep it's sidewalk clear. BU has a huge incentive to get this right -- if the sidewalks aren't clear faculty and students can't get to class and if someone slips the lawsuit will be big.

I'm not saying it's completely impossible for the city of Boston to clear all the sidewalks. I'm saying it's prohibitory expensive for what it would take OR they would do a half-assed job and you wouldn't see some sidewalks cleared for days. Also, a single 20" wide path made with a snow blower might be better than nothing but it's hardly what most people would call "clear".

up
Voting is closed. 13

right

But at this point, Wu is just asking how much it would cost, in terms of money and presumably labor. Even if the City of Boston weren't able to afford the same level of pristine sidewalks as BU, it might be able to do something that would be a real benefit for hundreds of thousands of people. I'm crossing my fingers.

up
Voting is closed. 17

Big lawsuit

if someone slips the lawsuit will be big.

I wish. I slipped on glassy wet ice on the sidewalk adjacent to their softball field and dislocated my shoulder. I guess I should have sued, but nobody saw me fall, and how exactly would I have proven that BU was at fault?

Also:

Also, a single 20" wide path made with a snow blower might be better than nothing but it's hardly what most people would call "clear".

IF the city were to enact this, I'm not sure why you think it wouldn't follow its own code, which requires a path at least 42 inches wide.

up
Voting is closed. 16

People parking on the

By on

People parking on the sidewalks isn't a reason to not figure out how to best remove snow, those illegally parked vehicles should be towed and ticketed. You can park or block the sidewalk, egomaniacs who do so make walking around extremely difficult for children, the eldery and disabled, who cant as easily hop back and forth into the street when some self entitled hillbilly blocks the sidewalk because its easier than legally parking their vehicle.

up
Voting is closed. 15

boston?

By on

Is West Medford supposed to be considered Boston these days?

up
Voting is closed. 16

LOL

By on

The City can't clear the streets of snow how the hell are they going to clear the sidewalks of snow?

up
Voting is closed. 11

I don't think municipalities do a good job on sidewalks

By on

And yes, I have visited Ottawa in the winter (twice, for the purpose of skating the Rideau Canal) and seen the job they do. Also Montreal, Toronto, the Twin Cities, and most recently Newton.

That said, I'd love to see a realistic estimate for 3,200 miles of snow removal (and if they doubled 800 miles at first, I will stand corrected.)

up
Voting is closed. 17

Well, we know residents and

By on

Well, we know residents and businesses do a horrible job, so the bar is pretty low. Many never bother at all, so a municipality trying would be an improvement.

up
Voting is closed. 18

Dedham uses a skid-steer with

Dedham uses a skid-steer with a snowblower to clear sidewalks on some major roads and around schools. DCR does the same for many sidewalks and paths that fall under their jurisdiction. Unless you really love walking through six inches of semi-frozen slush, we can agree that this method is pretty bad. And it's what Boston would most likely adopt.

up
Voting is closed. 14

13th Amendment

By on

these shoveling laws are unconstitutional!

The 13th Amendment to the Constitution declared that "Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.

up
Voting is closed. 26

The US constitution doesn't

By on

The US constitution doesn't apply in MA because the State Supreme Judicial Court said so.

I'm not kidding.

The MA SJC doesn't recognize anything federal they don't like unless heartily bench slapped for ignoring it.

up
Voting is closed. 19

Nope,

By on

Nope,

Many many issues than the 1976 ruling which also rewrote the state constitution by fiat. Talk to the state chapter of the ACLU for a laundry list of "are you freaking kidding me?!" rulings which ignore the Bill of Rights.

The most frequent abuse permitted by the SJC is allowing the rest of the MA judiciary to issue summons/child support obligations/etc to people in federal custody and lumping those people with punishment for failure to comply once they've been released from federal custody. (impossible request)

up
Voting is closed. 19

This is not involuntary servitude...

You have the choice of not shoveling, but you will incur the liability for fines as well as any injuries that happen on the sidewalk if you do not.

up
Voting is closed. 26

Won't change the broader MA laws concerning negligence

By on

MA law imposes duty on property owner to clear snow and recognizes liabiltiy for failure to do so adequately. An ordinance like this wouldn't do anything to change that legal fact and would only confuse people into thinking they are therefore exempt from liability. State law > local ordinance.

up
Voting is closed. 20

The state law regarding negligence

By on

applies to walkways on private property, like shopping malls, office buildings, and apartment/condo complexes.

It does not apply to PUBLIC sidewalks abutting private property.

up
Voting is closed. 24

Can confirm

Kids didn't want to go outside and shovel and preferred to stay in playing Xbox

up
Voting is closed. 27

When I was a kid

By on

My parents didn't give us the option. They bundled us up, handed us shovels and told us to come back in when everything was cleared, walkways, decks, everything.

Then we could come in and play Pong or Pitfall.

up
Voting is closed. 22

Clarification

I just said they didn't want to, not that they didn't.

up
Voting is closed. 17

That explains ...

The kids wandering around my area in packs carrying shovels. They're playing xbox.

up
Voting is closed. 15

Shoveling my own walk is

By on

Shoveling my own walk is something I cherish, like icing a beautiful cake - or actually de-icing a beautiful cake. I don't want the slapdash city work to mess with my knife edges and tactical placement. The neighbors and I compete for craft and walkability and in the process hit the 70 year old's walk on one side and another 70 year old on the other

up
Voting is closed. 37

My mother is 70. She still

By on

My mother is 70. She still shovels. I'd better tell her she's elderly and she shouldn't be doing that. Also, I suppose she should stop climbing mountains, cross-country skiing and kayaking because she 'elderly.'

up
Voting is closed. 28

Good for your mom.

By on

But her ability to mountain climb et. al. has no bearing on this issue. Many a 70 year old, due to existing medical conditions, for example, can't shovel nor should be shoveling snow.

up
Voting is closed. 16

Maintaining the walk is part of the cost

By on

"Oh I'm 60 and I can't shovel my walk."

"OK, the city will plow it for you for free."

"Oh I'm 60 and I can't climb the stairs in my house any more."

"OK, the city will build you a downstairs bedroom and bathroom."

up
Voting is closed. 21

Of course. And, there are

By on

Of course. And, there are people in their 50's who shouldn't be doing any strenuous activity due to medical conditions. What's your point?

up
Voting is closed. 15

A thought?

By on

Why not have those guys/girls who are usually court ordered to do street cleaning in the summer (for various reasons) do snow removal? People commit crimes in the winter time too.

up
Voting is closed. 29

Or just be a neighbor

By on

If you live next to someone who's elderly or otherwise unable to shovel their walk, just do it while you're doing your own. You're already out there and it's really not that much work (except maybe for last year's freakshow when everything was work).

And I don't say this pretending to be some pure, altruistic neighbor. Doesn't it make your life easier too if the entire walk is shoveled? When my son and I take morning walks with the dog I can't believe it when a perfectly snow-blown sidewalk abruptly ends at an untouched walk in front of the next house. How hard would it have been to keep going another 30 feet?

up
Voting is closed. 22

snow blowing; where to stop?

By on

>>>>>I can't believe it when a perfectly snow-blown sidewalk abruptly ends at an untouched walk in front of the next house. How hard would it have been to keep going another 30 feet?
>>>>>>

speaking for myself, I usually just do a (inside) lap of my block. I figure once I get the machine onto the sidewalk I might as well keep going. But where to stop? I usually go around the corner to do the sidewalk of the properties that face onto my street. but that leave the appearance you describe. The other factor you should think about is the liability. In my close packed neighborhood, I am constant adjusting the direction to avoid throwing a rock, ice clump, chopped up branches into a car or a house. Boy, can gravel travel!

up
Voting is closed. 20

A treat or an expectation

By on

I've had the same mental dilemma. If I plow out my neighbor, it's easy enough and makes me a good neighbor. But if I do it this time, will they expect that I'll do it the next time and every time? What if I miss doing their part one time, will they now dislike me because I let them down?

It shouldn't be so complicated to be helpful.

up
Voting is closed. 20

Plus, you run into ungrateful bastards like...

me. I friggin hate it when some (no doubt well-intentioned) neighbor runs their snowblower down my sidewalk. They always end up leaving icy tire tracks and crusty banks behind, and they make it ten times harder for me to shovel it the way I like it. (See comment by anon "bike nerd" above on "knife edges and tactical placement.")

If I could deploy some sort of speed bump or a turnstile that only pedestrians could get past, I would be a happier homeowner for it.

up
Voting is closed. 14

not always easy ...

Another big snowblower owner here. I'm only slowly expanding the rate at which we clear sidewalks and bus stops beyond our technical property lines. We collectively take care of the elderly neighbors of course but it's harder to do "general" clearing ...

As someone already mentioned people can be super picky (or very angry) about what you do on/with their property. I'd be uncomfortable blowing snow into the yard of someone I don't know particularly if they are the type of person who seems likely to want to keep all that salt-encrusted slush off their "perfect yard". It really can kill your grass if you blow a pile of street-plowed snow up into a yard.

So my compromise is I only clear the paths for neighbors who've I've met and chatted with. And I'll do it sometimes for the folks who can't be bothered to shovel at all -- because if you are too lazy to shovel then I'm not gonna give a damn about what I blow into your yard

Oh yeah I also travel often for work and there are times I'm not around so the whole "are they expecting this and will they be pissed off if I fail to clear somtetimes?..." thing comes into play as well

up
Voting is closed. 22

Me in a nutshell

As someone already mentioned people can be super picky (or very angry) about what you do on/with their property.

When I hear the blowers coming, I run out and (with what I'm sure is a very thin smile and crazy eyes) beg my neighbor to, "Just take it down the street past my house pretty please. No, I don't care that it's no trouble. It's trouble for me. Please don't bring your damn blower down my sidewalk."

up
Voting is closed. 20

I go as far

By on

As my electrical cord take me. Mind you, my neighbors don't get grade A coverage, but a strong B.

When I was dealing with the gas blower, I got very, very generous at the end of the season, mainly because I didn't want to have to drain the tank. I'd prefer to run it until it ran out of gas.

up
Voting is closed. 12

How's the electic one in general?

By on

I've been thinking about getting one. How did it handle the heavy snow we had last week or so? And how high does it blow the snow? I have a 2 1/2 ft wall. It doesn't seem there are any electric ones that blow that high.

Thanks for any advice/info.

up
Voting is closed. 13

Electric

By on

I had always been a staunch shoveler but broke down after last winter and got a 13.5 amp electric Snow Joe. The thing works pretty well! You don't want it if you have a lot of square footage to clear, but if you live in Boston-proper that seems unlikely. It's nice and small, which is the only reason we have room for it.

We have a retaining wall as well and it gets the snow well over it. Wet snow has a harder time, but so far so good. In fact that was the reason I gave in -- shoveling snow onto piles ON TOP of retaining walls is not a good time.

Just make sure you have a properly rated extension cord for that kind of amperage, as well as an outlet that will give you enough.

up
Voting is closed. 21

It was a Christmas present

By on

And a late one (actually purchased in late February) to boot. When I first got it I was like a little kid, looking for snow to move.

Heavy water content does make it difficult, but the retaining wall at the back of the driveway is over 6 feet tall and I can clear it no problem most of the time. I'd say the snow I did last night (2 or 3 inches of fluff) went up 8 to 10 feet at least, but last Friday is was lower. When I do the neighbors, who have a wall about the size of yours, it usually is no problem, though getting right next to the wall is annoying.

I'd say that if you have the money, go for it. I think it is an older version of this.

up
Voting is closed. 14

Isn't this already covered by

By on

Isn't this already covered by property tax exemptions? Or couldn't we just increase the elderly exemption by a few $100/yr so they can hire some snow removers?

I can see the City being on the hook for every commercial sidewalk but every nook and cranny of residential streets? The complaints list will be miles long.

up
Voting is closed. 15

Maybe they could do all the

By on

Maybe they could do all the streets already designated as no-parking during snow emergencies - they're heavily used corridors and tend to be larger (with larger sidewalks)

up
Voting is closed. 15

Make it a community service requirement?

By on

How much of a financial burden is the fine for not shoveling a walkable path in front of your house, compared to the cost of being sued when someone falls and injures themselves due to the unshoveled and unsanded/salted sidewalk? Not to mention the increase in premiums for homeowner's insurance?

I understand that some people are just not physically capable of shoveling due to age or disability, and also can't afford to pay a private contractor to clear the walkways.

But that also calls into question how that same elderly or disabled person gets out of the house themselves to get to the grocery store and/or doctors appointments, not to mention the other costs of repairs and/or basic upkeep of an owned home.

I'm all for the idea of the city up and taking over the clearing of all sidewalks for everybody (because my biggest complaint is the sidewalk(s) on city-owned property never being cleared...especially on a bridge or overpass...) but until they "find" the money and get a system like this into gear??

When I was in high school, a number of schools had "community service" requirements before graduation was allowed. Perhaps in the interim, this program could be expanded to all high schools? Or any/all of the colleges/universities in the city proper? Then the person doing the community service could shovel for the elderly and disabled, starting with addresses nearest their home/dorm.

up
Voting is closed. 20

Compulsory community service

By on

Compulsory community service is indentured servitude and should be illegal.

up
Voting is closed. 19

Boston City Councilors

By on

Have too much time on their hands.

up
Voting is closed. 17

???

Boston is a city that usually gets a decent (or indecent, depending on your feelings about winter) amount of snow each year. Some Boston residents and businesses don't or can't or won't remove snow from their sidewalks. The Boston City Council is discussing ways to ensure that all sidewalks are clear of snow, that people who really can't shovel aren't held accountable for not doing so, and that all of us cranky Bostonians can get around a bit more easily in the wintertime. How is that not a topic worthy of discussion during a Boston City Council meeting?

up
Voting is closed. 13

So now, at least, we know

By on

So now, at least, we know that Tim McCarthy is useless.

up
Voting is closed. 19

Send the addresses of the

By on

Send the addresses of the exempt disabled individuals to courts so they can assign a monitored community service obligor to do the shoveling!!!

up
Voting is closed. 12

Michelle Wu for mayor

By on

I really hope she runs.

up
Voting is closed. 8

Problem solved

By on

implement a "city tax" to anyone who works/lives/owns propery/rents in boston that goes toward shoveling streets and sidewalks. NYC does it.
That way everyone who benefits from the use of sidewalks helps cover the cost!of maintaining them.
Property owners should not have to incur extra costs or labor to maintain public property.

up
Voting is closed. 10