Now that we have survived and dug out, feasted on the corpses of the dead and cursed the gods of the sky for setting such evil upon us, it’s time to engage in the most Gloucester of winter traditions: bitching about sidewalks.
Here’s the thing for you non-Gloucesterites we see in our analytics who must be reading this as the fulfillment of some bizarre fetish (which you really should get treatment for): In Gloucester you are required to shovel the sidewalk in front of your home or business, the logic being that if everyone does that, Viola! Clear sidewalks for all!
What could possibly go wrong?
The answer, of course, is everything! We can’t even get people in this town to not wear pajamas to their kids’ graduation ceremonies. Good luck getting them to shovel even when there is only 1/4″ of dust-like snow. Multiply that by 120 and you start to see what we’re up against here.
Let’s use numbers because we love us some bullet points!
- The likelihood of even an average responsible owner or tenant being capable of clearing their own sidewalk breaks down after a certain amount of snow. You see, Gloucester is more like the Old City of Jerusalem than the leafy suburbs that surround us. Houses are densely packed together, roads are narrow and sidewalks abut the curb directly. After a storm like the one we just had, the city is now asking is for people to remove literally a ton of snow in the form of a densely packed snowbank plonked directly on the sidewalk and put it… where? That’s your problem, Chester. This is a job more fit for an off-world mining crew than Joe Budsuitcase with his plastic shovel and cheap Home Depot snowblower, but whatever.
- Its unlikely for Joe, but it’s impossible for Edna. You see, of the 300 or so odd towns in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, in terms of age Gloucester is 51st by demographics. So you have a lot of older folks living in property that is not well suited for them, logistically. All those seniors we’re checking up on during storms are now suddenly supposed to get their previously imperiled asses out there and clear it off themselves or call somebody and pay them whatever the price is to cut through the five foot snowbank and create a channel for humans to walk in.
- “Hey, it’s the law!” Sure, you can say that, but a lot of things are the “law” that no one pays attention to. The 55mph speed limit on route 128, for instance. Marijuana or “Longbottom Leaf” as the kids call it. Using binoculars to spy on your neighbor’s hot tub. All of these are “illegal” but still very common and generally unenforced, especially if you keep the lights off and the curtains most of the way down. And in Gloucester, who’s really going to enforce the sidewalk clearing regulations? Example: near our school in East Gloucester not everyone does their sidewalks. So there is a 1 property-length section of cleared sidewalk and that ends abruptly at the next property owner over who is in Florida or infirm or whatever. So everyone just walks in the street with the busses, parents, teachers delivery trucks, plows, that guy Kristof and his reindeer and their ice sleigh and everyone else. Someone is going to get run over. But, you know, the scofflaws are a sweet little old Italian lady and the other is a guy who lost his job so he’s working in Arizona and he’s not there for weeks at a time and… you see where this goes. Everyone with an uncleared sidewalk has a good reason why.
And the problem is this: There has to be a critical mass for people to actually get out there and clear their sidewalks for everyone to do it. And if not everyone does it and we wind up with a highly limited patchwork of short sidewalk sections, it’s no good.
So we wind up with everybody in the street, the responsible feeling frustrated and everyone else acting victimized. What do we do? I have to say I don’t know. But what I do know is what we’re doing now is not working.
In other towns that utilizing the “clear your own property” system, Madison Wisconsin for instance, they simply have a crew of dudes who shovel your sidewalk if you don’t and then add the cost to your tax bill at the end of the year. That is both a) a pretty good idea and b) likely to send the anti-tax activists into the troposphere with rage and will never happen in Gloucester in six billion years, which is approximately two billion after our yellow sun explodes, scouring our planet clean of all life, even Keith Richards.
But how else is it supposed to get done, are the cops supposed to take a break from unleashed dog patrol duty and become sidewalk monitors now too?
I know that in some towns they just clear the sidewalks with a machine, but I also know we’re broke and that is probably in the mid five figures per storm. But the reality remains we need the walks cleared for safety and the current system ain’t cutting it.