Winter Walking: Mission Possible
By Pat Thompson
Walking down the street safely: it’s one of the basics of living in civilization, and a key part of decreasing motorized vehicle use as we cut CO2 from our way of life. Yet, in St. Paul, we spend four or five months each year without this basic mobility because our sidewalks are not fully cleared.
Katharine Tondra, program director at St. Anthony Park Seniors, said, “It’s really hard for seniors, particularly, to stay active if the sidewalks are intimidating. This leads to isolation in winter, and isolation has been found to be as bad for your health as smoking.” Falls are bad for anyone, but for seniors they can be life-changing. Clearing the snow at intersections is especially problematic, Tondra said.
St. Paul, like most cities, leaves sidewalk-clearing to property owners:
• Businesses, homeowners, or landlords are supposed to clear the way within 24 hours.
• The city is responsible for clearing around parks, along city-owned properties, and on the medians and refuge islands built into the busiest intersections.
• Metro Transit clears rail stations and space around bus shelters, but it’s not their highest priority and they don’t do it at bus stops without shelters.
Currently, there are big gaps between those responsibilities, starting with the shelter-less bus stops but also including the corners and curb cuts. I’ve noted several busy corners where the adjacent business property owners don’t appear to think the street corner is their responsibility, especially after the plows come through. I’ve also seen snow piled so high pedestrians can’t possibly push the Walk buttons at traffic lights. (Thanks to businesses like Speedy Market that meticulously clear all around their store and the adjacent intersection!)
Meanwhile, the city itself has a lot to clear, and it doesn’t appear to prioritize those refuge islands I mentioned, such as the ones at Energy Park and Raymond or Raymond and Como. These concrete islands can become solid mountains of snow and ice, forcing pedestrians to walk around in the traffic lanes and unable to push the Walk button.
What can you do?
If you see a property that’s not cleared on time, you have a couple of options:
• Leave them a door-hanger like the one pictured.
• Speak to the business owner or resident if you feel able to do that.
• Call the city to report the address, especially if you’ve already left a door-hanger or spoken to someone. That includes reporting city-owned properties.
If you are unable to do your own snow shoveling, contact St. Anthony Park Area Seniors to get a list of shovelers for hire.
When we have a big snowfall, let’s all pitch in to help our neighbors who need it, plus to clear areas that aren’t being taken care of — especially those stranded bus stops, curb cuts, and odd bits of sidewalk that don’t seem to have anyone responsible for them. (Shoveling around hydrants and storm drains is a good idea, too.)
And then there’s ice
When it comes to ice, we all face challenges. Clearing the sidewalk completely of snow is the best way to prevent ice, but especially if a sidewalk is shaded, ice can form anyway. Salt works well down to 15°, but a single teaspoon can pollute five gallons of water, so it’s not a great option for nearby plants or our shared water supply. Sand or grit are good for traction and can be swept up later to use again. The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency has a list of tips (with videos, link below) on how to deal with ice.
The sidewalks belong to everyone and should be accessible every month of the year. When they are not, I feel badly. Especially when I see someone in a wheelchair or mobility scooter making their way in the roadway instead of using the sidewalk. This is an all-too-common occurrence. Let’s take some community pride in making sure everyone can walk or roll on our sidewalks this winter!
Pat Thompson is part of Transition Town – All St. Anthony Park and co-chair of the St. Anthony Park Community Council’s Transportation Committee.
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• Report a property that has not been shoveled within 24 hours: 651-266-8989
• Get some door-hangers to remind late shovelers: email@example.com
• Get a list of shovelers for hire from St. Anthony Park Seniors: 651-642–9052 or office@SAPSeniors.org
• Tips and videos on clearing sidewalks without using salt: https://tinyurl.com/mpca-advice