When you live in northern Lower Michigan, snow is part of the deal. In the past week we’ve been reminded, seemingly nonstop, that snow before Thanksgiving is often the norm; and as we’ll probably be reminded then, snow in March or even April is not out of the ordinary.
So a Traverse City ordinance that requires downtown merchants and property owners to clear snow from the sidewalks in front of and around their buildings makes perfect sense.
What doesn’t make sense — and in fact negates the whole point of the ordinance — is that there is no enforcement mechanism. So while some merchants get out there and dutifully shovel their walks when it snows, their work can be for nothing if the guy next door doesn’t shovel his stretch — with no penalty.
For the great majority of us, a little snow is a pain, not a problem. But for a lot of people, including the elderly or those who use a walker, cane or wheelchair to get around, that stretch of snowy or icy sidewalk can stop them cold. For many of them, getting to a store simply isn’t worth the possibility of taking a spill.
Having an ordinance the city can’t enforce is almost worse than having no ordinance at all. It’s a slap at those who put in the time and effort to keep their walks clear. And letting just a few store owners discourage people from shopping downtown as a whole makes no sense at all.
Ann Rogers and Grace Joppich, who have been agitating about snowy sidewalks downtown for more than 30 years, say that in addition to those who won’t shovel, problem areas include corners, some side streets and walks along parking lots, which sound like the city’s responsibility.
City Commissioner Gary Howe, a walkable community advocate, rightly says the city needs a stronger ordinance; the city of Saline, for instance, fines property owners $25 for a first offense and $50 for a second offense. Those in the business district have to clear their walks every four hours during a storm.
That seems extreme for Traverse City. But we’ve tried doing nothing, and that doesn’t work. Snowy sidewalks are a problem and the city can’t simply stand by and allow a few people to screw up the works. That’s not acceptable.
There are solutions out there; the city needs to find one and make it work.
The issue: n Downtown Traverse City sidewalk ordinance a failure Our view: n It's time to create one that works