TRAVERSE CITY — It took Ty Schmidt and Bob Otwell only about an hour of hard work to clear a few inches of powdery snow from about seven miles of sidewalks and pathways.
They did it as a favor to neighbors and strangers alike.
Both men live along Washington Street and have watched while the number of homeowners who clear their sidewalks has dwindled. They’ve also watched the number of people who are outside running, walking or riding a bike during the winter rise.
“We almost did seven miles of sidewalks in an hour today,” Schmidt said Monday. “I was drenched in sweat when I got home.”
It was a pretty good pace considering the men had nothing but their own legs pumping bicycle pedals to propel their small plows. And they got plenty of odd looks along the way.
“We get a lot of smiles,” Schmidt said. “I think it builds community.”
The two cyclists sat on the tip of a response to poorly cleared sidewalks in Traverse City. They joined forces with Tom Auer, a board member for TART Trails, who began making bicycle plow prototypes last year, and began organizing a group of year-round riders who are willing to devote some of their time in the saddle to dragging small two-foot-wide plows.
The group has decided to set aside gripes about snowy sidewalks and replace lip service with leg work.
“I think part of this bike clearing is to respond to less ability of the city to clear sidewalks,” Otwell said. “It is a step in the right direction.”
Otwell, a former executive director for TART, moved to downtown Traverse City more than 20 years ago. And he began riding his bike to work everyday before it was popular to ride during the winter.
“Back then, I think the city kind of spoiled us,” he said. “In the winter, we used to know everybody who rode a bike.”