Shovel your sidewalk

With the almost-balmy weather moving in, we might get lulled into thinking we've seen the last of snow for this part of 2014.

I suspect I could be in a small minority of people who will be sorry to see it go. Count me in the camp that believes the best springs come after the worst winters.

Before this current thaw is over, though, there is still time left for people to scold those who don't shovel. I'm sure everyone knows some shoveling slackers.

The problem is most obvious in cities, where a cleared sidewalk is crucial after a big snow.

In many places, shoveling scofflaws are subject to fines. More important, it's a mark of good citizenship, making sure pedestrians can travel safely past your property.

After this year's snowy winter, a new proposal surfaced in New York City to not only fine property owners who don't shovel, but also to do it for them and then bill them.

This mandatory shoveling program might work well in New London. The current system is not working. Actually, there is no system in New London.

A spokesperson for the mayor told me this week they stopped writing tickets for not shoveling snow about two years ago, because of the diminished police patrol strength. The city shoveling ordinance calls for fines up to $100.

You don't have to go far on the main streets of downtown New London to find a lot of unshoveled sidewalks.

One of the biggest offenders is the city itself, leaving a long stretch of Eugene O'Neill Drive, what was once Main Street, with unshoveled sidewalks. Curiously, it is the stretch of sidewalk along the municipal parking lots, where the city directs you to park when it snows.

The mayor's spokesperson told me they have been behind on shoveling because one of two public works sidewalk plows has been broken since January and they have focused instead on sidewalks around parks and schools.

I don't have the expertise needed to be a public works director, but if I did I might decide that, on snow days when schools are closed, you might concentrate on downtown sidewalks.

The city sets a bad example, but there are plenty of others.

I am surprised to see unshoveled sidewalks in front of businesses, bars especially, like the State Street Saloon and The Exchange Bar & Grill on Bank Street.

The sidewalk has been nicely shoveled this winter in front of Hanafin's Irish Pub on State Street, but not in front of the empty building at 18 Bank St. owned by the same people. The blighted Bank Street building has had a treacherous sheet of ice across its sidewalk most of the winter.

Another big offender, strangely enough, is the U.S. Postal Service, which cleans the sidewalk out front but not the one running along the side of its building.

AT&T, too, has shamefully ignored the sidewalks in front of its State Street building, after emptying it of workers last year. Sadly, the sidewalks in front of the First Congregational Church on State Street remained snow covered.

Maybe if AT&T were to send a crew they could do the church, too.

I know the proposal in New York, to shovel walks and bill the property owners would be problematic here, since the city isn't doing some of its own shoveling.

But maybe if a plan were in place, the city could designate a contractor who would be paid by the property owners, with the city as the enforcement authority.

I would bet the first time someone gets a lien on their property for an expensive shoveling, they probably won't get a second.

Unshoveled sidewalks may not seem like much of a priority at City Hall, where it has been hard to see beyond the steam leak this winter.

But you can't have a vibrant downtown if people can't safely walk around it.

This is the opinion of David Collins.

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