Notes on wintertime care and feeding of local sidewalks
It’s not even Thanksgiving, but this morning we woke up to the first measurable snowfall of the season and the first early morning dispatch of Public Works crews to treat icy road conditions. So we’re already getting serious about taking care of our roads, driveways and sidewalks in what looks to become a long, cold winter.
I think it’s fair to say that by now, we have pretty well mastered the care of Township roads during the winter season. It’s also fair to say that our residents have mastered the care for the driveways and sidewalks to their homes and businesses. But just to make sure, over the last two months, Township staff members have been reaching out to local businesses and the owners of non-residential properties with sidewalks along public roads to talk about their responsibility for maintaining those sidewalks. Let me explain why:
There was a time in Cranberry where it wouldn’t have made much difference if people never even bothered to shovel their sidewalks. After all, there weren’t that many of them, and they didn’t always connect to one another. So they didn’t get that much use.
But about 20 years ago, we noticed an important change in public sentiment toward sidewalks taking place here, and we need to take ownership of that change. Here’s how it came about:
Back in 1977, the Township issued its first comprehensive plan. In it, pedestrians were regarded as something of a menace. They were considered to be a hazard – an impediment to the smooth-flowing traffic system that planners were striving for. “Pedestrian and bicycle movements along these roads should be severely limited,” the plan’s authors warned. Walking and biking, after all, are what public parks were created for. Roads are for cars and trucks.
Fast-forward to 1995. That was when the Township s’ next comprehensive plan was published. As part of its development, citizen input was used to prioritize Cranberry’s initiatives for the following decade. Out of ten proposals presented in the survey, improved pedestrian access to retail centers and community facilities came in a close second, right behind promoting jobs in light industry.
Our most recent comprehensive plan came out in 2009. By then, the chorus of support for pedestrian circulation had grown even louder. In response, the plan called for expanding Cranberry’s network of interconnected sidewalks and trails to access key destinations and corridors throughout the Township.
That was five years ago, and Cranberry Township’s Board of Supervisors was paying attention. Through a combination of private land development requirements, construction grants, and Township-initiated projects, Cranberry’s network of sidewalks grew from just under 2 miles in 1977, to 45 miles in 1995, and about 160 miles today. Beyond that, they are much better connected, and offer a far more practical way of navigating the Township, than ever before.
However, even though they’ve become an important part of our transportation system, they’re not like public streets, which are maintained by PennDOT or the Township’s Public Works department. Instead, they are the responsibility of whoever owns or occupies the property that a particular sidewalk traverses. What it means is if a sidewalk in front of your land, home or business needs to be cleared of ice or snow, it’s your responsibility to take care of it, and to do so in a timely fashion.
That’s more than just an offhand suggestion; it’s part of our municipal code and it has teeth. “Any person, firm or corporation who shall violate any provision of this part, upon conviction thereof in an action brought before a district judge in the manner provided for the enforcement of summary offenses under the Pennsylvania Rules of Criminal Procedure, shall be sentenced to pay a fine of not more than $1,000 plus costs and, in default of payment of said fine and costs, to a term of imprisonment not to exceed 90 days,” the Code reads. “Each day that a violation of this part continues or each section of this part which shall be found to have been violated shall constitute a separate offense.” Wow!
Let me make clear that we really don’t visualize sending anyone to jail. But the important thing to understand is that it doesn’t matter who built the sidewalk or when it was built. If it is on your property, it is up to you to clear it, just like you do your driveways and sidewalks leading up to your business or residence. And when you do, the pedestrian connections that Cranberry residents have been demanding for years, will finally be available all year long.
I’d love to hear your thoughts about sidewalk winter maintenance. Send me an email at: email@example.com.