Winter can be a hassle. The bitter temperatures, snow, ice and lack of sunshine are a large part of this hassle. Another inconvenience of Wisconsin winters? Snow and ice removal. Property owners of corner lots know all too well the hassle of removing the mountains of ice and packed snow dumped on the corner sidewalks by the massive snow plows.
Winter is an even bigger hassle to those with mobility issues, like myself. When the weather is bad, I am basically housebound. It is simply too dangerous for me to be out and about. It is not a simple matter of getting towed and cabbing it home, if my vehicle ends up in a ditch. So I stay close to home until the roadways are safe once again. If I do need to head out, I rely on the safety of sidewalks and crosswalks to get around. Unfortunately, finding clear and safe sidewalks and crosswalks can be a major challenge.
I live on a busy road. There is a great deal of traffic due to the technical college across the street. Additionally, 3M trucks are rolling up and down the road throughout the day. My apartment building is for individuals with medical conditions and disabilities. Up the road are several assistant living facilities. Many of us rely on Kwik Trip and Fleet Farm for food and necessities. To navigate to these places we rely on the sidewalks. Wheelchairs rolling in the road are not an unusual sight because the sidewalks have not been not properly cleared. This can be a potentially dangerous and life-threatening situation.
According to the ordinance, homeowners and businesses are to remove snow and ice from all public sidewalks which abut their property. Snow and Ice removal is to be done within 24 hours of snowfall or icy conditions. Reported violations result in issued warnings. The property owners are notified to remove the snow/ice within 48 hours. Failure to comply results in snow and ice removal by city workers at the property owners expense. The bill for the removal carries a minimum charge of $90. Additionally, repeat offenders could receive additional fines.
Additionally, the City of Wausau offers sand to lay down on slippery sidewalks. Please click here for a list of sand barrel locations. Sand is also available at the Dept of Public Works at 400 Myron Street. Proof of residency is needed to collect sand at this location.
The ordinance and the manner in which it is enforced has not eliminated the potential dangers of blocked sidewalks and crosswalks for those with mobility issues. Property owners have 24 hours to make their sidewalks accessible and safe. However, if they chose not to do so and a report is made immediately, they are given another 48 hours to comply. In the very best and most efficient scenario, this could take a total of 3-5 days minimum. Realistically, the process takes much longer. In the meantime, wheelchair users have to use dangerous roadways to travel. If this blog is sounding familiar, it is because I wrote about it last year. Unfortunately, the issue continue.
According to Allen M. Wesolowski, P.E., Wausau City Engineer, 98% of enforced violations are the result of citizen reporting. Last Thursday, my mom and I had errands to run. We had a snow storm on Monday, so this was well past the 24 hour time frame to remove snow. As we drove around downtown Wausau, it is clear that depending on citizen reporting is not effective in keeping the sidewalks safe for the most vulnerable. We found a sidewalk/crosswalk on 6th St. and one a block away on 5th St. which were inaccessible. Both sidewalks abutted two businesses. As we drove around town there were more violations, too many to keep track of. Many of these inaccessible sidewalks/crosswalks were on busy streets, making the situation even more dangerous.
I recorded the above video across the street from my apartment. This sidewalk is the only safe way to access the store and gas station many of us patronize. Accessible sidewalks result in less risk for wheelchair users. I do have to say I have had many close calls at the crosswalks along this street. Having to travel down busy roadways only amplifies the travel dangers we face.
What can you do to make your community safe during the winter months for individuals with disabilities and motor issues? Here are some ideas:
Clear your sidewalks and crosswalks as soon as the snowfall ceases. Utilize the sand made available by the city.
Sprinkle paw friendly salt in sidewalks after shoveling and on all icy patches
Shovel for elderly and/or disabled neighbors.
Report all violations you see to the City Engineers or to City Hall. In Wausau, the number is 715-261-6740
Encourage your church youth group, youth clubs, etc… to assist in snow removal in your community.
Schools can offer extra credit to students willing to assist in snow removal in their community. What a wonderful lesson in civic duty! Additionally, this could make a great Saturday detention project!
Have a neighborhood shoveling party! What a fun way to come together, do good and then enjoy some hot chocolate afterward!
Do you have kids who are currently grounded? Cut the time in half if they spend a few hours clearing inaccessible sidewalks and crosswalks in your neighborhood! Again, what a wonderful lesson in civic duty!
Email your mayor
Attend town hall meetings and neighborhood meetings to voice your concerns. Offer possible solutions.
Stay alert when driving during winter. Be careful when passing an individual walking or rolling in the roadway. If you see someone struggling or stuck, pull over and assist or call the local police department to report.
Have other suggestions? Please state them in the comments!
Until next time, keep Rollin’ and Keep Smilin’
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