Do You Really Have to Shovel Snow?

nyc mayor bill de blasio shoveling snow

This winter’s relentless storming has made it obvious which of our neighbors would do everyone a favor by moving away: every time some snow falls, the same goddamn people don’t bother to shovel their sidewalks. There are legitimate reasons for not being able to clear the way for pedestrians, like old age and infirmity. But those people don’t get a free pass: they are legally and morally obligated to reach out to neighbors, to ask for help from family, or to pay those roaming bands of freelancers. Anyway, it seems like the problem isn’t little old ladies who can’t lift loads of wet wintry white—the problem is people who just don’t give a shit.

The most perilous sidewalks I’ve traversed these last few weeks have been in front of doctors’ offices, chain stores, poorly managed apartment buildings, and undeveloped lots. (Almost as infuriating are custodians that have abdicated responsibility for the corners their buildings stand on, creating mountains of ice to climb in order to cross the street. The businesses that do this are the biggest bunch of idiots in the city, denying pedestrians access to their establishments.) What’s with these property owners? Where do they get off?

The actual laws require that “whether you’re the owner, tenant, occupant or the person in charge of any lot or building, you must clear the snow and/or ice from your sidewalk within four (4) hours after the snow has stopped falling… The bottom line is sidewalks must be thoroughly cleaned as soon as the weather permits.” Fines for first time offenders are usually $100; repeat offenders can receive fines as high as $350.

And so far this year, the department of sanitation is on pace to issue more than double the tickets it issued last year, the Daily News reported, though this sort of makes sense as we’ve had more than double the snowfall. “After each storm, the city’s roughly 200 enforcement agents fan out to various neighborhoods, looking for snow scofflaws,” according to the paper; by late January, Brooklyn had received 656 tickets, more than any other borough. But that hardly seems severe: I can think of at least a dozen repeat offenders within a block from my home. Multiply that by the thousands upon thousands of blocks in Brooklyn, and 656 doesn’t seem so big.

Then consider that hardly anybody who gets fined bothers to pay it. “In 2012, the city issued $145,000 in fines but only $38,648 has been paid,” the Daily News reports. “In 2013, the city imposed $581,510 in fines, including late fees, but just $40,549 has been coughed up.”

Uncleared sidewalks are a public safety hazard, and those responsible for leaving them uncleared are menaces to society. We should try them for assault and put them in jail! Instead, it’s easy to get away without shoveling, and even if you get your wrist slapped—a few hundred dollars might hurt an individual homeowner, but not so much corporations and developers—you can literally not pay the price. Until the city broadly enforces the law, and raises the fines so that they mean something to those penalized, and seriously sanctions those who don’t pay, we’ll keep falling down.

UPDATE: Councilmember David Greenfield of Borough Park has proposed a law that would have the city clear unshoveled sidewalks—and then fine property owners at least $250 for the extra work!

Follow Henry Stewart on Twitter @henrycstewart

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