Somerville tackles unshoveled sidewalks

Landlords and residents will now be held more accountable for snow removal on Somerville sidewalks. Nicholas Pfosi / The Tufts Daily

This winter, Somerville’s Board of Aldermen voted to crack down on residents and landlords who do not clear their sidewalks after a snowstorm.

According to Somerville Alderman at Large Jack Connolly, the city has created a new ordinance that amends its original snow removal policy. Previously, the city mandated that snow needed to be shoveled within 24 hours of falling; however, Connolly said that time frame was unnecessarily long for snow removal and often led to icy sidewalks or unsafe conditions.

“These days … everybody knows the storm is coming two or three days in advance, [with] all the social media warnings [and the media coverage] … so the idea of clearing the walkways becomes a pretty important issue,” Connolly said.

According to Connolly, the newly amended ordinance increases the fines for uncleared sidewalks and changes the acceptable timeframe for snow removal. For failing to shovel sidewalks, the city will now fine residents and landlords $50 on the first day, $100 on the second day, $200 on the third day and $300 on the fourth day. This is an increase from the previous fine, which started at $25 for the first day and rose to $50 on the second.

Furthermore, residents and landlords must clear snow before 10 a.m. if the snow ceases falling before sunrise, and no later than 10 p.m. if the snow ceases falling after sunrise, Connolly said.

Connolly used Nathaniel Hawthorne’s 1850 novel The Scarlet Letter, in which early Boston resident Hester Prynne is forced to wear a large, red “A” stitched into her clothing as punishment for giving birth to a child out of wedlock, to describe another change to the policy. Offenders of the new snow removal policy will suffer a consequence similar to Prynne’s; a ticket will be hung on their door, which Connolly compared to a “scarlet letter.”

“It’s going to be an orange or brightly colored ticket or door hanger that would be quite visible to anybody … entering the building or passing by … [Often] people would chastise the city for not getting after the absentee property owners who weren’t responsible and, even though a ticket may have been issued, there was no way of knowing,” Connolly said.

According to Connolly, the new policies are being implemented to crack down on absentee landlords, and to allay concerns for the safety of Somerville residents, especially senior citizens.

“If snow falls and [is not cleared] … it can be very treacherous to walk on. It can be a real hazard, particularly if you’re a senior. If you’re a senior, and you’ve got a walker, it becomes … really dangerous,” Connolly said.

Connolly also said that help with snow removal will be available for seniors. For example, the city’s youth department will arrange for young adults to help shovel seniors’ sidewalks.

Somerville resident Mary Ann Szypko shared her opinions surrounding the new policies, saying she believed residents should be warned before receiving a fine.

“I think putting a warning on your door might be fine … but I think getting fined immediately is a little drastic,” she said.

Szypko said she had discussed the ordinance with other residents of Somerville, who were surprised to learn about the new policy.

“We’ve never heard of anything like this before in any other town,” she said.

Szypko said that she believed the new policy will be helpful in keeping sidewalks cleared for the many residents who walk to and from work or the subway, and will also add to the community feeling in the city.

“Somerville is half-residential, half-urban, so it’s a very interesting city-town in that sense … I think [clearing sidewalks] adds to the community aspect of it … [It encourages residents to] do the good, neighborly thing and shovel [their sidewalks],” Szypko said.

Connolly echoed Szypko’s sentiments, explaining that keeping sidewalks clear serves as a courtesy to other members of the community.

“You’re helping everybody else in the building … That’s the way it should be,” Connolly said.