Chapter 3-357 of the City Code is about STREETS AND SIDEWALKS. The section entitled “Removal of snow and ice from sidewalks and points of egress” reads:

2014 Unshoveled Walk

The owners, tenants, occupiers and all others having charge, control or supervision of any vacant lots, lands, houses, stores, buildings, and all otherpremises fronting on any public street or highway in the City shall clean or remove, or cause to be cleaned or removed, from the sidewalk in front of or along the subject property and from a structure’s primary point of egress to the public sidewalk in a continuous path not less than two feet six inches in width all the snow, ice, hail, or sleet thereon fallen or formed within 24 hours after the same shall have ceased to fall or to be formed.

The ice to be removed as required herein is such as may be formed into ridges or mounds or is of such formation as to be an obstruction and renders the sidewalk dangerous to public travel. In addition to the penalties imposed by Chapter 3-399, Penalty, whoever violates this section shall be liable for all damages sustained by any person by reason of the neglect or failure of such owner, tenant, occupier or other person to comply with the provisions of this chapter.

While this may be the ordinance, it’s definitely not the prominent habit of all City of Harrisburg residents, businesses, and nonprofits.

This winter has proven that.

It’s not unusual to see an icy span of slick frozen water across a sidewalk or have to trudge through a slushy mess of ankle deep dirty snow. Unshoveled, unattended, and irresponsible.

As the city ordinance states, it’s the responsibility of the citizens to do their parts after the storm regardless of owner, landlord, or tenant (landlords are responsible to monitor their properties, though). A reasonable amount of time is given—24 hours after the stop of the sleet, freezing rain, or snowfall—to get out there and shovel. Or chip away as the case may be, especially during an icy squall like this latest one. Another section of the ordinance states the shoveled snow can’t be thrown into the street.

It may not be easy or fun, although some would argue it’s just that.

Some people see stepping outside and shoveling snow not only helps make the city better and safer, it also builds community.

When people are outside in the public space, they create a public presence and in demonstrates ownership. Neighbors chat with neighbors and passersby. It’s an opportunity to demonstrate goodwill and help one another by shoveling a bit beyond one’s own front space. This is especially true if nearby residents are incapable or unable to do it themselves.

2014 Snowy Sidewalk

Utopially, more citizens would have that attitude, but a walk around the city doesn’t indicate this.

And it’s not just a few place here or there or in one part of the city. The violations are everywhere.

Far too many spans of public walks are neglected. Some are in front of owner-occupied homes or rental units. Others are in front of businesses, nonprofits, churches, houses for sale, vacant lots, or around ongoing development projects. And yes, some of those vacant lots are city-owned, Harrisburg Redevelopment Authority-owned, or adopted through the Adopt-A-Lot program.

Undoubtedly, there is a deficiency, too, in city services, and each storm tests the brute of a diminished and aging force of the city’s Public Works.

Snow removal has been one of those items progressively cut in the City’s budget. This fact makes it so much more important that city residents, businesses, and nonprofits to follow the ordinance. A negligent citizenry exacerbates the problem the City’s attempting to fix.

If someone or company owns, leases, or rents a property in the city, it is their legal responsibility to clear the walk.

But how is that responsibility enforced?

Loosely.

The fact is the City of Harrisburg Bureau of Codes is shorthanded. It has half the staff of enforcement it’s budgeted to have, never mind ideally have. Therefore, enforcement of snow removable is what Deputy of Codes David Patton has called, “passive enforcement.”

That is, the capability isn’t there for enforcement offers to travel around the city to proactively look for negligent properties and contact the property owner or residents, which is preferably done directly and not through the legal system. In other words, Codes would prefer to talk to someone face to face or over the telephone. Not issue a citation.

Currently there are only two Harrisburg enforcement officers, one of those being the Deputy Director Patton. Throughout the past year, the City has advertised to fill two codes enforcement officer positions, but as repeatedly announced at the Receiver’s Advisory Committee public meetings, no viable candidates have been recruited.

In the meantime, the Bureau of Codes will respond to public complaints as best it can. If  a complaint is made to the Bureau of Codes, the staff will do what they can to address it. It’s realistic to keep in mind there are only two enforcement officers who have the authority to inspect and make contact to the property owners or residents.

If you do feel the ordinance is being violated and would like to make a complaint, telephone the Bureau of Codes. Use the City of Harrisburg’s work-in-progress 311 system to file a record of the call: 311 Online Request Form

2014 snow slick sidewalk

Tips for Melting Snow & Ice on Walkways
Rock salt is the typical material used to contend with messy and dangerous walkways.

However as a river city, Harrisburg residents and businesses should be aware of the consequence of salt runoff onto urban green spaces and into the river, but there are several other options to help melt the wintery precipitation or give grip to a slippery path:

  • Cat litter
  • Coffee grinds
  • Fireplace/grill ash
  • Cinders
  • Sand
  • Sugar Beet Juice
  • Organic salt-free deicer

The key, though, is shoveling. It’s recommended to shovel early and often. And if you do have to use salt, use it sparingly.

 

Resources:
Listed in the Maryland Department of Environment: Facts About Winter Weather, Chemical Deicers and the Chesapeake Bay

Listed in the Maryland Department of Environment: Facts About Winter Weather, Chemical Deicers and the Chesapeake Bay

today’the day Harrisburg columnist Jeremiah Chamberlin and Andrew Bliss of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation contributed to this article.

Tara Leo Auchey

Tara Leo Auchey

Creator & editor of today's the day Harrisburg, started in 2009. Resident, engaged citizen, community activist, teacher, strategist, writer.
Tara Leo Auchey