Sharvaca Tilman didn’t have to look hard to find snow-covered sidewalks along Secor Road north of Central Avenue at lunchtime on Tuesday.
If anything, it was harder to find sidewalks that had been cleared, especially wide enough for someone in a wheelchair to get through.
“At least make an attempt,” Ms. Tilman said as she surveyed the sidewalks that not only weren’t cleared, they were buried with snow piles from plows that had cleared parking lots.
PHOTO GALLERY: Snowy sidewalks
She’s one of 10 inspectors with the Toledo Department of Inspection who fanned out across the city to fulfill a Collins administration promise to “begin taking action against those who have not cleared sidewalks in the public right-of-way.”
On Secor on Tuesday, however, that action was just visiting store managers, advising them that letters will be sent to building owners to demand that sidewalks be cleared within 72 hours — with the clock starting when the letters are mailed.
Although the Toledo Municipal Code requires that all property owners, residential and commercial, clear their public sidewalks within 24 hours after a storm, the city is pursuing the matter as “nuisance” violations of Toledo’s building code, punishable with $75 fines if not corrected.
“We’re issuing warnings. If compliance is not there, then we’re issuing tickets,” said Dennis Kennedy, the department’s senior manager of code enforcement.
Secor was not the only city street Tuesday with snow covered sidewalks. But Mr. Kennedy said the crackdown, which follows decades of minimal — if any — enforcement of the sidewalk ordinance, is “focusing on the major thoroughfares with bus routes,” he said.
“We left it up to the discretion of code enforcement” about issuing warnings before writing tickets “since the city has a rather spotty history of enforcement,” said Lisa Ward, a spokesman for Mayor D. Michael Collins. “We’re just trying to be fair.”
So far this winter, 67.4 inches of snow have fallen at Toledo Express Airport, the city’s official National Weather Service reporting station, making this the third-snowiest winter on record with more than half of February and all of March still to go. Rain melted much of the early snow just before Christmas and in mid-January, but more than a foot remains from later storms, including a 10-incher last week.
Ms. Tilman’s first stop was a Popeye’s Chicken & Biscuits restaurant at 3214 Secor. The public sidewalk had not been cleared, and even much of the building’s own sidewalk was snow-covered.
After asking which sidewalk Ms. Tilman was talking about, the on-duty manager — who declined to give his name — said staff members usually try to clear the sidewalks, “but the snow keeps coming, with ice under it.”
Within a half hour of Ms. Tilman’s visit, two people emerged from the restaurant with shovels and began to tackle the snow.
A short distance to the north, Sam Edseyed, who identified himself as the brother of the owner of All-Pro Quick Lube, and another employee hacked away at snow and ice that had piled up on the sidewalk next to a driveway entrance.
Asked why the business didn’t arrange for the company that plows its parking lot to do that task, the other employee — who also declined to give a name — said that would cost more money, “and we’re able to do it ourselves.”
The multiple layers of snow and ice showed, however, that no one had been using that ability to work until Tuesday.
“We just don’t want to get fined, so we’re doing it now,” Mr. Edseyed said.
At Uncle John’s Pancake House across the street, manager Ziad Tubeilah seemed surprised by Ms. Tilman’s visit.
“Isn’t that like city property?” he asked the inspector before adding that he has no dealings with the contractor that plows the restaurant’s parking lot.
“I will get that taken care of right away,” Mr. Tubeilah promised after Ms. Tilman said that property owners are ultimately responsible for clearing the sidewalks, even if they have to hire contractors to do the work or require tenants to arrange for such maintenance.
A nearby PNC Bank branch that The Blade visited after Toledo’s New Year’s Day storm still seemed to be having trouble with its plowing contractor.
“We have contacted the snow-plowing service and expect the issue to be corrected as soon as possible,” Rob Darmanin, a bank spokesman in Troy, Mich., said after the 9-inch storm on Jan. 1 and 2. But on Tuesday, the sidewalk in front of the branch was just as plowed-over as it had been in early January.
Farther up the street, the sidewalk in front of Elder-Beerman had been cleared better than most, but anyone wanting to board a bus at the Toledo Area Regional Transit Authority stop in front of the store would have to climb over a 2-foot snowbank. Several footprints in the pile bore witness to the efforts.
“Sometimes businesses assume people don’t try to traverse in this kind of weather,” Ms. Tilman said. “But there are some people who depend on the bus routes to get around, and they walk to these businesses.”
And even Elder-Beerman’s snow-removal effort may not have been wide enough for a wheelchair.
“As a community, we need to work better on clearing them [sidewalks], because a lot of people with disabilities use public transportation, and they need to use the sidewalks for that,” said Jennifer Kirby, who uses a wheelchair and manages a disabilities advocacy and consulting business in Waterville.
Even if most of the property owners on a street follow the law, Ms. Kirby said, it takes just one violator to force someone in a wheelchair into the street.
“If the sidewalk is not clear, what happens is you look for the first driveway that is open and you go down,” she said.
The safety issue “with pedestrians in the street” is the main reason for the emphasis on sidewalk clearing, said Chris Zervos, the inspection department’s director.
He conceded, however, that an uncleared piece of sidewalk in Secor’s median at the traffic light for Elder-Beerman and a Home Depot store was a city responsibility that hadn’t been met. That, he pledged, would be dealt with promptly.
Contact David Patch at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6094.