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Sidewalks challenge schoolchildren; Some areas require walking in streets.

Byline: Brad Petrishen

WORCESTER -- Sharon A. Jones has lived in the neighborhood of the Columbus Park Preparatory Academy for more than 50 years.

"I love this neighborhood,'' Ms. Jones said Friday at the Lovell/Maywood street roundabout. "You have to take pride in your neighborhood.''

For the last 19 years, Ms. Jones has donned a bright yellow jacket and walked the "stone's throw'' from her house to the intersection twice a day. Armed with a small red stop sign on a stick, she attempts to make sure children get safe passage to the school, authoritatively waving her sign at the first hint of danger.

That's why Ms. Jones' blood got as hot as the coffee she was drinking when she opened her Telegram & Gazette Friday and read the remarks of District 2 Councilor Philip P. Palmieri, who argued that it was "far too early'' to begin enforcing the city's regulation that property owners clear the sidewalks in front of their properties within 10 hours of a storm.

"When I read that, I went crazy,'' she said. "I thought, 'That guy is out of touch with reality.'''

Ms. Jones said she's been complaining for years about people not shoveling the sidewalks in front of their homes because it puts children in danger.

"It's horrible,'' Columbus Park third-grade teacher Patty A. Lynch said Friday as she marched a cadre of students up the street. "I just had to have a kid walk in the street, because there was nowhere he could walk.''

While most residents surrounding the school seemed to have fulfilled their civic duty, there were a few stretches where the children had to walk in the road. As Ms. Lynch spoke, a man in a Patriots jacket held his young daughter's hand as they walked into the street because of an unshoveled sidewalk.

"Unless you are close to the situation, seeing what the kids have to go through, you don't understand,'' said Ms. Jones. She said despite the recent storm that dumped the most snow on the city in recorded history, she believes the city should have enforced its regulation from the get-go.

"I couldn't even sleep last night because I was so worried about today,'' she said.

Although most would agree the safety of children is extremely important, the city's ordinance has been a polarizing issue since it was instituted in 2008, and the city's biggest snowfall total on record has only exacerbated the divide.

"I've never seen anything like this in 39 years,'' an upset Sheila Miller said outside her Lynwood Lane home Friday afternoon, where a large mound of snow rested on top of her sidewalk. Ms. Miller said her husband cleared the sidewalk on Tuesday, but that the large mound got dumped on it sometime overnight Wednesday. She said she called the DPW Customer Service Line to complain and was told she would need to clear it again.

"They said, 'If it winds up on your sidewalk, it's your problem,' '' she said. "It just annoys me more than anything.''

The snow is also on the sidewalk abutting next-door neighbor Anthony J. Russell's property. Mr. Russell said he understands plow drivers have a tough job to do, but still saw the snow dump as excessive.

"We had this down to pavement,'' he said.

Mr. Russell said he wouldn't mind trying to plow through the snow, but is worried it might damage his snowblower because it has hardened. He said he hasn't yet decided whether to try with the blower or risk a fine.

"It's a gamble either way,'' he said.

Over on Mendon Street, Dave Walker said he yelled at a city worker Thursday as a loader pushed snow back onto the sidewalk of the fairly narrow street.

The city Thursday was widening streets to make them safer, but Mr. Walker said he felt the city employee should have pushed the snow to the end of the street rather than piling it on the sidewalk.

"I am 72 years old and cannot possibly move the tons of snow (he) hammered onto my sidewalk,'' he said.

Mr. Walker said he ended up getting the sidewalk cleared by a North High student in the school's JROTC program.

"He did a great job,'' Mr. Walker said, even though for a while it appeared as though the snow blower he brought wasn't going to cut the mustard.

North High is one of about 10 groups in the city -- many associated with the schools -- that volunteer to shovel snow for the elderly and disabled.

Stephen L. Godin, a retired marine and senior naval instructor at North High JROTC, said in an email Friday that he's had 19 students shovel about 19 sidewalks so far, with seven new inquiries on his answering machine Friday morning.

That list is likely to grow in the coming days, as the latest National Weather Service forecast calls for "significant'' snowfall Sunday night of 6 inches or more.

Worcester is hardly unique when it comes to having an ordinance requiring residents to shovel their sidewalks. Boston, New York, Philadelphia and Providence all have similar regulations, with some fines running as high as $300. Worcester's calls for $75 each day the violation exists.

During the most recent storm, Boston got aggressive with its enforcement, even issuing a $50 fine to US Secretary of State John F. Kerry.

It does not appear any prominent Worcester politicians will have to fear such a fine. An inventory of the homes of all 11 city councilors taken by the Telegram & Gazette Friday showed that all councilors who had sidewalks had blazed a trail.

Most thorough, it appeared, was District 1 Councilor Anthony J. Economou, who made sure to clear not only the main sidewalk in front of his home at the end of a small cul de sac, but also a small section of sidewalk connecting his home to his neighbor's.

The small section looked more like a tunnel than a sidewalk, as the hard-packed snow on either side of the sidewalk was roughly 5 to 6 feet high. It appeared the snow had been deposited in the course of street plowing.

Contact Brad Petrishen at Follow him on Twitter @BPetrishenTG.
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Author:Petrishen, Brad
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Jan 31, 2015
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