A few days after print publication, Knight's syndicated newspaper column, which moves twice a week, will be posted. The most recent will appear at the top.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Sock it to snowy sidewalks

Bill Knight column for Thurs., Fri., or Sat., Feb. 5, 6 or 7

This week’s snowstorm caused my mind to wander to the mid-1950s, when I walked to school, where after each snowfall, it seemed that the coal-fired furnace in the three-story red-brick building struggled to heat classrooms’ cloakrooms. There, rubber boots sat in puddles, winter coats dripped, and gloves and socks – yes, socks – dried on warm iron radiators.

Bare feet on bare hardwood floors help keep that memory as vivid as a snowball down your neck.

This winter, we should all thank not just state, county, township and municipal crews who plow the roads and streets, but the everyday folks who clear paths for today’s kids, letting students who don’t ride the bus or drive cars to get to school safe and sound – with dry socks.

We might also recall other winters from our youth, when – with no long underwear – we wore pajama bottoms beneath our jeans, wore seasonal clothes like those odd baseball caps with fuzzy ear flaps and parkas with hoods that zipped open so they could lay on your shoulders, and rubber galoshes with metal buckles few of us fastened. (I don’t remember anyone wearing bread bags, by the way.)

And we might wonder why some sidewalks are not shoveled.

True, there are a lot of good neighbors who do, plus plenty of Good Samaritans – or that special breed of zealous snow-tractor jockeys who probably watch lawnmower races on cable TV – who clear entire blocks just because they enjoy it.

But too many sidewalks remain snow-covered and sock-soaking.

Maybe it’s not indifference but dread, based on that myth that if you shovel your walk and someone falls on your property, you’ll be sued, which is a misconception or exaggeration by anti-trial lawyer types. In fact, people do not increase their liability in “slip and fall” cases because they shovel their walks.

“If you have the wherewithal to shovel your snow off a public sidewalk or off the steps, you don’t want people to get hurt,” attorney Stephen Ringkamp from the Hullverson Law Firm told KWMU public radio in St. Louis. “If you’ve done your best, the law’s not going to hold it against you."

Regardless of a mistaken fear of lawsuits, clearing your sidewalk is required by law in most towns.

For example, in the small town where I live, its city code reads: “Every person in charge or control of any building or lot of land within the city fronting or abutting on a paved sidewalk, whether as owner, tenant, occupant, lessee or otherwise, shall remove and clear away, or cause to be removed and cleared away, snow and ice from a path from so much of a sidewalk as is in front or abuts on said building or lot of land. Snow and ice shall be so removed from sidewalks in all business districts within the city by twenty-four (24) hours after cessation of any fall of snow, sleet or freezing rain.”

(OK: “legalese.” But its meaning is clear: Shovel your sidewalk.)

It’s most likely the law where you live if there are sidewalks, whether you rent or own, you’re a church or business, in the business district or a new subdivision. And if you don’t find that acceptable as a legal obligation or common sense, consider a wintry version of the Golden Rule: the “Cold Rule,” if you will – “Treat your sidewalk for others as you would want others to shovel theirs for you.”

Instead of forcing kids to walk in the street – unnecessarily dangerous for pedestrians and motorists alike – and soak their socks: Shovel. Or snow-blow. Or use your riding lawnmower fitted with a blade. Or call a service.

You could probably even get a neighbor kid to scoop your walk for a few bucks.

Maybe he’ll earn enough to buy some spare socks for blocks where folks still break the law.

[PICTURED: The author shoveling his driveway. (Yes, those are Cubs gloves.) Photo by Terry Bibo.]

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